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Hang on to your hardware

New course teaches travelers to defend their data

Laptop theft costs companies tens of thousands of dollars annually.



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(CNN) -- Laptops are a business traveler's lifeline, so the theft of these vital work tools can be devastating.

Containing sensitive data, hours' worth of work and a direct link to the head office mainframe, they are often valued at tens of thousands of dollars more than the price of a replacement computer.

Yet few people take the safety of their laptop seriously enough -- a fact highlighted by the huge numbers stolen every year.

And with computer crime on the rise, one security firm is offering a training course to teach mobile executives how to hang on to their hardware.

"As soon as they get a laptop, most people start carrying it around in a laptop bag, which just shouts 'steal me'," Mark Hide, director of British-based security consultancy Planet Wiseexternal link told CNN.

A 2002 study by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Computer Security Institute put the average financial cost resulting from a laptop theft at $89,000 -- of which the hardware counts for very little.

Some losses are deeply embarrassing. Britain's Ministry of Defense reportedly had nearly 600 laptops stolen or go missing in the space of one year.

A Planet Wise survey revealed that 94 percent of some 200 companies questioned had lost personal computers in the last 12 months, but estimated the average value of these at a more conservative $14,200.

At least one major corporation has decided enough is enough, approaching Planet Wise -- which runs courses on how to minimize personal risk overseas -- to help cut losses.

"The first step is for an organization to develop a culture of looking after their laptops," says Hide.

"People need to get in the right mind set. They need to realize that no matter where they are, they can't leave their computer on a table and wander off to get a coffee."

As part of the internationally-run course, laptop users are taught basic crime awareness tips, such as how conceal their machine inside inconspicuous bags and the use of security and back-up devices.

"It's easy to replace the hardware, but 50 to 60 percent of have not had their data backed up elsewhere."

Distress call

Other advice includes avoiding wireless Internet hotspots unless computers are adequately encrypted and purchasing voltage surge protectors for countries where electricity supply is unpredictable.

While Planet Wise aims to cut laptop theft and data loss through preventative methods, other firms offer solutions for reclaiming or disabling computers after they are taken.

U.S. firm Stealth Signalexternal link supplies a software tool which sits deep inside the computer's memory, sending out a distress call every time a stolen computer is logged onto the Internet.

The signal carries information including dial-up phone numbers and IP addresses which can be used to pinpoint the laptop's new location.

Advanced software can also allow the computer's owner to remotely delete sensitive files stored on the missing machine.

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