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The One Thing That Protects a Laptop After It’s Been Stolen

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When your laptop is lost or stolen, you aren’t just out $800 (or more). Your personal information is also accessible to whoever takes it, even if you have a password.

“Unfortunately, a typical password-protected user account does nothing to protect your data,” says Dennis Stewart, a security engineer at CipherTechs. “While the password will prevent someone else from logging into your computer, an attacker can still use other methods to copy files off.” If they remove the hard drive and put it into another computer, they have access to any files you have stored on it. In some cases, they can even reset the password on your PC and gain access to your email, passwords and other personal information.

Thankfully, you can protect your data against both of these types of attacks with encryption. “Encryption is a mathematical process used to jumble up data. If important files or whole devices are encrypted, there is no way to make sense of them without the key.” That means if a thief tries to access your information, they’ll only find a jumbled mess unless they have your password, and they won’t be able to simply reset that password if the device is encrypted.

Encrypting your hard drive isn’t some super-technical process that only security experts can perform, either — anyone can do it on their computer at home, and it should only take a few minutes to get up and running.

How to Encrypt Your Computer’s Hard Drive

If you have a Windows laptop, you have a few options. Some Windows 10 devices come with encryption turned on by default, and you can check this by going to Settings > System > About and scrolling down to “Device Encryption.” You’ll need to log into Windows with a Microsoft account in order for this feature to work, but if your laptop offers it, it’s an easy and free way to protect your data.

If your laptop doesn’t support Device Encryption, you can use Windows’ other built-in encryption tool: BitLocker. BitLocker is only available on Professional versions of Windows and above (a $99 upgrade for Home edition users), but it’s incredibly easy to set up. Just head to Windows’ Control Panel > System and Security > Manage BitLocker. Select your operating system drive and click the “Turn On BitLocker” button, following the prompts to create a password that will function as your encryption key. Be sure to store your BitLocker key in a safe place — -somewhere not on that computer — -in case something goes wrong!

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