How to Protect Your Privacy When Your Laptop Gets Repaired

Hunter Biden’s lesson learned?

Key Takeaways

  • News reports claim that Hunter Biden may have inadvertently leaked personal information when he brought his MacBook in for repairs. 
  • Experts say Biden’s alleged experience is a lesson that it’s important to keep your data safe. 
  • Strong passwords, encrypted hard drives, and making sure your software is up to date are some of the ways you can protect yourself.
Digital Security concept image.
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When your laptop goes into the shop to get repaired you risk exposing your private information, as the son of one presidential hopeful may have found out recently. But experts say there are ways to protect yourself. 

A Delaware computer technician recently claimed that a man who identified himself as Hunter Biden brought a damaged MacBook Pro to his repair shop. President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani alleges that he has files from the laptop which contain damaging information on the presidential hopeful’s son. Don’t let this happen to you, observers warn. 

"The most important thing laptop users can learn from this story is that sensitive personal information can easily be compromised," Atilla Tomaschek, Digital Privacy Expert at ProPrivacy, said in an email interview. "It can happen any time a laptop or any other digital file storage device is lost, stolen, or even handed over to a third-party entity if the proper precautions are not taken to secure the device and the data stored on it."

Use a Decent Password

To prevent your laptop from getting "Huntered," don’t overlook the basics, experts say. First of all, laptop users should always set a strong login password. "This password should be required whenever booting the device, waking it up from a sleep state, as well as to authorize any file downloads or system modifications," Tomaschek said. 

Laptop users should also encrypt hard drives. "That may sound complicated, but both Mac and Windows systems make it incredibly simple for users to encrypt their hard drives with just a few clicks," Tomaschek added. 

A lock on top of a laptop keyboard.
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But strong passwords won’t do much good if you hand them over to your repair technician, pointed out Chad Jones, CEO of app development firm Push Interactions, in an email interview. "Many repair shops will refuse to take on the repair job unless you provide this information to them," he added. "The reason the repair shop needs this is so when the repair is done the repair technician can log in to the laptop and verify that the laptop is running properly and [they're] likely to run some tests as well."

Keep Your System Up to Date

It’s also a good idea for laptop users to keep their systems updated to ensure the latest security patches are installed. "Finally, it is critical for laptop users to back up their data, in multiple places whenever possible to ensure their data is recoverable should their device get lost or stolen," Tomaschek said. "Backing up data is also important whenever an individual takes their laptop to a technician for repair."

Once your laptop has left the shop, your data could still be at risk, experts say. Keyloggers, which can be either software or hardware that look like USB sticks, could be inserted into your devices without your knowledge. "These devices send all keystrokes to an attacker’s email account or an attacker-controlled server where information is collected," Harman Singh, Director of cybersecurity firm Cyphere, said in an email interview. 

For users who really want to pump up the paranoia, consider asking to be there during troubleshooting so that you can log in yourself and observe what is being done, Peter Ayedun, CEO of cyber security firm TruGrid said in an email interview. "Anything short of being present cannot guarantee the privacy of your data," he added. 

There are no guarantees in digital life, remarked Emil Sayegh, President, and CEO of cloud service platform Ntirety, in an email interview. "Don’t say or write or do anything that you don’t want the whole world to know about, especially when you are a public figure," he said. "Imagine there is a secret camera or in this case hard drive recording your every move."

It’s still unclear whether Hunter Biden’s laptop was actually the subject of a data breach. But it can’t hurt to keep your data safe even if you have no connections to Ukraine or presidential politics.