Theft Information

Mike, my friend and Class III dealer, had his house burglarized earlier today (well, technically yesterday as I’m posting really early in the morning).
Some stuff (laptop computer, USB flash drive, other small valuables) were stolen. Fortunately, his safe was not attacked and his firearms remain unmolested.
The laptop was a big loss, as it contained a whole bunch of sentimental photographs. Not cool.
In addition to hardening your dwelling from criminal actions, one must also have a recovery plan.
Back up your files (Mozy.com offers 2GB for free, and an extra free 256MB if someone [me, for example] refers you. For $4.95/month, you can get unlimited storage. Their software does automated scheduled backups, so stuff is kept up-to-date.) so you don’t lose important data or photographs.
If you run windows, consider installing the LogMeIn.com client on your computer. This will enable to you remotely access your computer, from anywhere in the world, if it’s connected to the internet. This can allow you to delete sensitive files, or even activate your computer’s webcam (if it has one) and snap photographs of the thieves.
Consider using encryption software like TrueCrypt. This software can be used to create encrypted “containers” which can be mounted like removable disks — just move files to the virtual disk and they’re secure (assuming you then delete the non-encrypted files outside of the encrypted container). You can also use it to encrypt entire devices, like a USB flash drive. If you run Windows, you can even secure your entire computer (which requires a password at startup to unlock the encryption keys and allow the system to run) transparently with TrueCrypt. Once you enter the decryption password at startup, everything continues normally. If you keep any sensitive information on your computer at all (even something as simple as saving passwords to your email or bank), you should encrypt your data…doubly so if you have a laptop. Encryption keeps bad guys from being able to access your stuff.
Most laptops also offer “hard drive passwords” (Dell offers it in the BIOS, hit F2 when starting up). While this doesn’t encrypt your data, it does prevent bad guys from reading from or writing to (or even erasing!) the disk. This can make it more expensive for them to sell, as they’ll need a new hard disk.
Consider buying a locking cable for your computer, especially laptops (but including desktops as well). Lock the cable around a sturdy thing, like a bed frame, desk, etc. It won’t stop a dedicated thief, but it may slow them down enough (the thieves didn’t steal Mike’s desktop, as disconnecting the various cables would have taken too long) that they won’t bother. If they force the cable out of the computer, it will essentially ruin the potential resale value.
Consider buying adhesive tags from a company like TrackItBack.com or StuffBak.com. I find that putting a sticker on an obvious place (like the bottom of the computer) allows for the computer to be easily returned if I lose it (rather than have it stolen). Thieves might remove it, so I put a second label in a not-exactly-obvious, but still visible location (bottom of the CD-ROM tray, for example, or under the battery). This way, it’s possible that a thief might not remove it, and a potential buyer might think something’s suspicious.
There are also labels that are affixed to the computer with powerful adhesive. Removing the labels requires a huge amount of force that would likely damage the computer. If removed, the labels have a chemical that etches the material underneath declaring the computer to have been stolen and to contact a telephone number (of the label company, who can arrange to have the computer returned to you). Even if not removed, the label has a contact number.
One can also use an electric pencil to etch some identifying information (like state and drivers license number) into the computer, so as to help identify you as the owner.
Be sure to have your computer’s serial number handy. If the computer is stolen, get a police report, then fine it with your computer’s manufacturer (Dell is good about this). That way, if someone later calls up the manufacturer to get technical support, the system will have been flagged as being stolen and the company will get identifying information and turn it over to the police.
Keep copies of important data (like make/model/serials of guns, computers, and other valuables, financial information, etc.) in a safe-deposit box. Keep this information updated. Photographs of items are also important. This can greatly aid recovery.
In short: be smart, secure your home, backup your data, secure your stuff, and be safe.

2 thoughts on “Theft Information”

  1. also, you can do what i have done too… i have a wireless NAS system… basically its a box that has a couple of hard drives in it that links to my wireless network… i have it set up to show as a drive on my computers and its a simple matter to just copy the info to the drive…
    its small enough that it could be kept in a closet of someplace out of the way… mine is sitting on the top of my entertainment center behind some boxes… no thief would ever look for it, nor would they know what it was…

  2. chris: That is indeed a clever idea. Probably considerably faster than off-site storage.
    I should look into getting such a system for backups and whatnot. Maybe give it an internet-facing interface with a secure connection (SSH or something similar) so I can back up stuff from outside my apartment.
    Ideally, it’d be cool to set a pair of boxes: one at one’s house, and one at a friend’s house in a different state. The friend backs stuff up to your system, and you back up to theirs. Thus, if your house burns down, you still have your backups at your friend’s place. If you need the data quickly without waiting for the long transfer time, have them mail you the hard disk. 🙂

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