What if you lost your laptop…would you lose your data too?

Jabulani Chirinda Avatar
Emergency Assembly Point

Emergency Assembly PointOn Friday, as routine I passed through Mdala Ngwenya’s office which is along main street one of the busiest streets in Bulawayo. I was greeted by a young man working on a pc in the other office adjacent to the reception. I sat for a while at reception area just browsing the net from my phone. A friend joined me later and we chatted briefly. I then decided to top up my airtime credit so we left the office to buy airtime credit just a few metres away from Mdala Ngwenya’s office. Within ten minutes I was back in the office and the friend left. I momentarily fumbled with the phone and all of a sudden I noticed my laptop bag had vanished from the reception table.

I assumed the young man in the adjacent office had taken it away from the reception for safe keeping so I checked with him immediately. After exposing the young man to a torrent verbal remarks (some regrettable), it was clear he knew nothing about the laptop bag, and at that point it dawned on me that anyone could have walked in during those few minutes I was buying airtime outside and snatched the bag. My laptop, together with other valuables, was gone! The next half an hour was utter shock and disbelief. Never had I imagined I would lose my laptop to thieves and let alone in such broad daylight. I was in panic mode, I thought of all the data that I stood to lose. It was data that really mattered. Some of it more than a decade old.

I rushed to the police station with my mind racing and trying to figure out what I should have done about the data to avoid such a mental crunch. At the police I was served by trainee officers who asked a lot of questions about the incident. I was only interested in seeing them rushing to the scene and getting into action but I painfully complied with the procedures. When they asked for the laptop model and serial number I pulled out my phone and opened my google drive to check for the documents including the scans of proof of purchase. I was sure I had stored all these details on Gmail. I got yet another shocker, I had not at all saved anything on the cloud. All I had were details of my old HTC handset and some old laptop that I disposed of long back. I had an offline backup somewhere in the office but I was not so sure anymore.

I was so angry with myself. Here I was purporting to be technology-compliant and yet I had not even backed-up such critical stuff online. All I needed was to save my important data to my Dropbox, Office365 or Google Drive folders. All these services were active on my laptop and I used them perhaps for less important stuff. I could have scanned all the important documents regarding the laptop and saved them on my cloud account.

What happened next was even worse; a guy back at Mdala Ngwenya’s office was looking for phone number so he could check what was going on. He searched the web and Facebook and could not find my numbers. Indeed he could not since I had made all of them private.

After leaving the police station by some fluke the guy at Ngwenya’s office got through to my mobile. I returned to Mdala Ngwenya’s office only to find him in stitches of laughter. Mdala Ngwenya had quietly sneaked in while I was browsing the phone and hidden my bag in the neighbour’s office (also a good friend of mine). The two had colluded to teach me a lesson on being careful with valuables especially when in their ever busy office. I was both relieved and angry. I had wasted 2 hours and a few dollars in the process. Mdala Ngwena bragged that whatever I had lost was nothing compared to the data I would have lost. He was right. I would have lost more than a decade old personal data and other valuables.

On Friday night I backed up all my stuff from academic certificates, photos, purchase documents and many more. I am still uploading stuff to the cloud.

The laptop “theft” had taught me a lesson on backup planning. I was lucky to get a taste of it through Mdala Ngwenya’s data loss drill. My advice to you is this: make an effort to understand and get Dropbox, Office365, Google Drive, or whatever seamless cloud storage product you prefer to use. Make sure your important data is backed up all the time, both online and on other storage media. You never know when disaster will strike. I have also made important contact details searchable online. It’s the way to go in the new web 3.0 era.



  1. Ben

    I wish I had done this I lost my laptop a few weeks ago & don’t even have any backup! lesson leant!

  2. L.S.M. Kabweza

    Reminds of when it happened to me back in February. Only difference (which makes all the difference) was it wasn’t a friend teaching me a lesson, it was a thief, and they got away. but yeah, thank God I use Dropbox. Recovered up to the last file I worked on before folding the laptop some 10 minutes earlier.

  3. Greg Chiponda

    just got my laptop stolen today and hey wish this article had come a bit sooner

  4. concern

    I used to backup all my stuff on an External hard disk and “replicate” my work laptop on my home laptop…then last November that trusted harddrive crashed and i lost 945GB of data….and i discovered the “replication” was as gud as nothing. Was left with just 20GB of useless data i didnt need (Series, Movies & Music). And ever since I have vowed never to buy another harddrive again. I now work “from the cloud”. all my info is on dropbox and i edit/create new files directly on drop box. So right now i can thro this laptop in the tub and log in from another and still be smiling….not worried about the hardware cse its insured!


  5. Wengai Burwa

    So true. I am uploading loads of files right now to dropbox. thanks for the article.

  6. Bongani

    I lost my laptop to a thieve a few years back and lost all my data including irreplaceable photos. Now have an external hardrive but it occured to me that since I keep both in the same bag I could lose all my data twice at the same time. Am off to start backing up to my DropBox account, thanx for this.

    1. Bongani

      *a thief I meant to say

  7. iiillxlliii

    For me, there was only one choice – Sugarsync. A big comparison chart is available here: http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/1080740/bigchart-7.jpeg
    Unlike dropbox or google drive, you can sync any folder and backup any folder. you can upload by email too. Sugarsync allows to sync multiple computers and can sync folders between multiple computers.
    Sugarsync gives 5gb, 2gb for inviting 20 friends, 500mb per successful referral, 10gb if they take up a paid account.
    I got 7.5gb (5+0.5+2) within minutes by clicking this link: http://bit.ly/KbjOKH.

  8. Oliver

    How would you do that? You leaved the laptop without anyone guidance, it’s so weired.
    Loosing laptop may results in leaked personal details and other important ones. You did the biggest mistake of your life, that you never want it to happen again..

    Sorry to hear that…Be careful next time..

  9. ngth

    I would personally recommend SkyDrive from Microsoft if you are a windows pc or phone user. The integration into windows and office 2010 makes it a seamless experience, also SkyDrive gives you the most free space and cheapest prices (7gig which was upped to 25gig for free by joining with my live id during a promotion).

    All my documents, emails, calendar, photos, contacts etc sync seemlessly between my phone, pc and skydrive it is a pleasure to use and has a decent, quick interface.

    I cannot compare it to other services as I havent had a need to try them, but thought I would point it out as others had not.

    With regards to work, we back that up to source versioning servers at the office for not just to backup but also collaborative work, there are many great (free) SVN tools out there.

  10. Tapiwa ✔

    Do not forget to encrypt your sensitive backups! You do not want your high-resolution certificates/documents being available to anyone (say, if you forgot to sign-out at an internet café). http://truecrypt.org is a good start

  11. Prosper Chikomo

    If the writer had installed http://preyproject.com/
    software on his laptop, the moment it went missing, he would simply have
    instantly found it’s location on Google Maps, GPS coordinates given, longitude
    and latitude. The software allows you to pinpoint where your laptop/phone
    is. And the police benzes have GPS so it
    will be easy to track the laptop, even if it is moving.

    It even takes the photo of the thief the moment he switches it

    You can even lock down your PC, making it accessible only unless
    the thief or buyer has your preyproject secret word.

    Backing up onto the cloud alone is not sufficient. Not everyone
    is connected onto the internet 24/7.

    1. Tendai Marengereke

      thanks for this tip, tried the software its very good. very practical on android

  12. Sam Takunda

    Went down so well with my morning tea. Great read. Phew to you from all of us, lesson learned.

  13. Cde Marko

    thanks for the article i lost my laptop yesterday after backing up all the data. thank God the article was posted just in time!!!!!!