How to Secure & Encrypt Your Information If Your Laptop Gets Stolen [Mac]
The FBI reports that 97% of stolen laptops are never recovered or returned to their owners. In this regard, MakeUseOf has published several articles about anti-theft tracking software, such as Adeona and Prey. But to deal with the likelihood you may never recover your stolen or lost laptop, you will want to have a plan to secure sensitive information on the laptop.
Taking a few steps to pass lock, encrypt, hide, and most importantly back up the most important content on your laptop only takes a few minutes, and it can save you the agony of having sensitive information fall into the wrong hands. While the tools below are geared towards Mac users, similar tools are available for other users as well.
So let’s take a look at some of the things you can do right now to make an insurance policy against laptop theft.
Password Lock Your Laptop
For Mac laptop users, Apple includes a secure way to access your computer’s content.
Apple’s OS X security features can be found in System Preferences. The general password feature requires your account password in order for the computer to be used. You can set up this feature to automatically log out of your computer after a specified amount of time or after the screensaver or sleep begins before a password is required.
You will need to click the padlock icon at the bottom left in order to enable the settings and save them.
The FileVault feature encrypts all the information in your Home folder, and your login password is required in order to access your content.
Inputting a password each time you want to access your computer may seem like a hassle, but if your laptop is constantly vulnerable to theft, then these built-in features can be one of the first steps to securing your information when your laptop is stolen.
For very sensitive data in your laptop, you should consider further encrypting important data. For PC users, read Jim’s article on How to Make Encrypted Folder Using Truecrypt 7 .
For Mac users, you can create an encrypted disk image (DMG) (sort of like a folder) in which you can store sensitive data. Here’s how:
- Launch Disk Utility (Applications folder > Utilities folder) on Mac.
- Click on New > Blank Disk Image
- Enter the name for the disk image/folder in the Save As text field and save the DMG where you want.
- Select a size for the image file from the Volume Size pop-up menu. If you will be encrypting simple document files, you may only need 500 MB. If you’re going to be adding audio and video files, you may need 2-8 GB.
- Choose a volume format if you don’t want to use the default Mac OS X Extended (Journaled)
- Choose 128-bit AES (and/or 256-bit AES in Mac OS X 10.5 or later) from the Encryption pop-up menu to encrypt the image’s contents with a password. If you don’t choose an encryption, your new image won’t be encrypted.
- Choose an image format. You can use “sparse disk image” for a disk image that only uses as much space as it needs, rather than a set amount of space. If you’re not sure, use the “read/write disk image” choice.
- Click the Create button.
- Enter and verify a good password in the dialog window that appears. This password will be saved in your keychain by default, or you can deselect “Remember password (add to keychain)” if you don’t want that. You can store the password in the keychain both for convenience and for reducing risk of password loss.
- Click OK.
When the DMG is being created, you will be asked to enter a secure password. After doing so, do not check “Remember password in my keychain,” because your password will be automatically entered when the DMG is opened.
Now to secure your files, open the DMG. It will appear in the side bar of a Finder window under Devices.
Drag into the DMG folder any files you want to secure and then eject the folder like you would any external hard drive.
Let us know what other methods or free tools you have found useful for securing information on your laptop.