How to protect your stay-at-home gadgets: A burglary can teach you important lessons about security

Technology writer David Crookes reveals how to secure your technology.

Research once suggested that burglars tend to stick to one side of the street when breaking and entering. If that is true, then the people with even numbers on our street had better be pinning up those Home Watch stickers.

It was a phone call which started the nightmare that was our burglary. "Something has happened at the house," said my wife. Sure enough, when I arrived home, chipboard had been used to replace the front door panels and our neighbours were in the street to fill us in with the details.

They stole my wife's engagement ring which she cannot wear at work. They stole the television (cue an excuse to visit Richer Sounds). Today our house looks different with its Rockdoor and a box on the front with a flashing red light telling the world, "yes, we were done over but try it again you thieving gits and this brand new burglar alarm will deafen you while the neighbours carrying on drinking tea".

But I made a mistake. I left my Google Nexus 7 tablet, Android phone and Mac Mini with the equivalent of an electronic open door. One swipe or a boot-up and the thieves who added these items to their plentiful booty will be free to play Angry Birds or read a past Independent article or whatever else they want to do once they've negotiated the sheer number of apps that used to daunt even me.

I didn't protect them with passwords or passcodes and it feels like we have suffered two break-ins. It also confirms that password protecting your devices should be the first thing you do – even if you're leaving them at home – otherwise you pay for it later with the sheer amount of time spent changing the passwords of the umpteen services you're signed in for.

The insurance company has passed our claim on to its loss adjusters. We're in a stressful period of analysing every detail of the policy and arguing the toss when the insurer tries to give incorrect information. Little things such as maximum payouts for single items can catch some people out (this is something to watch out for with travel insurance, too – Which? magazine says they can be as low as £200 meaning an Apple iPhone 5 worth £500 will, when the excess of £75 is lopped off, leave you with just £125).

Thankfully, we are fully covered for our items and it was good to note that our policy also includes up to £2,500 for data legally purchased and downloaded from a legitimate website. But there is nothing about the reams of personal data or important documents that are saved on your machines, items you cannot put a true value on.

That's where cloud-based services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Sky Drive work well in ensuring back-ups are stored on remote servers. You could also look at encrypting your hard drive. FileVault on Apple Macs (find it in Security & Privacy system preference in Mountain Lion) or products such as ZoneAlarm on PCs are worth looking at.

"You do need to consider the value of data," says Claire Foster, spokeswoman for Direct Line home insurance. "So many things including photos and music are stored on devices and computers and some people keep sensitive data such as bank details. Fraud is a danger. We have a fraud-alert service and it has proven to be popular."

Yet even though Claire advises hiding smaller items out of natural eyesight, most of these things are used daily. That's why passwords and passcodes are vital. My wife was far more careful than me in this respect and even though an experiment by the website Ars Technia showed that expert hackers would crack 90 per cent of the 16,449 passwords laid in front of them (even such long, complex ones as "qeadzcwrsfxv1331"), most common thieves lack the skills to be able to do this so it is usually a good deterrent.

The ultimate aim is to try and get the stuff back, though. After all, according to AXA, the approximate cost of gadgets in the average UK household equals £4,625 and some insurance companies will take into account depreciation of some of those items.

"The popularity of electronic items means it is important for people to make sure their gadgets and other high-value household items are insured and stored away in a safe place," says Amanda Edwards, of AXA Insurance. "We need to make it harder for thieves as claiming for hi-tech goods and jewellery will inevitably have an impact on insurance premiums."

Services such as Find My Mac, Find My iPad and Find My iPhone try to locate your device ("Lots of police forces are encouraging people to install Find My iPhone," says an Apple spokesman). My obsessive compulsion for checking my phone has increased tenfold as I wait for the hallelujah moment when the Mac Mini connects to the internet and the map finally shows me where it is. Then I can lock and erase it remotely.

These location trackers are so effective in leading to prosecutions that thieves tend not to steal iPads or iPhones any more, according to the police officer who turned up to deal with us (and who has kept us informed every step of the way). That figures: our iPads were in the bedroom and the burglars left them alone. It seems that thieves are more likely to gamble with Macs, though, possibly because Find My Mac is not enabled by default (go to System Preferences and iCloud to turn it on).

The same goes for Android and PCs, the majority of which will not be protected. Prey (preyproject.com) works with Windows and Linux and will find your computer on a map. Lookout Security is fantastic for Android tablets or phones and some Samsung Galaxy and HTC devices have built-in location trackers. You can locate your device and make it emit a noise that appears loud enough to burst all but the most concert-bashed eardrums. If you pay a little extra, you can also have your Android device lock and wipe itself too. You can even find an older Android phone after it has been stolen using the Plan B app although it only works on older devices running the operating system 2.0 to 2.3.7. When the handset is turned on and connected, the app installs, activates and tells you where it is.

But yet you can't entirely rely on location trackers. "These services only work while the phone is switched on and not if it has been factory reset," says Andy Betts, editor of Android magazine. "So it is also important to make a note of your phone's IMEI number. You can give this to your network when you lose the phone and they can block it so it won't be able to register on networks."

So what can you do in those circumstances and for those items that don't have location trackers? "Use Immobilise and mark property with UV pens," says Jonathan Southgate, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police about the online service, immobilise.com. "It will help the police to get your property back to you if it is found."

Which is all well and good but if you don't protect your devices properly, you may find the thieves have racked up some good gaming scores and added some choice lines to your documents before they're returned to you, grubby prints and all.

Secure your stuff

1. Use complex passwords to make it harder for thieves to guess

2. Back up to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive

3. Enable trackers such as Find My iPhone to locate your items if stolen

4. Store external hard drives away from computers

5. Security mark your property with UV pens

6. Use immobilise.com to keep a log of your valuable items online

7. Photograph valuables to help police and insurance claims

8. Note your phone's IMEI number so it can be barred from accessing networks

9. Log out of devices to protect your data from snoopers

10. Use anti-virus software to protect against online crime

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    Ashdown Group: Part time Network Support Analyst / Windows Systems Administrat

    £30 per hour: Ashdown Group: An industry leading and well established business...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas