You can put all the security measures you want on your portable PC, but odds are good that unless you're running some heavy encryption across your entire hard drive--I cry for your system's performance--an industrious cracker is going to find some way into your files should he or she have physical access to your laptop. And it's not like it's that hard to steal a laptop: you pick it up, you run away, you bust your way into the operating system. Done and done.
That's where a little application called LaptopLock comes into play. This download is more like a half-and-half, in that it combines the services of a Web app and a downloadable application into one awesome package. Let's paint a scenario: You lose your laptop. You're terrified that someone has actually taken your laptop and, worse, your laptop contains all of your personal information in a little file called "Nathan's Important Information" right on your desktop. What? You were doing your taxes; It's not unheard of.
This story would usually end a few hours later after you've managed to cancel all of your credit cards and cried buckets of tears at the thought of someone stealing your identity, provided said thief hasn't already used your debit card information to go on a personal shopping spree. Now, had you installed LaptopLock beforehand, the roles would be reversed: You'd be sitting easy and the thief would be freaking out at his or her missed opportunity.
Here's how it works. You make a fancy little account on LaptopLock's official site and install the provided application on your laptop. In doing so, you set the various actions your computer should take if you ever think that it's been stolen, including the mass deletion of files and directories, new encryption for your files, executing any program on your hard drive (like a big screen saver that says "I hate you"), and the displaying of any message you want (see aforementioned screen saver.)
Once you're ready to activate your countermeasures, just head on over to the LaptopLock site and mark your device as being stolen. The next time said laptop connects to the Internet, said software will do its best to give you as much detail about your system's whereabouts as possible. And, as you would expect, it'll also start whatever countermeasures you've set up. Alas, this does not include "rigging the power supply so the entire notebook explodes in a thief's hands."
Each week, Maximum PC picks a new free or shareware download as its favorite of... the week. Have a nifty application that you can't live without? Twitter David Murphy @acererak with your latest suggestions.