Physical Security

Physical security is just as important as online security in protecting your computer and yourself against crime. This page covers physically protecting your equipment and data not only from theft, but also from fire, flood and accidental damage.  

The risks

Computer and data theft

If your computer equipment is not suitably protected, it is easy for criminals to either steal your data or infect your computer without needing online access – or to steal or damage the equipment itself. In spite of the sophisticated online methods now used by criminals, it is still easier to access the computer by entering your property.

Firstly, if your home (or other premises where computer equipment is kept) is not adequately secured, the way is left open for criminals to gain access by breaking in.

Another common way they can do this is by tricking householders into thinking that they are legitimate callers and finding the computer system whilst pretending to “read the meter”, “survey the property” or “clean the windows”. It does not take long for criminals to achieve their objectives once you have been tricked or distracted.

Physical damage

Like everything else in the home or office, computer equipment is vulnerable to damage from fire, flood and accidental damage. However, the consequences can be more significant because of the data you have stored on it such as documents, photos, music, contact lists and bookmarked websites.

Keep your computers safe

  • Keep doors and windows locked.
  • Don’t leave a spare house key outside.
  • Be careful about who you let into your home.
  • Keep private paper records such as passports, bank statements and National Insurance number, under lock and key if possible.
  • Fit a burglar alarm.
  • Do not advertise the presence of computer equipment by leaving it on view through windows and glass doors.
  • Consider using a computer locking cable to make it harder to steal.
  • Consult with your insurance company or local crime prevention officer for additional security advice.

Additional advice for laptop users

  • Avoid bags that look like laptop bags, for example a bag with a manufacturer’s logo on it.
  • Keep your laptop with you whenever possible. When it is unattended – for example in a hotel room or meeting room – keep it hidden or physically locked up. Carry laptops in hand baggage on an aircraft or coach.
  • Never leave a laptop on a car seat. Even if you are in the car, your laptop could be vulnerable when you are stationary (for example, whilst parking or at traffic lights).
  • Get a padded bag. Many laptops are broken simply by dropping them.

If your PC or laptop is stolen or lost

  • If you have either stored passwords in a document on your PC or laptop, or have ever ticked the ‘remember this password’ box on a website, change any passwords as soon as possible after the theft or loss.
  • Notify the Police and if possible obtain a crime or loss reference number for tracking and insurance purposes.

Limit the impact of a theft or loss

  • Make a note of computer serial numbers to facilitate reporting if stolen or lost.
  • Use a security marker to label your computers and other high-value items.
  • Never store passwords on your computer.
  • Ensure your computer equipment is adequately insured.
  • Back up your data (see Backups for more information)
  • Set up user account passwords to prevent data being accessed.
  • Consider setting up a boot password so that unauthorised users cannot start the computer. However, we recommend this only if you are absolutely certain that you will remember your boot password, otherwise your computer will be rendered unusable.

Other advice

  • Shred documents containing personal information before you throw them away.
  • If your home is at risk from flooding, consider locating computers out of danger on upper floors or on top of desks rather than on the floor.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher suitable for use with electrical equipment near your computer.
  • Be careful how you dispose of boxes that might advertise that you have new computers or printers.