University of Wisconsin–Madison

Preventing laptop theft

First line of defense

Delete It

If at all possible, don’t keep any restricted data on your laptop. Restricted data includes things like social security numbers, credit card account numbers and other personally identifiable information. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget that this information is stored on your computer.

Encrypt It

IT Security recommends that you search your computer for restricted data and delete it.  If that’s not possible, then be sure you protect it by encrypting your laptop. See this grid of data encryption software options offered to the campus.

Back It Up

And regardless of what’s stored on your computer, you should always keep a back up of important files in the event your laptop is lost or stolen. Your thesis, research or other work files may be irreplaceable. Be sure to back it up regularly to portable media (e.g., thumb drive, DVD), store files on Box or use Bucky Backup.

Protect yourself in high-risk situations

Lock It Up

Even if you’re stepping away from your office for just a few minutes, lock it up. Cable locks are available or you could invest in a global positioning system (GPS). Neither of these is a failsafe, of course.

Change Your Routine

A few small adjustments to your regular routine will keep the odds in your favor that a thief will pass you by and look for an easier target.


Don’t put your laptop through the security line first. Instead, put it in the middle of your items or last. That way you can keep a better eye on it, and a thief can’t make the excuse that he thought it was his if it’s in the middle of your items.

Coffee Shops, Libraries

Make it difficult for a thief to walk away with your computer. Sit far away from exits, and if you do leave your device unattended, ask two people (not just one) to keep their eyes on it.

Cars, Hotels

Put your laptop in your trunk before you reach your destination so that eager eyes don’t see you put it there as you park. And if you’re staying at a hotel, lock it up and store it away. It’s very easy for someone to dart in and out of your room if the door is left open while hotel staff is cleaning your room.

Differentiate your laptop and devices

If you make your laptop look different from everyone else’s laptop, it will be less likely that someone can use the excuse that they thought it might belong to them. Sometime these things make the laptop more difficult to resell. Many students have been doing this by adding stickers to their cases to personalize them.