In a list of things in life (blind dates, new sports cars, Spotify playlists, etc.) that should be “fire” (latest slang for “hot”) your laptop and its battery should not be named. Unfortunately, if you happened to have purchased certain HP laptop models between 2013 to 2015, you might be re-introduced to the literal definition of “fire”. Technology manufacturer HP announced a worldwide, voluntary recall of certain batches of batteries that “pose a fire and burn hazard” that have shipped from the factory in 35 different laptop models, and may have been installed after-market in 38 other HP and Compaq models. HP has a full listing of impacted models on their website, and offers both software and physical means to determine if your battery is affected by this recall.
What this means for you:
If you’ve purchased an HP laptop anytime between now and 2013, I recommend flipping it over and checking the battery’s serial number on HP’s site. While you’ve got it upside down, visually inspect the battery and laptop for warped plastic, bulging or discoloration of any surrounding materials. Carefully check if the battery is hot to the touch. Warm is OK, but if it’s too hot to touch with your finger, you may have a problem. Keep in mind that certain laptops may run quite hot during CPU-intensive activities, including working with very large documents, playing video games or watching streaming video, and more so if the laptop is resting on insulating materials like blankets, cushions or even your pants or dress. It may also get hot if vents on the sides or bottom of the laptop are blocked for even short periods of time. Don’t panic if your laptop doesn’t have vents – the manufacturer only puts them in if the design calls for it. If your battery is not part of this recall, shows no signs of warping or heat damage, but still seems unusually hot to the touch even after working with it on a cool, flat surface, consider replacing it, either under warranty if still applicable, or by purchasing a replacement, preferably from the same manufacturer as your laptop. Cheaper, off-brand batteries might be an option, but check reviews as the knock-offs tend to have more problems with reliability and longevity.
Thanks to the commoditization of computer hardware, it’s possible to buy a serviceable laptop that costs less than $500 brand new. This has resulted in many companies relaxing the restrictions they had on their purchase and use, but a small healthcare provider in North Idaho learned a harsh lesson that hardware costs are the least of their worries when it comes to losing a laptop. The Hospice of North Idaho recently had a laptop stolen that contained unencrypted, sensitive personal information on over 400 of their patients, and because this is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Department of Health and Human Services is slapping the non-profit hospice with a $50,000 fine.
What this means for you:
Even if you aren’t a healthcare provider, being aware of the data on your company’s laptops should be a top concern, regardless of whether you think the data doesn’t fall into the protected class outlined by HIPAA. Mobile electronics, like laptops and smartphones are a prized target of thieves, on top of being ridiculously easy to damage and/or misplace all on their own. If your laptops are used heavily on the road, you should consider encrypting some or all of the data on the device, as well as making sure employees are using physical security devices like cable locks whenever the laptop is set down for more than 5 minutes, even if in a “secured” working environment. If your smartphone has access to any company or customer data, you should have auto-locking enabled and at least a 6-digit pin or password to unlock it. Cable locks won’t stop a determined thief, but it will deter most casual theft, and data encryption + passwords will make sure you never have to have that meeting with a client (or worse, a prospect) to let them know that their data might be at risk.
Image courtesy of “cooldesign” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In yet another instance of high-profile data loss, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced that a laptop containing unencrypted, sensitive data was stolen. Ahead of a final determination of the extent of the data exposure, NASA has warned its 300,000 employees and contractors to be extra cautious and that they may be at risk for identity theft.
As a result of this theft and previous data exposure incidents, the organization has established a new policy that all laptops will be encrypted from this point forward, and until the encrpytion can be enforced, all laptops with sensitive data can no longer be removed from NASA facilities.
What this means for you:
The NASA laptop in question was password protected, but you may not be aware that gaining access to data on a password-protected laptop is trivial when you have the actual device in your physical control. Though it does add overhead to overall performance of laptops, encrpyted data partitions or even full-drive encryption is the only way to truly safeguard data on mobile devices, and a compromise that savvy organizations are willing to make in order to allow their knowledge workers the mobility required in today’s technology environment. If you or your knowledge workers work with sensitive data, whether it be employee records or client data, you should review your organization’s privacy and security policies to ensure you are properly protecting yourself from a damaging security breach and data loss.