Nefarious types typically break into houses and cars to steal portable and easy-to-sell items. They’re not after your music collection, photos, address book and home movies, but that’s exactly what they get when they nick your laptop. Here are some tips for securing your digital life in case the unthinkable happens to you.

Someone I knew was robbed recently. The thieves crept into his house while he slept, grabbed the laptops, and headed straight out the way they came.

Worse than waking up to discover the broken window, the missing laptops, and every iPod in the house gone, however, was finding out that all his data was lost, and his backups were old.

Hardware, of course, can be replaced, but reclaiming work-related files, email trails, contact lists, personal projects, birthday calendars, membership and account details for a myriad of online and offline services, plus logins and passwords to everything that matters in you life is a whole other dimension of loss altogether.

So as many Australians prepare to leave their homes home unattended during the holiday break, consider these precautions for protecting your digital life.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a dose of cure.

Get insured

First and foremost, take out home contents insurance. Paying insurance premiums sure feels like a waste of money every year you don’t get robbed, but it’s certainly money well spent when you are.

You can select the level of cover you want – from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands – and with a new-for-old replacement policy, you’ll avoid the financial sting of having to buy a new computer immediately after a theft.

Most policies will provide limited cover for possessions that you take out of the house, like cameras, tablets, notebooks and phones, so tick this option if you foresee ever travelling with these items.

Apartment dwellers should note, that the body corporate’s insurance doesn’t cover tenants possessions, just damage to the building.

Remember, too, that the security door or intercom six levels below you won’t protect against the thief who comes in by the balcony.

Lock it down

One of the best ways to make sure your computer doesn’t go walkabout is to lock it down – literally.

Kensington Lock slots have been available for years, the tiny hole allowing you to attach the proprietary lock connector with ease.

If you’re really worried about your stuff, grab one of the locks – each with its own specific key or combination lock – and attach it to your computer when you go to bed, looping the threaded metal cord around something heavy and hard to move, like the leg of a table.

We take one whenever we go on holiday. It gives us peace of mind about leaving our gear in the hotel room when we venture out.

Backup to a hard drive

Making a copy of your computer’s hard drive is a simple way to safeguard your data, and scheduling regular automatic backups is even better.

So, buy an external hard drive and start copying your stuff to it. If the drive or your computer is bundled with backup software, start using that and make sure you keep backups of important data, like emails, photos, movies, and your music collection.

For long-term storage of super-critical data, use archive-grade DVDs and keep them somewhere safe and out of sight.

Being able to label a hard drive makes it easier to remember what you've stored on it. If your drive has this function, great. If not, just stick a note on it or print one from a label-maker.

 

Backup to the cloud

If you’re deeply concerned that someone will steal your hard drive, you can also backup to the internet – aka the cloud.

There are lots of different service options, and many come with software to help make it easy to not only backup your data, but also access files from just about any internet-connected device.

While you can have access to gigabytes of storage for your data, we’d recommend uploading only the more critical files, those which will be difficult –birth certificates, marriage licenses and other official documents – or impossible to replace, such as the kids’ newborn photos, family history records, movies and pictures.

Cloud computing is still fairly new and as a result can be expensive, with storage options over 5GB attracting annual fees.

Apple users can take advantage of iCloud for their files, with 5GB offered free and extra storage costing $21, $42, and $105 per year.

Otherwise, there are lots of options if you’ve got Windows or Mac, including Dropbox, Box, Trend Micro, and numerous other cloud storage providers.

The Dropbox iPad app lets you browse your files if you're connected to the web.

Switch Bluetooth off

Cars are dangerous places to leave computers: just ask anyone who’s ever returned to the car they left in so-called “secure” parking stations to find their window smashed or their boot lock broken.

You don’t need to have left the computer in view either, as thieves can use their phone’s Bluetooth to detect whether a notebook is inside a vehicle. Even if the computer has been put to sleep, with Bluetooth active it can be found by carpark prowlers.

You can minimise this risk by switching Bluetooth off if need to leave the laptop in a car. Better still, just take it with you.

Take advantage of tracking

It’s all well and good to have insurance and a backup system, but what if you actually want to get your hardware?

Apple computers with Mac OS X 10.7 are equipped with “Find My Mac” and “Find My iPhone”, two similar pieces of software that can run on Apple’s iCloud website. Simply setup your notebook ahead of time with your login details. If you do have to make use of the service, just log in and have it track your device.

When you report a stolen iPhone or iPad to Apple's service, it'll get the message quickly.

But what if you’ve got a PC? Or a Mac without the latest version of Mac OS?

Prey is designed to let you track a gadget – Windows PC, Mac, iPhone or Android device – using a small piece of tracking software and a communication to the Prey website.

After installing the software to your notebook, phone or tablet and setting up an account (which supports up to three device), you can start tracking from Prey’s website.

From the site you can report a device as missing or found for own reporting needs, which will activate some of the following security features: send an alert to the stolen device as a message, a sound, and even force the machine to stop working until a password of your own choosing is entered.

What’s more, once it’s been established that the laptop has been stolen, you’ll receive a report based on criteria you’ve selected in the Prey control panel. This can include the notebook’s location on Google Maps and which apps are running.

Using your notebook’s webcam, Prey can also grab a mug shot of the person currently using your notebook.

Take these the local police station and you have some real evidence upon which they can act.

You obviously can't trust people in hats.

Of course, Prey needs to be installed on your computer before it’s stolen. It also needs the internet to function, so whoever steals your PC will need to get online before you can start tracking them down.