The majority of an eBay seller's business is maintained electronically. Photographs, item descriptions, accounting, customer information, auction management software, not to mention all of your personal items, are all kept on a computer.
What would you do if it was suddenly gone? Are you one of the sellers who backs up their hard-drive every week religiously, or can you barely remember when you last backed up or even where the CDs are? And even if you do back-up as often as you should, what about all the personal and professional data on your computer that could potentially be used for identity theft?
There are many things you can do to protect your business, some are general common-sense techniques that we know in theory but often forget to do (even though they are free). Others are products and services that can be purchased to help prevent theft from occurring or help you get your computer back if it is lost or stolen.
Part 1: No-Cost Techniques
Use a combination of letters (upper and lower case) and numbers in passwords. Use a unique password for every program and website you visit. Also, don't have your computer auto-login when it starts up - require a password to sign in. It is important to manually sign in every time you start up the computer or when it wakes up from screen saver (and please don't keep your username and password on a post-it note on your monitor). If a thief gets your computer, this is one more step to protect the information from getting into the wrong hands.
To set a password on your computer, go to Control Panel - User Accounts, and select your username and click Create Password.
To get your computer to prompt for a password when it wakes up from screen saver, right-click on the desktop and select Properties. Go to the Screen Saver tab and check the box marked On Resume, Password Protect. These are the instructions for Windows XP, but all operating systems have these settings in virtually the same place.
Serial Numbers and Product Registration
Every computer and software product has a serial number. Make a list of these and keep them somewhere safe (in a locked safe is a good idea). If you use your computer at work, have a copy of the serial numbers at home, and vice versa. If your computer does get stolen, you can easily report all of the hardware and software as stolen to the manufacturers. This can aid in getting your item returned, particularly if a potential buyer checks the serial numbers for any known issues with the computer.
Make sure you register all software products. All software companies have different policies about getting replacement software, so check with the manufacturer for specifics. Adobe's policy is if your software is registered, it will only cost you $20 (plus shipping) for a new CD and you use the same serial number. If it is not registered and you don't have the serial number, you need to apply for "reserialization" to get a new serial number. To do this, you need to provide them with a police report showing the theft and proof of original purchase (which few people keep around). It is much quicker and easier to register the software in the first place.
Secure Wireless Connections
Many businesses (and households) have jumped on the wireless bandwagon. I must admit I am one of them, and I love the flexibility it affords me.
However, there are three things you should do to secure your connection and prevent hackers from accessing your network:
Change the default password for the router account settings. This way, hackers cannot gain control over your network using the default password and change it to another password of their choosing.
Change the default (left bracket)acronym title="Service Set Identifier"(right bracket)SSID(left bracket)/acronym(right bracket). This is the name of the router (often defaults to WLAN or something similar).
To gain access to your network connection, a user must have both the SSID and password. So it is important to ensure neither are left as the default and the password is turned on. Otherwise you are leaving yourself open for bandwidth stealing (at best) or a hacker gaining control over your network (at worst). Remember, you can easily give the SSID and password to anyone authorized to use the connection and they only have to set it up once.
Turn off "Broadcast SSID." This effectively hides your connection from public view. So, when a user clicks "View Wireless Networks" to search for available networks, yours will not show up.
This fourth step is optional, but worth doing if you are accessing sensitive data frequently. This is setting the WEP/WPA Encryption (Wired Equivalent Privacy and Wi-Fi Protected Access). Basically, this encrypts all data traveling on your network. Unfortunately, it does slow down your connection a bit.
Although it sounds complicated, it is actually very easy to complete these steps. It is usually done through your router set up page (which is often your network IP address). Each router is different, so check your user manual for specific set up instructions.
Part 2: Theft Prevention and Data Protection
Locked Security Cables
Desktop computers are harder to steal than laptops, but if a thief is in your home/business, they probably have time to at least get the CPU. You can foil this plan by using a locked security cable. This basically attaches your computer to the desk and would require the thief to take the entire desk as well as the CPU. Most thieves will not even bother trying if they see one of these cables.
Security cables are also available for laptops and fit into the security port on the back of most newer laptop models. Realistically though, this is only useful when you have an immovable piece of furniture to lasso it around. I have found good quality steel laptop security cables with either a combination lock or a key lock for under $30.
Other cables are available with alarms on them - such as you would see on electronic display items in a retail store. This is a good idea for businesses where the laptops need to be easily accessible on the main customer floor. Kensington makes alarmed security cables for desktops and laptops that retail around $50.
You should backup your hard-drive at least once a week. Theft aside, this will prevent you losing everything if your hard-drive crashes, which I am sure has happened to each of us at least once. If you have a lot of photographs, you might want to create a folder for "new pictures 2-19-06" so you only need to add those files.
CDs are great, but personally I prefer using a USB "jump" drive. They are much more flexible because you can add and remove files as you would on your regular hard-drive without having to take time to burn a CD each time. And there are no backup CDs to lose, just your drive to keep track of. A 512MB jump drive costs around $50, but they are available as small as 64KB and as large as 2GB.
There are many companies that host backups on their servers. You log in through a web browser and upload your backup, which you can then access from anywhere. The good thing about this is if your computer and jump drive/CDs are both stolen, you still have a backup at a secure off-site location. Virtual-Backup.com (http://www.Virtual-Backup.com) offers 1GB of storage for $19.99 a month.
Part 3: Item Recovery Products and Services
Loss Protection and Recovery Labels
There are various companies that offer this service, I use (http://www.StuffBak.com) but they all follow the same principles. The labels have a unique serial number that you register to yourself or your business. If your item is lost or stolen, the person who ends up with it will see the labels and the theory is most people are honest enough to at least double check with the label company before they purchase the item. It also helps police and lost-and-found departments locate the owner of retrieved items. Stuff-Bak charges $14.95 for their recovery service, and the labels packs vary from $9.95 to $99.95 depending on how many labels you need.
Imagine having your computer stolen, then as soon as it is connected to the Internet (even if the hard-drive has been reformatted) the laptop connects to a monitoring service and flags up its location.
This is a laptop lojack system such as the Computrace Plus product from Absolute Software (http://digbig.com/4gffa), which charges $49.95 a year for the service. It works by identifying the IP address which discloses the broad location (city and state) and who the owner of the IP is. This information is then passed onto the local police for theft recovery. Absolute Software claims a 90 percent recovery rate of all computers that connect to the monitoring service after being stolen.
Once a computer connects to the monitoring service, they can remotely wipe all data from the hard-drive to prevent sensitive information getting into the wrong hands. This is a separate service that they charge $200 for, but it may well be worth it (particularly if you have access to the data elsewhere through the backups you have done).
It is possible to spend a fortune on security equipment, but when you consider how valuable your computer is to your business, a couple of hundred dollars in preventative measures can make a big difference if you ever find yourself the victim of computer theft.