Carnegie Mellon University

Picture of a Laptop with a lock and chain around it

June 12, 2019

Protect Your Personal Devices

With the threat of hacking, malware, phishing, and other digital threats constantly looming, it can be easy to overlook the importance of practicing physical security on our devices. With an increasing amount of sensitive data being stored on personal devices, the value and mobility of smartphones, tablets, and laptops make them appealing and easy targets. In fact, according the Carnegie Mellon University’s 2018 Security and Fire Safety Report, reports of stolen property on campus have consistently increased over the past three years. It is essential to physically secure your mobile devices from theft to safeguard your digital world. These simple tips will help you be prepared in case your laptop is stolen or your smartphone is misplaced.

  • Lock your devices. Protecting your mobile devices and computers with a strong password and PIN provides an additional layer of protection to your data in the event of theft. Set your devices to lock after a short period of inactivity and be sure to lock your computer whenever you walk away. 
  • Keep your valuables with you at all times. If you're not using your device, lock it in a cabinet, drawer, or hotel safe, use a security cable, or take it with you. If you need to leave your laptop or other device in the car, place it in a locked trunk. Don't invite criminals to break your car windows by leaving it on the seat!
  • Delete sensitive information. Don't keep any restricted data stored on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. Restricted data includes your Social Security number, credit card numbers, network IDs, passwords, and other personally identifiable information. A tool to help you perform this task is Identity Finder. The software will search for any type of personally identifiable information that is stored on your computer and provide you with the ability to quickly protect the data or delete it permanently. 
  • Back it up. Set a reminder to back up your data on a regular basis. Keep an external copy of important files stored on your laptop in a safe location in case it is lost or stolen. Your photos, papers, research, and other files are irreplaceable.
  • Encrypt your information. Protect your personal data with the built-in disk encryption feature including with your computer's operating system (e.g. BitLocker or FileVault). 
  • Record the serial number. Write down the serial number of your device and store it in a safe place. This information can be useful for verifying your device if it is found. Additionally, you can register your device with the Carnegie Mellon University Police Department.
  • Set up location finding. Enabling a locating-finding service can be great help if your smartphone, tablet, or laptop is lost or stolen. Applications such as Find My iPhone/iPad/Mac or Find My Device (Android) can help you locate your devices or remotely lock and wipe them. 
  • Log Off. Be sure you are logging out of each account when you are finished using them. This adds another layer of account protection if your device happened to be lost or stolen.