Experience is a great teacher. About ten years ago, someone broke into the trunk of my automobile and stole my business laptop computer while I was dining with friends in a local restaurant.Apparently, it was easy to get into the automobile’s trunk. Scratches on the trunk lid looked like a large screwdriver was used to “pop” the trunk open.
I never recovered the laptop computer. Even worse, the thief probably gained immediate access to most of my personal information: the names and email addresses of hundreds of friends, relatives, and business associates along with the physical addresses of many of them. The thief also obtained access to most all email messages I had received or sent in recent months, numerous memos I had written or received, my credit card numbers, my bank information (with account number), stock broker details (with account number), my Social Security number, and who knows what else? I spent a lot of time calling credit card companies, my bank, my stock broker, and many others to get the accounts canceled and new accounts (with new numbers) opened.
I was financially paralyzed for a week or two and I am still not sure I remembered all the organizations I needed to notify.
I was lucky in that I found no evidence the thief ever used that information. However, that was pure luck. The theft certainly could have produced different results.
The biggest problem is that I had left the computer “wide open,” meaning that all the thief had to do was to turn it on and then use any of the available tools to bypass my log-in screen. That’s easy to do with any of the available “Windows Recovery” Linux CD disks. See https://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/windows-recovery.html for more details.
Luckily, it is easy to prevent a thief or anyone else from accessing the information on a computer’s hard drive: use encryption.
If you encrypt a computer now, you can continue to use it again and again by simply entering the encryption key (similar to a password only usually longer and more complex) every time you boot the computer into operation. The only person(s) who can access the computer will be the person(s) who know the encryption key. Once the encryption key has been entered, the computer operates as normal. This works for desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. Most cell phones also have similar capabilities.
One caveat: Don’t lose the encryption key! Data may be protected from intruders, but it’s also impossible for you to access should you forget your password or recovery key. Write it down someplace where you can find the encryption key if you ever forget the encryption key.
NOTE: You aren’t going to write the encryption key on a piece of paper and tape it to the computer, are you? No you’re not!
For more information, read The One Thing That Protects a Laptop After It’s Been Stolen from The New York Times at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/smarter-living/how-to-encrypt-your-computers-data.html.
And one more thing: make backups. Lots of backups. And do it frequently. Even better, make sure the backups are encrypted!