3 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Theft

securityIf you’ve ever been robbed in a public place, you’ll know all too well the feeling of horror that ensues. For the remote worker on the road, that horror increases exponentially with the realization that you’ve lost your work, your colleagues’ details and data, your stored access passwords, and so on.

With your computer, that thief may also be able to access your and your contacts’ personal details, your online banking and payment accounts, email accounts, and other accounts on sites through which you may purchase goods, store sensitive data … the list just goes on!

Of course, web workers are likely to find ourselves in public spaces carrying valuable equipment more frequently than our office-bound counterparts, so the chances of our being victims of theft aren’t low. Don’t wait until your stuff is stolen to put adequate protection in place. This checklist should provide you with a solid plan for protecting your data — as well as software and hardware — against theft.

In creating a protection plan for my gear, I thought about the theft of my stuff from three perspectives. If my gear was stolen, I’d lose hardware and software, my IP or product (that is, the work I’ve done and am doing), and my personal data, like access passwords and information stored on the associated sites and services.

1. Protect hardware and software with insurance.

In my mind, the last thing I’d want to do if I’d just lost my work gear, data, contacts, possibly cash (if my entire bag has been stolen) and so on, is go out and pay to replace everything.

Is your remote working kit — your computer, phone or PDA, camera and any other gear you might use — insured? If you don’t have insurance, you should definitely consider it. You may be able to claim the insurance premium as a tax deduction, which will nullify its impact on your income. Since insurance is a pretty competitive market, you should be able to get a reasonable deal if you shop around.

If you do have insurance — perhaps as part of a home or office contents policy — double-check to make sure that your items are covered if you take them out of the house or home office. In checking my insurance policy I found that, for example, my computer would be covered if I took it out of the house, but only to a maximum value of $1,000, and only if it was stolen while I was in a building. So if my gear was taken while I was at the park, it looks like it wouldn’t be covered at all.

Also make sure the policy you choose covers you for business losses — my default policy provides only limited cover for home business equipment, so I’ll need to speak to my insurer to make sure the items I use for business purposes are covered.

Okay, that’s the hardware and software dealt with. What about my work product?

2. Protect your work product with regular data backups.

Your data is your IP, your product, your commodity. Imagine how you’d feel if, right now, you lost everything you’re working on. If you know you have a nice current backup of your hard drive somewhere, you’re probably smiling smugly to yourself. But if you’re one of those remote workers who never seems to get around to backing up your data, let the possible theft of your gear motivate you to put a reliable backup process in place.

We all need backups. Maybe you’ll burn key files to CD. Perhaps you’ll copy your entire hard drive to an external device in your (or someone else’s) office. You could easily store your stuff on a server on the other side of town, or the world, or use a cloud-based backup service. Whatever method you choose, try to reduce the risk of losing both the backup and on-device data by ensuring your backups and your computer aren’t stored or transported together.

If you can’t arrange automatic backups of your data, set a reminder in your calendar — every Thursday at 4pm, for example — and refresh your backups manually so you can be sure they represent the latest data. If something happens to your gear, you’ll be glad you had the foresight to back up your data. I promise.

3. Protect your online identity with a password storage plan.

The last piece of the puzzle is your passwords and other details that give you access to online services and sites, and the information you may have stored there — your online identity.

If you’re like me, you probably have more access passwords than you care to — or can — remember. I rely on my browser to remember most of them for me. Yet I’m sure that one of the first things I’d want to do if I lost my stuff would be to log into all my accounts and reset my access passwords. In considering this issue, I realized I don’t even know the access details for my home web connection, let alone my ISP-hosted email account, so I’d have some serious trouble resetting passwords on the sites I use.

The first, and most obvious tip, is to set an access password for your computer itself. If you haven’t done that already, you should!

The next step is to consider password management for all the online services and systems that you use. Obviously, choosing a password storage methodology is the important part of this equation. Of course, the option you choose will affect how quickly you can log in to the sites you use to reset your passwords.

Basically, we have two choices:

  1. localized storage: writing passwords on a piece of paper that you keep in your wallet/under your pillow/inside the third garden gnome from the left on your back porch; storing them in a USB key stuck to the wall above your desk; storing them on your computer using password storage software
  2. globalized storage: storing passwords in a file with your online backups; sending them to your web mail account in encrypted format, and saving the obscurely-titled email in a suitably obscure folder; using an online password storage system

Once you’ve chosen a storage option, make sure your list of passwords is updated at the same time you update your other data backups. That way, you can reset all those passwords as soon as you can get web access after your gear is stolen.

These are the basic precautions I’m taking to protect my gear in public places. What have you considered in protecting your gear, IP and online identity against theft or damage?

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