Preventing Laptop Theft

Every semester, UC Berkeley Police receive numerous reports of stolen laptops on the campus and University properties. According to theft reports, many of those stolen laptops were the result of "smash-and-grab" car break-ins. UCPD warns that, "it only takes 10 seconds for a thief to smash a window and grab a laptop.”  To protect your devices and data, follow these basic security practices.

1. Physically Protect Your Device From Theft

  • Never leave your laptop or mobile device in a vehicle
  • Do not walk away from your laptop, even for a minute
  • If you must sleep while you're studying in the library, sleep on the laptop
  • Do not leave valuables in common areas or ask strangers to watch them for you
  • Secure your laptop in an office with cable locks, lockdown devices, or inside a locked drawer. Try not to leave your device in plain sight -- even if locked

2. Register and Track Your Device

  • Engrave or brand serial numbers onto a laptop
  • Use commercial location software, such as Apple FindMyiPhone (UCPD uses LoJack Security software on their departmental laptops)
  • Use tamper-resistant tags that can be applied to the laptop to identify it in case of theft, such as Stop Tag

3. Protect the Data on Your Device

UC Berkeley's Minimum Security Standards for Electronic Information states that protected/notice-triggering data must not be stored on a laptop (or any other portable device) unless absolutely necessary and if so must be strongly encrypted. Encryption can be applied to laptop data in different ways. The two most common methods to protect data on laptops are "full disk" and "file" encryption:



Best For

Full Disk Encryption Software
  • Small group of users (less than 5)
  • Minimal file sharing or collaboration required
  • Large quantity of data
File Encryption Software
  • Moderate to large group of users (greater than 5)
  • Files must be worked on collaboratively by users in geographically distributed locations
  • Moderate or large data size

(See: “Data Encryption on Removable Media” for industry-accepted encryption technologies to protect your devices.)

4. Time is of the Essence

If your laptop or mobile device is stolen or lost, file a police report immediately: visit

If the computer is the property of UC Berkeley and is used for university business or accessing university data see Report a Stolen or Lost Device for reporting contacts and guidelines.