We are living in a world with sophisticated technology around us. The devices that we use, cars we drive, homes we live in, public places we visit and so on, are equipped with “new generation technology”. Unfortunately, these are also able to keep tabs on our digital lives. Many people might not be aware of the fact that the computers and smartphones they use could also end up being a threat to them at a later point in time.

My intention here is not to scare you all, but simply to keep you in a perspective of the world that has changed so much today.

Sometime ago, I watched a fictional film where an adult boy happens to discover a laptop with no sign of its owner at the site. Excited about the finding, he takes the laptop to his home and starts using it without giving a second thought as to what it may contain. He turns on the computer (it’s a Macbook Pro, by the way), then connects with his friends via Skype and Facebook and video chats for hours.

The story further becomes interesting when he doesn’t realise he’s being hacked remotely. After taking complete control of his computer, the mischievous hacker turns his day into hell by executing all sorts of insane acts. The laptop he found back at the place where he works was actually, left there deliberately by the hacker in order to gain easy prey on his victims – and he just fell for it.

The hacker is a member of a group who performs illegal acts via the “dark web”. Such acts can even include assassinating people for their clients for which they get paid. Thus, one by one, his friends are murdered in cold blood, including him and his girlfriend.

Now, I suppose most of you reading this might have already guessed which film I’m talking about, yeah? However, the purpose of me writing this blog is to create awareness among individuals so that you don’t land yourselves into trouble for something that doesn’t belong to you – particularly a device that is used for communication over a network.

Found A Lost Laptop? Here’s What To Do

Often, people tend to lose their belongings at some place or the other. Common places include a bus or railway station, cafe or restaurant, park, library, or perhaps, your neighbour or friend’s house. There might have been a time when you had unknowingly dropped or kept, let’s say your laptop and only realised upon reaching home that you don’t have it any more. What a grave loss it must be to you after losing something that belonged to you.

My topic of interest here is, “What to do with a lost and found laptop?”

I have come up with three scenarios, which are quite likely to be common with the decision that a person like you and me may tend to make.

Scenario 1: Ignore the item and walk away

Scenario 2: Report the lost item to the police

Scenario 3: Keep the item because you want it

The first and second scenarios are perhaps, a smart act of keeping yourself away from what may come to you.

But, for those of you who would want to choose the third scenario, here are some tips that will keep you away from unwanted trouble. Thus, allowing you to also gain complete ownership of the item that you found, unless someone shows up to claim the item that is currently in your possession. In this case, it will not be considered stealing, well, technically. I personally don’t advocate stealing. This subject matter is solely a tip on knowing what to do with a lost and found laptop. Who knows, you could make a good use of it simply by following a couple of helpful ‘technical workarounds’.

1. Stay Offline

DO NOT connect the laptop to the Internet when you turn it on. Go offline! This is very crucial. The Internet opens the door to all sorts of online malicious attacks, threats and hacks. Cyber crime starts here. Thus, staying offline should be your first step, especially when dealing with a lost and found laptop. Cyber criminals cannot gain remote access to computers that are offline. So, you are safe as long as you’re offline.

2. Avoid Launching Programs/Applications

DO NOT open programs/applications on the laptop, if you’re not sure what they are. If you are keen on fiddling around with the laptop and its contents, you may accidentally end up clicking on something nasty. Viewing pictures, videos or playing music files is alright to a certain extent. But, be careful, because image files may contain malicious codes and can easily be masqueraded as something else. You could be tricked.

3. Avoid Connecting Flash Drive, Memory Stick or External Hard Drive

DO NOT connect any flash drive, memory card, external/portable hard drive or smartphone to the laptop. If the laptop is already infected with virus, worms, malware, trojan, etc., then any hardware peripheral (that connects via USB) you connect will also get infected and you may accidentally corrupt your valuable data which are stored in the device.

4. Wipe All Data and Install A Fresh Operating System

If you have made up your mind that you want to keep the lost and found laptop for your personal use, then an important advice is to perform a clean installation of the operating system. If you are tech-savvy and know how to install an operating system, you should be fine with it. However, if you are not, then it is advised that you seek assistance from a friend or peer who can install an operating system on the laptop so that you can use it as your own. It is actually possible to install more than one operating systems on a laptop (provided the laptop’s hardware meets the requirements of the operating system).

Once everything is erased from the laptop and a fresh operating system is installed, then you will have nothing to worry. It will be like using a brand new computer.

A Few Additional Tips To Stay Safe and Protected When Online

The Internet is usually accessed with the help of a web browser application. The most common web browsers used are Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge and so on. Although each browser has its own security policies to protect you online, there are additional steps you can take to be more sure of your online safety as well as privacy.

1. Install Antivirus and Firewall

When it comes to being safe online, it is necessary to have an effective antivirus program and a Firewall installed on your computer. Usually, many operating systems have built-in Firewall to protect you against online threats. However, this is not sufficient. You also need an antivirus software that can provide additional security. A few popular antivirus programs you could use are BitDefender, AVG, Avast, Kaspersky, Trend Micro, Webroot SecureAnywhere, Quick Heal, Malwarebytes, etc.

2. Install Security and Privacy-focused Browser Add-Ons

Use HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger and UBlock Origin add-ons on your web browser for added security and privacy. If you want more security, then you may also install the NoScript add-on, which blocks all JavaScript images, links, buttons etc., on websites.

  • HTTPS Everywhere:This browser add-on is developed and distributed by EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). As its name suggests, the add-on encrypts the Web and automatically uses HTTPS security on many sites.
  • Privacy Badger:Privacy Badger automatically learns to block invisible trackers. This add-on is also developed and distributed by EFF.
  • UBlock Origin:UBlock Origin is an efficient ad-blocking add-on that enhances your online privacy and security by blocking all unwanted advertisements, trackers, scripts, cookies, etc. This add-on can be further customised for maximum privacy and security.
  • NoScript:This browser add-on has been around for several years and is pre-installed on the TOR browser by default. The purpose of this add-on is to block JavaScripts on websites you visit and keeps you safe from accidentally clicking on unwanted elements on a web page that you visit.

3. Leave No Traces

Also, always remember to clear your browsing history before closing your web browser. It is a good idea to configure your web browser to automatically delete browsing history, cookies, auto form filling, etc., upon closing. Most web browsers allow users to clear their online activities. Doing so also proves beneficial in terms of your browser’s performance as well as your online safety. This can also be achieved by using the “Incognito” or “Private Browsing Mode” as it does not store your browsing history, cookies and site data.

Note: Avoid storing information on web browsers which may be critical to you. Information such as passwords of your e-mail, social media, net banking and debit/credit card details etc., are what cyber criminals usually look for. Instead, write down your e-mail address and passwords on a paper and keep them in a safe place. If you are able to memorise your passwords, it’s even better.

There are, of course, programs that can help you store your passwords safely. LessPass is one such cross-platform password manager application you can use to safeguard your important passwords. Another similar and cross-platform tool is Bitwarden.

4. Switch to Open Source Software

Last, but not the least, it is advised that you switch to using “open source” software as much as possible. There is a difference between proprietary (or closed source) and open source software and how these have an impact on our digital lives. Since, this requires a detailed explanation, I will be covering a separate blog post, specifically on open source software.

Be In Control of Your Device Rather Than Being Controlled

These are some of the so-called ‘precautions’ which you can take in order to keep yourself safe, especially when performing activities online. You do not want someone to hack into your computer and steal your data or threaten you, thus, ruining your life. As such, many individuals have become victims to cyber criminals and it still continues. Using sophisticated tools and in-depth technical knowledge, these cyber criminals can do a lot of harm to people. Therefore, you must protect yourselves and your digital rights as much as you can.

The Internet has both good and bad sides. It simply depends on how this technology is used in our world and daily lives. It is, therefore, crucial that you, your family and friends take digital privacy seriously.

Well, folks! My message to you is, be safe when online. Peace!