A laptop is stolen every 53 seconds, and approximately 97 percent are never recovered, according to the FBI.
Worse, one out of every 10 laptops will be stolen within the first 12 months of purchase.
Will you be next?
With all of your family photos, tax return files, bank statements and more at risk -- not to mention all those usernames and passwords that you auto-saved -- something must be done.
And if you manage a business or work in a corporate environment, the cost could be even steeper than just replacing hardware: think of the public relations nightmare from the theft and legal requirement to alert employees and clients about the information breach.
According to the Ponemon Institute, the cost to a company can total $197 per missing record when factoring in the loss of customers, legal fees and PR crisis management.
Clearly, a few thousand records can quickly add up.
"The loss of a laptop computer may well be quite expensive if it contains unencrypted confidential data," according to the 2008 CSI Computer Crime and Security Survey. In 2008, 42 percent of all corporate security incidents were because of a stolen laptop, second only to viruses and insider abuse.
So what to do? Here are several solutions to address the problem.
Theft Recovery: LoJack
Absolute Software, which bills itself as the leading provider of computer theft recovery, data protection and IT asset management, says their Computrace LoJack for Laptopshelps recover 40 to 50 computers each week, or roughly three of four missing computers of the three million machines the company protects. (The company also offers a version for mobile devices such as smartphones.)
The Computrace software embeds an agent in your computer's firmware. When your computer is reported stolen, Computrace sends a silent signal over the Internet to its Absolute Monitoring Center, providing location information, among other information, about your stolen machine. The company then works with local law enforcement to recover the computer.
The stealthy Computrace Agent is one tough cookies, too: it's capable of surviving operating system re-installations, hard drive reformats, replacements and re-imaging.
Computrace offers a subscription of one to four years for the service, which has already led to some interesting success stories, including recovering computers stolen by serial burglars, computer repair stores, and thieves who crossed state lines.
Similarly, Front Door Software's Retrieverapplication displays your contact information as your computer boots up. There's even space for a plea to a Good Samaritan — "$50 for my safe return," if you're the kind of forgetful person who often misplaces his or her laptop in public areas.
But if you think your laptop is in the hands of a less honest person, or has been taken maliciously, you can log on to Front Door's Website and notify the company that your computer is missing.
During start-up, a big yellow and red banner appears on your pilfered laptop's screen, boldly declaring the laptop lost or stolen. The message reappears every 30 seconds, no matter how many times the thief closes the window.
The program also offers the option of using an audible message when the "stolen" screen displays, such as "Help, this laptop is reported lost or stolen. If you are not my owner, please report me now," or one of your own design.
Even better, you can remotely switch on a second password prompt if you fear the thief has also stolen your regular Windows, Macintosh or Linux login info.
How does Retriever do it? The program uses built-in Wi-Fi to sniff out nearby networks, then suss out which ISPs power them. With that information, you can file a police report and provide a lead for locating the criminal.
Best yet, if you're feeling truly malicious yourself, you can send and add messages to the nagging "Stolen Computer!" screen: "We're on your tail. We're coming," or perhaps something a bit more, well, explicit. Or alter your contact information to read "FBI" or "Catholic Church," hopefully inducing a bit of guilt.