Laptop data security.
What kind of protection against laptop data theft do you have when you travel? Do you rely simply on a start-up password and a Windows (or Mac) password to guarantee the safety of your information? If so, you should know that laptop data can easily be accessed without having to power on the laptop or open the operating system.
In an earlier posting (BonVoyageurs.com), I detailed the US government’s legal right to confiscate the laptop of a traveler going through customs without the requirement for any justification other than a desire to inspect the contents of the laptop. While a backup of your data or cloud computing may resolve the issues created by the temporary loss of a laptop to customs agents, more is needed to protect against the possible theft or loss of laptop data while traveling.
For the savvy traveler, there are simple solutions to the issue of laptop data security, simple steps anyone can follow to gain real protection. It is just a matter of knowing what those steps are and taking the few minutes necessary to execute them before traveling. Here are the three steps I recommend to protect the information on your laptop against theft.
1. Set a password for your hard drive!
Setting a password for the hard drive of the laptop is without a doubt the most important anti-theft protection available. Thieves can easily bypass the most sophisticated start-up or Windows passwords simply by taking the laptop’s hard drive out of the laptop and connecting it to another computer! This is not to minimize the importance of strong passwords for your laptop or operating system; but the place where those impenetrable passwords are really needed is your hard drive, where your data is located.
Thus the first step to take in safeguarding your laptop data is to safeguard the hard drive of your laptop with a password, something which can be easily done thru the BIOS setup utility of your laptop. If you are not familiar with this process, there are lots of websites on the internet with detailed information for your specific laptop model.
2. Create a truly strong password
You might be surprised to learn that a typical eight digit password containing letters, numbers and capital letters, characterized as strong by so many websites, can be decoded very quickly by a potential thief. The thief I am afraid of is not the NSA, which no doubt would find the task trivial and has far bigger endeavors to concern itself with; the thief I am concerned about is one of a legion of people who have an ordinary desktop computer equipped with easily available decrypting software. That thief can decode a typical eight-digit password on a laptop in less than an hour.
How does one create a truly strong password? My advice is to think of a phrase that is easily remembered and use the first letter or number of each word to create the password. An example might be the phrase “My father George came from a family of 9 children, 5 boys and 4 girls”, which would make the password MfGcfafo9c5ba4g. The reason for choosing a phrase is that it allows for the unintelligible password to be typed in very quickly as one recites the phrase in one’s mind. It is also imperative that the phrase be easily remembered, and consequently anyone with a fallible memory should select a phrase from a book or a poem or a song which could easily be looked up in case of need.
How long does the password need to be? It depends on the components of the password as well as your level of concern. Fortunately, Intel makes available a webpage, titled How Strong is Your Password, which will tell you immediately how strong a password of your choosing really is by letting you know the amount of time it would take a desktop computer equipped with decoding software to unlock your password. When I checked the example password MfGcfafo9c5ba4g on the Intel webpage, it informed me that it would take more than 317,000 years for a computer to decode that password. That will do fine for me, as I need a bit of time to adapt and adjust to the loss of my laptop data! By way of comparison, if I were to shorten that password to the first ten digits MfGcfafo9c, the result would be that it could be decoded in two months; reducing the password to the first eight digits MfGcfafo would mean that it could be decoded in 6 hours.
So step two is to create a truly strong password and set that password up to protect the hard drive of your laptop. Take that opportunity to strengthen your administrator, start-up and Windows passwords as well.
3. Power off the laptop when not in use!
To benefit from the protection afforded by a strong hard drive password, you need to try to ensure that your computer is not powered on when you lose it! That means powering it off when you are not using it. Yes, it takes a few seconds more to turn power off than if you simply close the laptop cover, but the difference in protection as well as peace of mind is enormous.
Three simple steps to protect your laptop data, another savvy tip from BonVoyageurs!
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