Laptop theft shows the need for personal computer users to backup more frequently

Opinion by Dan Raywood

In my position I get information on data loss pretty quickly, generally by attentive PR people who see an opportunity to comment on the failings and solutions.

In my position I get information on data loss pretty quickly, generally by attentive PR people who see an opportunity to comment on the failings and solutions.

One such incident occurred recently, with a story of a stolen laptop reported on the thisisleicestershire.co.uk website. Academic Arunasalam Karunaharan's laptop was stolen, which contained the results of field trips to the Malaysian rainforest and Cape Verde in West Africa.

The website reported that along with detailed measurements of atmospheric conditions in the two countries, it also contained 140 finished pages of his thesis, which must be submitted in April. Naturally as with many home computer users, ‘only a small portion of his work had been copied on to another computer' and he was quoted as saying: “I made the mistake of thinking it would be safe in my own home.”

Professor Paul Monks, who is supervising Karunaharan's research and probably sharpening his red pen as we speak, said: “It's a tragic story, but you only make this mistake once. It underlines the importance of backing work on to another computer.”

Now I am not one to laugh at the loss of a laptop due to burglary, but this does prove the fallibility of general users when it comes to security, both of documents and the hardware itself. As a student in the late 1990s, all of my work was stored on floppy disks due to my electronic typewriter having no actual hard drive.

Therefore, could it be argued that I was on more secure hardware had it been stolen? Probably yes, if it had been stolen I would have the disks and backups of dissertations etc. However it could be argued that the need for portability, and faster working processes, have removed the opportunity and time taken to backup efficiently.

As documented by SC Magazine, there are backup systems available. Another is to do full disk encryption, or even secure your computer completely. Dave Everitt, general manager EMEA at Absolute Software, said: “It will come as a surprise to most laptop owners that a third of all laptop theft in the UK occurs at the victim's home. We try hard to keep an eye on equipment on the move and understand the risks on public transport and in airport lounges, but actually it's when they're stationary that laptops are most at risk.

“It might sound like Mission Impossible, but victims of laptop theft would do well to ensure their laptops can be tracked and retrieved if they're stolen. As we've seen, it's not the £400 it would cost to replace a laptop, but the data held on it that can cost the individual a lot more – in both money and time.”

I sincerely hope that Mr Karunaharan's hard drive and/or laptop are returned but I suspect that the chances are slim, and this will be a costly lesson that I hope will be learned by other computer users.

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