Security for Apartment Dwellers

Introduction

I’m at the stage in my life where my wife and I are becoming empty nesters. My youngest daughter Anna is moving several states away to start a new life and I couldn’t be prouder of her.

As she’s been packing I’ve shared some security advice she can use at her new apartment. I got to thinking "hey, this is good stuff I should share it with others!" Next week I’ll continue my series on PowerShell Enums, but for this week let’s talk security.

By the way, this advice can apply to apartment dwellers, dorm rooms, or even rental houses. For simplicity I’ll refer to these as your home in this article, meaning any place you live in and rent.

The Need for Security

Whenever you rent, you are in someone else’s property. That means they too have keys to your dwelling.

And they use them. Exterminators come in on a regular basis to spray for bugs. Folks from the maintenance crew come in to check smoke alarms, air conditioning filters, and more.

Now let me be clear, I firmly believe that 99% of these people are good, hard working, and honest. But all it takes is that one bad egg to ruin your day, maybe even your year.

Some places provide notification in advance that someone will be entering your place of residence. But not all places, back when I was a renter it wasn’t unusual to come home and find a "your friendly neighborhood exterminator was here today" note on my door.

Or you may not know at all, one complex I lived in never told you, I only knew if a neighbor mentioned it.

A quick disclaimer before we get started: I mention several products in this post. These are not ads, I’m not making any money from these endorsements. I just like them and paid my own hard earned cash for them.

So that said, let me get into the suggestions.

Computer Security

Desktops

If you have a desktop computer, you should always lock your screen before you leave home. By locking your computer you’ll require the entry of a password or pin to use the computer. Most people keep all types of things on their computer.

Web browsers are often set to automatically login to email, financial, even gaming accounts. Family photos populate your drive. Important documents like tax returns are often scanned and stored on your hard drive.

On all operating systems there will be menu options to lock the screen, but there are also keystroke shortcuts that will allow you to quickly lock your computer.

On Windows, the Windows Key + L combination will lock the screen. This frequently works on many Linux distributions as well, although you should check your documentation to be sure.

On macOS, you can use the Ctrl + Command + Q key combination to lock the screen.

If you are on macOS, and have an iPhone, there’s a nifty app called NearLock. Actually it is two apps, one runs on your Mac, the other on your iPhone.

When your phone gets more than 3 feet away (you can change the distance in your configuration) it locks your Mac. It’ll also unlock your Mac when you get back into range.

I can’t stress how important this one tip is, because this is the situation where someone could steal from you and you wouldn’t know it. A bad guy could copy your personal info onto a USB key, and you’d be none with wiser.

Laptops – Cable Lock

If you leave your laptop turned on when you leave home, then follow the advice for desktops about locking your screen.

I’d also suggest getting a cable lock. This Kensington lock, found on Amazon is a good choice that I use, but there are many options.

Almost all laptops have a small slot the end with the lock will fit into, with the possible exception of some of the very thin laptops such as some recent MacBooks. Check your laptop to be sure before ordering.

Make sure you have a strong, secure spot to loop the cable through. A desk leg that you can just pick up and slip off the cable is a poor choice.

Some locking cables come with an adhesive hook you can use, but I don’t trust those. With just a little effort many can be easily ripped or pried off. But it is better than nothing.

Instead of the adhesive hook I suggest going to your local hardware store and getting an eye bolt with the hole big enough to get the cable through, or perhaps a handle that would go on a chest or garage door. Screw it into your desk, or even better the wall (assuming that doesn’t violate your lease).

Cable locks come in two types, a combination lock and one with a key. They key is faster to unlock, but if you are the kind of person who leaves their keys by the front door the combination may be more convenient.

The combination has another advantage if you share a laptop with your spouse or other family member. It’s easy to share the combination with other trusted people.

Note that many desktop computers these days also have the ability to have a cable lock. If not, you may be able to bolt a secure hook to yours. In addition to cable locks they also make cables with just loops on both ends such as this one from Amazon. Slip one end through the hook, then use a good heavy duty padlock to connect the loops.

Laptops – Lock it up

Another way to secure your laptop is to get a small, two (or more) drawer filing cabinet that has a lock on it. Plenty of space to store one or more laptops in.

A nice bonus is the ability store other valuables in it. Perhaps you have some nice camera equipment, portable gaming gear like a Nintendo Switch, and iPads or Android tablets.

Anything small but expensive could be placed in your file cabinet. I’ll admit, a determined thief could just carry off the whole file cabinet, or your desktop.

The security tips in this article are more geared toward the opportunist thief, ones who didn’t set out to take anything but when the opportunity arises they jump on it.

If you really wanted to carry it to an extreme, you could attach eye bolts or something similar to the file cabinet, desk, even the wall, then connect them using a steel cable with loops on either end like the one I suggested in the previous section. Use a heavy duty padlock to hook them all together. It will make the whole collection to big, heavy, and unwieldy to simply carry away.

Mail Call

If it wasn’t for junk mail I wouldn’t get any mail at all!

Well not quite, in addition to the stack of junk mail I still get bills (despite my best efforts to go paperless). These bills often have account numbers or enough information for a crook to hijack your accounts.

In my pile of junk mail I get credit card offers or "take out a loan with us with the low interest rate of 53%!" Of course this is annoying, but can also be dangerous as someone could take out a loan or credit card in your name, but changing the address to them.

Keep these secured in your file cabinet (you did buy one for your laptops, tablets, and other expensive stuff didn’t you?). One stack for junk, the other for bills and other info to retain.

You should always take time to shred junk mail with monetary offers, as well as bills when you are done with them. (Obviously you’ll also want a shredder to go with this setup.) If you want to keep copies then you can get printer/copier/scanners at reasonable prices and store on your computer. You know, the one you lock everytime before you leave home.

If you don’t want a scanner, just take pictures of these items with your phone. On my iPhone I use an app called Scanner Pro.

Not only does it take the picture but it also handles things like skewed pics, making the document nice and square (well rectangular for pieces of paper). If I’m only scanning in one or two pages, I use Scanner Pro rather than going to my multi-function printer.

I highly recommend getting an app like this for your phone. Feel free to post a comment with your favorite app, especially if you are an Android user.

Cold Hard Cash

I believe it is useful to keep a bit of cash on hand. You might lose or have your credit/debit card stolen and have to wait for a replacement. Perhaps there is an extended power or internet outage, and cash is the only way to purchase supplies.

Never leave cash laying around. Most crooks, even the casual opportunist, knows to check under the mattress or the underwear drawer in your dresser.

Use the file cabinet, or get a small safe. If you carry a purse, but sometimes leave it at home, maybe to go jogging, swimming, or other exercises, secure it in your file cabinet or safe when you are gone.

If you normally carry a wallet, but leave it behind for exercise or other reasons, lock it up as well.

Conclusion

After reading this you may think I’m a little paranoid. But remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!

Most of these suggestions can be had for little cost, plus a few seconds of time, but can save you a lot of headaches and money in the long run. All it takes is one incident to ruin your credit, put you in debt, and deprive you of valuable, daily used tools like laptops and tablets.

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