Help me safeguard both my laptop and my peace of mind while travelling
July 12, 2010 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Looking for best practices/ideas for securing my laptop in a hotel room while travelling.

I will be travelling for work next week, taking my Thinkpad T500 along.

I'm looking for advice and suggestions for physically securing the laptop in my hotel room while I'm out. I'm not particullarly paranoid, but I'd like to take some reasonable precautions to be able to relax during the off hours and not have to carry the thing everywhere.

Are Kensington Locks a good idea? Do security-conscious Mefites recommend a specific model/type?

Am I better off leaving my laptop at the hotel reception while I'm out or should I just resign myself to carrying my backpack wherever I go?
posted by Dr Dracator to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
In my experience in traveling in the States, most people will leave their laptops unlocked in their rooms.

Your biggest threat is hotel staff; who will be access your room primarily during the day (or leaving your room door open while servicing for someone else to stroll in). If you're out during the day working with your laptop you probably have less to worry about at night.

Also, your room may have a room safe, if the t500 will fit in it.

Otherwise, yes, the kensington lock you cited is pretty common with business travelers (not to say there's not a bic-pen style hack for it). Make sure you don't just put it on a desk leg that can be lifted up. Anyone motivated enough to get your laptop can cut through the chain or furniture, of course, but hopefully you'll appear to be more trouble that it's worth and they'll move on.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:29 AM on July 12, 2010


I use a kensington lock, and find it sufficient most of the time. It probably depends where you're travelling to, and if the furniture is easily movable; I usually put it around a table leg. It's not going to make it impossible to take, but will provide a deterrent.
posted by nvsbl at 4:33 AM on July 12, 2010


When I'm traveling and have to leave my laptop in the hotel room, I hide it behind a bookshelf or set of curtains. While I've got and have used the Kensington locks, most of the immovable objects (necessary, as These Premises Are Alarmed points out above) tend to end up leaving the laptop in plain view. That's never worked for me.

So find a set of curtains behind a chair, or a refrigerator or bookshelf or someplace where its not likely to be discovered by someone rummaging quickly through your room.

Also, if you're headed out for a night on the town and leaving the laptop in your room, leave your telly on and the do not disturb sign on your door. Best to make it appear the room is occupied, that way staff (or others) won't try to enter.

Oh yeh! Make sure your machine is backed up before you travel, and your insurance is in order.
posted by Mutant at 4:37 AM on July 12, 2010


In addition to the locks, my company requires that we use hard drive passwords and/or whole disk encryption so that, if stolen, at least the data will not be compromised.
posted by CaptainZingo at 4:42 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you want to protect the hardware, or the data on it?
Who are you protecting against? A targetted attack or an opportunist?

The short answer is that it won't be safe against a person who wants the data on your laptop.

Hard drive encryption and hard drive passwords are absolutely useless if you are using a static passphrase. Anyone skilled enough will update your boot loader to record your password or install a keylogger.

Kensington locks can be opened with a pen, a toilet roll holder, or a penny, depending on which youtube link you want to follow.

In the end it's all about making your laptop less attractive to thieves AND making it hard work to get at your data. So encrypt your disk and use a lock, but this won't stop someone who is determined.
posted by devnull at 5:10 AM on July 12, 2010


Thanks for the tips so far, some clarifications:

Also, your room may have a room safe, if the t500 will fit in it.

I doubt it, though I'll probably e-mail the hotel and ask.

It probably depends where you're travelling to, and if the furniture is easily movable;

I'll be going to Vienna, Austria, if that matters - I'll be staying in a nice hotel but I'm not expecting any half-ton solid hardwood furniture.

Do you want to protect the hardware, or the data on it?

I want to protect the hardware - the data is either not sensitive or encrypted, and all of it is backed up regularly.

Who are you protecting against? A targetted attack or an opportunist?

I'm protecting against opportunistic thieves (e.g. hotel staff). I would love to be the target of a well-organized hacker attack, but my life is sadly not that glamorous.

Kensington locks can be opened with a pen, a toilet roll holder, or a penny, depending on which youtube link you want to follow.

This is the kind of information I was hoping this question would turn up - Do you have any recommendations for less vulnerable types or models?
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:25 AM on July 12, 2010


Many laptops will fit in hotel safes.

I personally would not let my laptop out of my sight, period, while traveling, unless I was hiking or something. I carry a laptop all day long at home, so what's the difference? Or else travel with a bare-bones laptop carrying only the necessary data, no stored passwords, shitbox quality so you don't care if it's stolen, etc.

There are usually a few good hiding places in most hotel rooms, but the staff likely know all of them. Drop ceilings, where they can be found, provide the least intuitive place to look.

Also, get locking luggage and store the laptop inside it. Again, not real protection; someone can carry off the luggage, or break the lock on site pretty easily, but it hides the laptop from first level snooping if there's no safe.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:51 AM on July 12, 2010


If your primary concern is opportunistic theft, and it's a legitimate quality hotel, leave your laptop with the desk staff for placement in the hotel's own safe -- most hotels of any quality will offer this, and their taking possession of it will indemnify you against the loss. That's a *very* bad idea if securing the data on the laptop is your primary concern, of course.

Even relatively cheap hotels in the US often (usually?) have room safes these days, by the way.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:54 AM on July 12, 2010


PacSafe offers a portable laptop safe.
posted by neushoorn at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2010


If you are concerned about someone picking the lock, they also make Kensington locks with combinations.
posted by smackfu at 6:34 AM on July 12, 2010


If you are afraid of someone stealing the laptop, perhaps consider downloading Prey. The program lets you set up an account and if it does get stolen, you have the option of going onto another computer, logging in and then reporting it stolen. The program will then we fully activated on your computer so that it will seek to connect to any wireless network it can to ping back its location.

Also, set a BIOS password so that someone can't easily just format your hard disk.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:42 AM on July 12, 2010


In-room safes these days are different than you remember. Every one I have seen over the past few years has deliberately been big enough for a laptop.

Either I lock it in the safe or I take it with me. In a pinch, if there was no safe and I could not take the computer with me, I just put it in a suitcase under clothes and shut the suitcase.

It all goes back to being a young child traveling with my parents. I had a very cool fuzzy pen that I loved. I left the pen out in a hotel room and it was taken, along with some of my mother's more expensive cosmetics. (It was the 70s, people stole that stuff back then.) My dad told both of us that we should have known better, if we didn't want something taken, don't tempt people by leaving it out.

Hiding a laptop is just like putting the Club on your car - you just want them to move on to a more obvious target.
posted by micawber at 7:39 AM on July 12, 2010


The likelihood of someone actually stealing your laptop is extremely small. Laptops are too big for anyone to be able to claim you must have misplaced them, and not valuable enough to risk losing your job over. Take basic precautions if you feel you must, but really, don't stress over it.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:43 AM on July 12, 2010


I'd just buy a cheap netbook and take that instead of my very own, personal ThinkPad.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:25 PM on July 13, 2010


If you are concerned about someone picking the lock, they also make Kensington locks with combinations.

Actually, I have been looking for a lock for the past few days, and the combination kind is all I can get: Are they considered safer than key locks? A 4-dial 10000 combination should take something like a couple of hours to open at 1 combination/second, I'm guessing this is considered safer than a keyed lock that can be opened in a couple of minutes if you know how.

I'd just buy a cheap netbook and take that instead of my very own, personal ThinkPad.

I passed on this idea already: Since I don't have a use for a netbook 99% of the time it would be too wastefull, and you still have to carry the netbook around.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:43 AM on July 14, 2010


Keyed Kensington Locks

Honestly, the weak point of any cable lock is the cable.
posted by smackfu at 11:03 AM on July 14, 2010


Ask the hotel what kind of lock they have for guest rooms. If they use key cards chances are theft will be likely to happen - it's easy to trace back. Avoid hotels that use actual keys like plague.

Good luck!
posted by jstarlee at 2:08 PM on July 14, 2010


I'd just buy a cheap netbook and take that instead of my very own, personal ThinkPad.

  • I passed on this idea already: Since I don't have a use for a netbook 99% of the time it would be too wastefull, and you still have to carry the netbook around.


  • What I meant was, it could be to your advantage to travel with a smaller, cheaper computer. You can still use it for email, web browsing, and writing documents. It's lighter to carry, and you can just leave it in your hotel room instead of carrying it around with you. If there's a room safe, it will be easier to put it in the safe. And if somebody actually steals it, you've only lost a smaller, cheaper computer that had no important information on it. Just my 2¢.
    posted by exphysicist345 at 9:40 PM on July 21, 2010


    Hey all,

    I'm home - laptop still in my possession and with minimal hassle.

    A bit of information that may be useful to future askers is that the hotel accepted the laptop for storage in their safe, but charged a small per day fee to do so (~4 euros/day). I left the laptop in the safe over the weekend, when I was mostly out and about and didn't need it anyway, and used a Kensington lock the rest of the time.

    The safe had a twin lock system, similar to the safety deposit boxes at a bank: They gave me one of the keys to hold on to, as a guarantee that hotel staff won't have access to the safe contents without my consent.
    posted by Dr Dracator at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2010


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