Q. My family and I will be traveling for the holidays and bringing most of our gadgets with us. Between us, there are three laptops, four phones and two tablets. I'm worried, though. I read on your Breaking Tech News page about thieves easily hacking into hotel rooms. We'd be out thousands if someone broke into our room! Is there any way I can protect our gadgets from this?
-Amy from Greeley, CO, listens to my national radio show on KFKA 1310 AM.
A. That's quite a collection of gadgets your family has, Amy! With all that value in your family's luggage, it makes perfect sense that you'd be afraid of that new hack.
If you don't know this scary story, a while back a hacker exposed a flaw in Onity-brand hotel locks. With about $50 in equipment, the hacker was able to pick the electronic locks with very little effort.
Other hackers have refined this method to an operation of just a few seconds. Some allegedly even used it for hotel break-ins in Texas.
Onity didn't take the problem seriously until after the burglaries. Even then, it's making hotels that use these locks - which account for anywhere from 4 million to 5 million locks nationwide - foot the bill for the fix. So don't expect a fast resolution.
It isn't all bad news for travelers, however. With the right security in place, you won't have to take your gadgets everywhere you go when you travel. You can safely keep them in your hotel room without worrying about them.
The first thing I'd tell anyone is that while gadgets are ultimately replaceable, your data is not. Make sure you're backing up your data so you don't lose any of it if someone steals your gear.
When you're booking a hotel, or if you've already booked one, ask if it uses Onity locks and whether or not they've been patched or replaced. Not all hotel chains use these locks and some have already upgraded or put in preventative measures.
If you're staying in a hotel with unpatched locks, ask the hotel about renting a safe for valuables - the hotel might give you a discount if you stress your concern about its door security. You can put your tablets and laptops there when you're out and about.
For smaller electronics and other valuables, take a look at this garment safe from my store. It hides inside a button-up shirt or other hanging garment. Thieves in a rush won't think to check it.
I also sell this strong laptop lock. Not many hotel thieves carry around bolt cutters, so your laptop will be secure.
Though these are all good deterrents, a dedicated thief may still be able to grab your gadgets.
Before you take your trip, you can install software to help you track a stolen gadget. Prey is a great choice on both laptops and mobile gadgets. You'll find a few more free options in this useful column.
A thief isn't all you have to worry about. Hackers and scammers would love to sneak a virus onto your gadget. Here are a few ways to prevent that.
Q. I'd like to stop my computer from draining so much power during the night. My friend told me I'm not supposed to shut it down, but when it's on it makes noise and keeps me up! In the shut down menu I see options for Sleep and Hibernate. Should I use one of those? How are they different?
-Kurt, from Northampton, MA, listens to my national radio show on WHMP 1240 AM/1400 AM/96.9 FM.
A. To shut down or not to shut down? That is the question computer users ask themselves whenever they're done with their computer.
I've explained the pros and cons of shutting down your computer at night in this tip. I would give it a read, Kurt, before you just go with what your friend says.
For those who decide not to shut down, there's Sleep and Hibernate. These are both useful for saving power when you're away from your computer.
The two features do behave a little differently, though.
More people are familiar with Sleep because it's been around longer. When you put your computer into Sleep mode, it's like pausing a DVD or video game. The computer halts exactly how you left it and is quickly ready to continue when you come back.
To do this, it keeps what you're currently working with on RAM, but shuts down other non-essential systems. It does require a small amount of power to keep the RAM active, however.
It also means that a sudden loss of power could cause you to lose everything. If you didn't save your work, you're out of luck.
Sleep is fine for desktops, which are always plugged in, but laptops need an option that saves even more power. Enter Hibernation.
Instead of using the computer's RAM - which requires power - Hibernation saves what you're doing to your hard drive and then shuts down everything. It doesn't use any power, but your computer can still come back right where you left off.
While it does take longer to resume than Sleep, it's still faster than a full startup. It also turns off the system fans that bother you at night, Kurt.
Interestingly enough, there's a third option that many people don't know about. It's called Hybrid Sleep in Windows Vista and 7, and Safe Sleep in OS X. True to its name, it combines both Sleep and Hibernate.
If nothing happens to disrupt your computer overnight, your computer starts up from RAM. If power is lost for some reason, your computer starts using the information on the hard drive. It's the best of both worlds!
To manage these settings in Windows, go to Control Panel>>Hardware and Sound>>Power Options. Click "Change plan settings" under your currently selected plan and then "Change Advanced power settings".
You'll find all three options in the "Sleep" drop down menu. If you enable Hybrid Sleep, it will turn on automatically any time your computer Sleeps. Note that not all desktops will offer Hybrid Sleep or Hibernate.
Safe Sleep - Mac's version of Hybrid Sleep - is turned on by default. To activate it, click the Apple logo at the top of the screen and select "Sleep."
Saving on your bills doesn't have to mean sacrificing your gadget's performance. Here are three more tips to cut down on your bills.
How many times have you forgotten coupons at home while you're out shopping? All that effort clipping coupons goes to waste, not to mention the money you could have saved.
Valpak Local Savings lets you take the savings with you on your smartphone. You will have access to thousands of coupons right at your fingertips! It even has a local feature, so it will alert you to deals that are right around the corner.
Simply search for coupons by brand name, the name of a local business, keyword or category. If you're not sure of what you are looking for, you can browse coupons by swiping up and down.
When you find the coupons you want to use, you can easily store them in Passbook in iOS. Or, just redeem them directly from the app. Saving has never been so simple!