The Lessons I Learned from Losing my Laptop Computer

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A few weeks ago I was presenting at the Autotask Community on Tour event at the Grand Connaught Rooms, a very prestigious and (as the name implies) grand venue in London.

My presentation was just before lunch, and arriving early in the day I dropped my laptop bag (containing my laptop and my presentation) alongside many of my colleagues near the event registration desk.

Laptop ComputerAbout an hour before my presentation, I went to retrieve my laptop and in horror discovered that it was no longer where I had left it. I scouted around nearby tables, looked in every conceivable location, recruited help in the form of my friends crawling under tables but alas, the laptop had gone. My heart sank – not only had a £1,000+ worth of laptop gone, but all my valuable mobile accessories and more importantly, my presentation due in 30 minutes had gone with it!

Lesson Number One – Keep your belongings with you at all times!

Ironically (given I was about to give a presentation on Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery) I had stored a backup copy of my presentation on Windows Live Mesh. Borrowing Autotask MVP Lee Evans laptop, and using fellow presenter Paul Dadge’s wireless Internet, I logged on to Live Mesh to recover the presentation. Or at least I would have if I could find how on earth you actually logged on to Live Mesh from a web browser. Microsoft have changed the Windows Live tool brand so many times recently that I wasn’t sure what it was called anymore – Live Mesh, Live Sync, Live Mesh 2011? When I needed to access my backup in a hurry, the stress of trying to find out how to do so is most unwelcome.

Lesson Number Two – Know how to quickly access your Data Backups

Thankfully I finally found the correct login web-site, and thanks to having my KeePass information stored on my iPad (which was safely in my possession) I could logon to Windows Live, grab a copy of the presentation and copy it to a key disk ready to go on stage with.

I’m glad to say the presentation went well, despite my thoughts admittedly being on to how I could find my laptop after I got off stage.

Over lunch, my friends and I scouted around again and with no luck in finding my laptop, I finally resigned myself to the fact that it had gone and contacted hotel security. I reported my laptop stolen with the local Police Station who asked for specifics of the laptop. Luckily, I’d recorded the Serial Numbers and other specifics of not only the laptop, but my Flip HD camcorder which was also in the laptop bag, on www.immobilise.com – the web-site of the UK National Property Register.

Having this information easily to hand via my iPad meant I was able to describe the laptop and give all pertinent information quickly, as well as tag the laptop and Camcorder as stolen. In the event that the stolen laptop turned up at a Police Station, it could be identified as mine.

Lesson Number Three – Maintain an accurate record of your high value goods

My thoughts then turned to the data ON my missing laptop.

The laptop was password protected, and all data backed up to the Cloud, but it is not too difficult to access a file system using tools outside of Windows, nor to crack a Windows 7 password to gain full access to a system. Chances are that any thief would be stealing the laptop for the hardware, not the data contained on it, but that sinking feeling that you get when you realise the data on the machine is confidential is definitely not a nice one. I really wish I’d have gotten round to encrypting it as I kept promising I would…

Lesson Number Four – Your Data is more valuable than your hardware. Protect it accordingly!

Then, thanks to a conversation with Gareth Brown which jogged my memory, I recalled I’d installed the free Tracking software from Prey Project on my laptop. If the laptop was connected to the Internet at all I’d be able to track where it was and even take a screenshot of whomever was using the laptop via it’s webcam, but more importantly, I could remotely lock the laptop to hinder any attempt to access the data upon it.

Lesson Number Five – Install free Tracking Software on your Mobile Devices before you lose them!

I reported the laptop lost on Prey Project, and waited for it to report back. The likelihood that it ever would was admittedly slim, but at least I wasn’t kicking myself that I’d not bothered to install that free tracking software that you know, takes all of 30 seconds to install!

When I got back home later that weekend I dug out my Insurance Paperwork and prepared to make a claim. Thankfully I’d retained all details of my purchases, and in many instances, the original purchase receipts (including such things as the SSD Hard Drive upgrade and Memory Upgrades I’d installed in the laptop) – so I’d be able to make a full claim for the items. I’d also set a diary reminder at the time of my Insurance renewal earlier in the year to make sure the Contents Schedule was up to date – useful if you’re always updating your tech, as I am.

Lesson Number Six – Insure your Tech, and make sure your Insurance Schedule is current

Now for most people, the story would end here with an Insurance Claim and the purchase of a new laptop and the inevitable hope (and prayer) that the confidential data contained on the lost laptop would never fall into the wrong hands.

But a few days later, whilst I was travelling in Utretch in the Netherlands for business, I received an e-mail from a lovely lady named Jo Flood entitled “Are you missing a laptop?”.

The e-mail went on to explain how Jo worked for Hot Courses in London who had run a student event at the Grand Connaught Rooms at the same time as the Autotask Event, and whilst sorting out equipment brought back from the venue, Jo had spotted that they’d acquired an additional laptop!

Powering the laptop up, Jo had spotted my name on the login screen and then Googled it. My blog post about my speaking at the Autotask event had come up as the first search engine hit, and Jo put two-and-two together and got in touch via the contact details on my blog to see if it was indeed my laptop.

Lesson Number Seven – Social Media helps connect the world in the most unexpected ways! Smile

Thanking Jo profusely for taking the time and effort to track me down, my friend Guy Gregory at The Final Step in London heard about my predicament and offered to retrieve the laptop from Jo nearby– going out of his way to organise all the details with Jo directly. A week later, I was re-united with my laptop!

Lesson Number Eight – There are some genuinely helpful and wonderful people in the world

A huge thanks to Jo Flood and Guy Gregory for going out of their way to help me and giving their time to help re-unite me with my laptop, and to Lee Evans, Paul Dadge, Gareth Brown, my friends at Autotask, all the staff at the Grand Connaught Rooms and everyone else who helped me whilst I was panicking about finding my laptop and ensuring I got on stage to deliver my presentation as planned!

Thankfully I got away without losing any possessions or more importantly, confidential data. But I learned a number of really valuable lessons about what it feels like to lose mobile devices and data.

Over the next few days I’m going to blog about what I’ve learned that might help you protect your own data and high value mobile devices. I hope you’ll find my story above thought provoking in terms of how you view your own data and devices, and that the articles I post in the days to come help give you the peace of mind that you’re doing all you can to protect yourself.

 

Comments

  • The Lessons Learned from Losing a Laptop | Employee IT Training2014-03-10 10:11:26

    […] This article is adapted from the original with kind permission from Richard Tubb. Filed Under: IT Training Blog Tagged With: Laptops, […]

  • The Lessons Learned from Losing a Laptop - The IT Training Surgery2014-03-03 09:31:28

    […] This article is adapted from the original with kind permission from Richard […]

  • Richard Tubb2013-06-05 15:12:42

    Tom - thanks for the link to nCrytped Cloud, sounds very useful!

  • Tom Murphy2013-06-04 20:29:00

    nCrypted Cloud http://www.ncryptedcloud.com cannot help with the effort to recreate the machine like Time machine but if you lose your laptop you walk to the nearest Internet cafe, log on to the web portal and hit the “Unlink” button and while the thief still has your Laptop, any data that was encrypted can never be opened again. Better safe than sorry.

  • Richard Tubb2012-04-01 11:36:07

    Rory - thanks, I'm glad I got my laptop back too! :-) While a HDD password is an option, I rarely see it used. Personally, I'd prefer to use a whole drive Encryption with a BIOS password. In my experience most manufacturer passwords are (relatively) easily circumvented by people with the right knowledge or tools.

  • Rory Breen2012-03-29 22:06:20

    Great article, glad to read you got your laptop back in the end ;) Richard, what are your thoughts about enabling a HD password (not to be confused with the bios password) ? I also use Axcrypt in conjunction with dropbox to encrypt files :)

  • Richard Tubb2012-03-18 12:41:31

    Pierre - thanks for the kind feedback. I'm glad the post was useful to you.

  • Pierre Dillenburg2012-03-18 04:31:27

    Hey brilliant, this has been a awesome help to me, I have had some really serious annoyances in my personal life recently and it is funny how little things can really pick you back up or make you lose focus on the rubbish stuff and get working on the other things in life. Anyway thank you a lot.

  • Richard Tubb2012-03-16 06:26:34

    Noel - thanks for the heads-up. I didn't forget Wuala as I'd never heard of it before you mentioned it! :-) Looks like an interesting competitor to DropBox.

  • Noel Yen2012-03-16 03:27:30

    You forgot wuala I guess. Encrypted before sending, no way for the storage provider to decrypt it on its own if you don't make your folder / files public. And they don't store your password anywhere.

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