Stolen Laptop – what are the risks?

A client arrived home to find two missing laptops after a house break-in.

So what are the possible risks from such a theft?

Well, the obvious ones I can think of are:

(a) your data is at risk – the thief can potentially read through all your documents and photos.

(b) your email is at risk – the thief can read all your email if you have it stored on the computer or if the passwords are saved in the web browser for online email.

(c) your contacts can be exploited in some fashion.

I would have thought that would be all. But I had discovered a new avenue of risk in this case.

I imagine the thief sold the laptops to someone who specialises in trying to benefit from the data.

In this case, a month after the theft, my clients outgoing mail was turned off by the ISP (1&1 who I rate highly). People had been complaining that my client was sending spam!

Knowing the client to be a top person, I knew this was s most ridiculous assertion!

It seems that the new laptop owner was sending out fraudulent emails from an email account that was still active. See below for a copy of the scam email that was sent.

Fortunately for my client’s prudence, we had adequate off-site backup in place. Thanks to Carbonite online backup (for automated off-site backup) and Genie backup Manager (for automated outlook backup), we managed to retrieve most of the data. Phew!

Lessons to learn:

We are all vulnerable if a computer is stolen, but there are some basic precautions that will make life difficult if a thief really wants to attempt a form of exploitation:

1. It is worth setting a BIOS password at that computer start – please get someone experienced to set this up for you.

2. It is worth setting a windows password also TO ALL USER ACCOUNTS. This is done in control panel, user accounts. Note: If you run Vista, please create a password reset disk also!

3. ALWAYS ALWAYS SETUP some form of off-site ONLINE BACKUP e.g. Carbonite or Depositit

4. Change your email passwords – whether it is Outlook with an ISP or Googlemail or hotmail – login and change those passwords. Unfortuantely there are idiots out there who may try to exploit this.

Copy of spam / attempted scam email:
Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE HE

This story reminds me of a similar experience I wrote about is a client newsletter, which I paste below:


11 / 06 /08

Dear Sir/Madam,


I am compelled by the necessity and confidentiality to seek capable

overseas assistance to write you.

My name is Chief Azubike Ahubelem, the Executive Director Finance and Accounts/CFO of Nigerian Petroleum Development Company(NPDC) in charge of Oil & Gas Exploration and Production activities in the hydrocarbon-rich regions of coastal Nigeria.

1. I and the Group Executive Director Engineering & Technology in charge of procurements of equipments for Oil & Gas Exploration and Production are in possession of fund accrued from carefully inflated quotation for equipments just procured. For our benefit we unanimously overestimated the equipments cost before it was approved for purchase.

2. Now that the contractors are being paid we want capable overseas based firm to assist us front for the payment of the surplus fund to an overseas bank account for safe custody and investment.

3. Your benefit will be discussed. We have carefully perfected the plans and documents to facilitate the payment,I will be disposed to give you the details and the amount on receipt of your interest to assist.

Thanking you in anticipation of your cooperation.


Chief Azubike Ahubelem

NOTE-; I will have to receive your response within a week from today, after which I will be free to contact another person in your country for assistance.


March 2008

Welcome to Computing Matters 7 – Phishing emails.

Two weeks ago I was called up by a new client who was experiencing shocking return to London. She has given me permission to write about her experience.

“Gemma” returned from holiday to find an email in her hotmail account from hotmail asking her to confirm her password details. She did this immediately without thinking.

An hour later and she lost access to her hotmail account.

Two hours later and she started receiving phone calls from friends.

It turned out that in this short period of time, an email was sent from her 300 email contacts asking for financial help having been caught out in Nigeria. Please see the emails below to see a copy of the email sent out and an example response that she arrived to her husband’s email account.

Basically, she became a victim of a phishing email. Ironically, hotmail’s spam filter failed to catch it. Worse that this she could NOT can get access to her account for two reasons:

1. When her husband setup the hotmail account many years ago, he put a work email address as an alternative. This work email address no longer exists since he has changed jobs many times since.

2. The secret password was forgotten.

As a result, she has lost access to her inbox, lost 300 contact details and her 300 contacts have received a bogus email from her that looks like a genuine cry for help. These hackers can also take their time to read all her inbox and learn all about their victim’s life – children, bank accounts and so on. She has suffered a form of identity fraud, her reputation has been affected and there is a chance it could get worse if they are smart enough.

Lessons to learn from this experience:

1. Never click any link to confirm passwords of any kind – even for something simple like your email account password.
2. Backup your email contacts on hotmail or gmail regularly. Please contact me if you need advice to do this.
3. Visit your hotmail or gmail accounts and update your “alternative” email account. Also, update your secret password to one that is up-to-date and one you will remember. I have just done this for my own gmail and hotmail accounts.

This new threat proved how much abuse can be had if the wrong person gets access to your online email accounts and they have no qualms about the abuse.

Please be careful – it is generally safer to use Outlook on a personal computer.

Addenda – warning this phishing email is shown for reference only!

Dear Gemma,
That’s just awful! Are you still there and what’s happening to you now? Let me know how things are going and how I can help.

On 18 Feb 2008, at 10:22, Gemma wrote:

I am sorry i didn’t inform you about mytraveling to Africa for a program called Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which are Ghana,South Africa and Nigeria. It as been a very sad and bad moment for me,the present condition that I found myself is very hard for me to explain.I am really stranded in Nigeria because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport,documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel am staying,I am facing a hard time here because I have no money on me. I am now owning a hotel bill of 600 Pounds and they wanted me to pay the bill soon else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management.,I need this help from you urgently to help me back home,I need you to help me with the hotel bill and i will also need 750 Pounds to feed and help myself back home so please can you help me with a sum of 1,350 Pounds to sort out my problems here?I need this help so much and on time because i am in a terrible and tight situation here,I don’t even have money to feed myself for a day which means i had been starving so please understand how urgent i needed your help.

I am sending you this e-mail from the city lagos and I only have 30 min,I will appreciate what so ever you can afford to send me for now and i promise to pay back your money as soon as i return home,you need to transfer the money through Western Union, please email me back so that i can email you one of the Hotel Management name that you will send the western union to.
With warm wishes.


2 Responses to “Stolen Laptop – what are the risks?”

  1. robert Says:

    Great post 🙂 I like to know more from your blog, especially about this subject.

  2. Laptop Theft – data compromised and logmein to the rescue « Friedman IT Solutions Says:

    […] last happened to a client in 2008 when i wrote this blog article – once again, the theft was from […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: