The Real Costs of Hardware Theft and How to Combat Them

hardware-theft
hardware-theft

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Companies invest significant resources into hardware, and it makes a lot of sense to invest just a little bit more to protect these resources. Among enterprise level firms, for instance, a 3% annual rate of lost or stolen laptops is considered to be fairly routine. An estimated 2.6 million laptops were stolen last year alone, one every 53 seconds.  That does not even factor in desktop computers and other hardware. Perhaps even more important than the cost of the hardware is the cost of lost data and security breaches.  Network World estimates the real cost of a lost or stolen laptop is a staggering $49,246. This includes 7 key cost components: laptop replacement; detection and escalation; forensics and investigation; data breach reporting and mitigation; intellectual property loss; lost productivity; and other legal or regulatory costs. So how do you secure your laptop?

1) Use asset tags. There are a surprising number of options when it comes to hardware inventory tagging. You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about asset tag options here. Of course, asset tags can aid authorities in recovering stolen hardware. This is most effective when the asset tag is hidden, either beneath another label, inside the box of a desktop, or beneath the battery of a laptop, where a criminal is unlikely to notice it. It is also important to note that many thefts are actually done by employees or former employees who try to pass off a stolen computer as one of their own or as one assigned to them. This is easily thwarted by tying a QR code or barcode to individual employees.  They may not realize that a simple scan can verify who the rightful owner of a laptop is.

That said, however, less than 3% of all stolen laptops are recovered by authorities, according to UCLA. An even better purpose for hardware asset tagging is to serve as deterrent. Aluminum labels are lightweight, unobtrusive, and nearly indestructible. They can be applied with an adhesive so strong that the plastic of the computer will break apart before the adhesive will give way. A thief swiping a computer or other piece of hardware that may soon abandon it, rather than prominently display the name of the true owner. All serial numbers and a record of QR/barcodes should be maintained and updated. Generally, thieves wipe hard drives clean as quickly as possible, leaving these inventory controls as the only proof of ownership.

2) Have a Backup. The lost data, and resulting lost productivity, is usually the greatest cost in a hardware theft. If your computers and other hardware are periodically backed up (once or twice a day) into a secure server, or better yet, the cloud, you can minimize one of the biggest expenses and headaches in Network World’s list of 7 key cost components. Another great alternative is a virtual desktop, in which almost everything the computer does takes place in the cloud, and there is little reason to back anything up.

3) Lockout – Far and away, the most costly damage that can result from computer theft is access to sensitive information. Victims of computer theft regularly become victims of identity theft shortly thereafter. Stolen hardware with the right passwords can make web properties vulnerable. Many times, credit card, Paypal, EBay, Adwords, gambling sites, etc. accounts have saved passwords that would allow thieves to access your account and spend your money. Email and social media accounts can be accessed and used for illegal schemes run through your accounts. It is a potential nightmare.

It goes without saying that your hardware should be reasonably well encrypted and secure. It is also helpful if the hardware can be locked out remotely, though that is often an expensive option. Unfortunately, the safest course to follow is to reset the passwords to everything. Remotely log out of all sessions. Notify any credit card companies and any identity protection agencies you work with. Mac has a Find My Mac option, and Lojack has a subscription service that can both attempt to track the computer if it is taken online, and can disable it.

So our three step solution calls for purchasing a couple of the highest quality inventory tags, automating a backup protocol, and subscribing to the appropriate product protection service. Is it really all worth it?  You can pay for a lot of monthly subscriptions and asset tags with $49,000. Anyone who has endured the full nightmare of lost data and identity theft will vouch for the value of preventative steps to secure your IT hardware.

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