Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Spotlight on Laptop Security, Protecting Client Files

When a thief stole a lawyer's laptop, in retrospect the attorney partially blamed himself.

He left it in plain sight on a countertop, where the burglar could easily see it through the glass door of his house. The lawyer had also left a light on in the house to ward off a potential break-in, but saw his strategy differently when he returned home and peered through the broken glass.

"The same feature that contributed to my peaceful light a few hours before now gave a clear view of the countertop where my MacBook Air sat under what I now imagined to be a spotlight of my own making," John E. Grant wrote for Lawyerist.

In a hi-tech age, it also helps to take some low-tech precautions -- like putting a physical lock on a laptop or putting it in a secure place. Here are two tales to consider:

Tech to the Rescue

Although he had not hidden his expensive laptop from prying eyes, Grant had taken other precautions that saved the day. He did not get his laptop back, but he did protect client files that were on the hard drive.

When he bought the device, he set up basic security features: a strong password; encrypted files; enabled location services; and remote wipe the hard drive. When the thief later opened the laptop, Grant saw the location and activated the wipe.

He also called police, who found the burglar. They never found the laptop and ultimately released the suspect, but at least the attorney didn't have to worry about data security.

Fortunately, Grant had the foresight to set up his digital security early on. He also reviewed his security settings, and used them after his laptop was stolen. But the "light didn't go on" for him about physical security until it was too late.

Not So Secret Service

The story may not end as well for a secret service agent who recently lost a laptop. The computer contained details about Trump Tower and an investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.

According to ABC, the agent apparently left a laptop in a vehicle and someone broke in to it. Police are monitoring video surveillance cameras and "expect to quickly identify the suspect."

Authorities said the laptop has multiple lawyers of security, including encryption and remote wipe capabilities. It reportedly did not contain classified information.

While the digital information may be secure, the laptop would have been safer in the car trunk than on the car seat. Hackers have more tools to work with when they have the physical device in their hands.

Here are some more physical security tips for laptops:

  • Never leave your laptop in a public place
  • Don't leave your laptop unattended even for a few minutes
  • Avoid putting your laptop on the floor because you might forget it
  • Put your laptop out of sight when you are not using it

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