How you can keep your laptop and its contents secure: Internet ScamBusters #134
The #1 Publication on Internet Fraud
By Audri and Jim Lanford
Copyright © Audri and Jim Lanford
All rights reserved.
Today's issue is about how to keep your laptop computer secure. Let's get right to it...
How You Can Keep Your Laptop and Its Contents Secure
A laptop computer is an essential tool, but it also creates all kinds of security problems. Here is what you need to know to set up basic laptop security.
There Are Two Levels of Laptop Security
First, we'll discuss securing your actual laptop hardware against theft. Second, we will talk about making sure the information on your laptop is more secure. We'll also give you three tips to increase your chances of getting a stolen laptop back.
Five Keys to Preventing Laptop Theft
Imagine: One minute it's there, and the next minute it's gone. In the blink of an eye, your laptop has been stolen.
Think of your laptop as $1,000 in cash. Would you leave that much cash sitting on a table unprotected? In the front seat of a car? In an unattended office or hotel room?
A few weeks ago, a colleague had his laptop stolen in church! In addition to the laptop itself, he lost a lot of work that hadn't yet been properly backed up.
Five Ways to Prevent Your Laptop From Being Stolen
1. Get a cable lock. Almost all laptops come equipped with a Universal Security Slot that allows you to attach the laptop to a heavy or unbreakable object. Cables cost less than $50 and can be found in any technology supply store. Use it in places like hotel rooms, conference rooms, airport waiting areas, and libraries.
2. Use a docking station. If you have a lot of visitors, contractors, or housekeeping staff coming through your office, locking your laptop into a docking station is a good idea.
3. Lock the laptop in a filing cabinet or other secure, out-of-sight location when you leave the office.
4. When traveling with your laptop, don't carry it in a computer case. This makes you an obvious target for laptop thieves. Get a padded sleeve and carry your laptop in a regular briefcase or a backpack instead.
5. Be especially cautious in airports. Don't put your laptop down or let it out of your sight through security checkpoints.
There are many two-person scams involving one person creating a distraction while another calmly walks away with your laptop. Use a buddy system whenever possible, so one person can go through security, and then receive both laptops while you go through security.
Eight Keys to Prevent Data Theft
Now, let's talk about keeping the data on your laptop secure. Besides the financial cost of getting a laptop stolen, this can be the real blow for many people.
Imagine losing all your contacts, your calendar, your Word and Excel documents, years of digital photos -- whatever you value on your computer. And if you have confidential information or trade secrets on your laptop, then you have even greater security concerns.
Here are eight ideas to help prevent data loss or theft:
1. The most basic advice is to regularly back up all of the important data on your laptop hard drive. DVD burners make this easy to fit on one disc, so get in the habit of doing it regularly. Use a thumb drive in between for backups.
2. Disable the Guest account in Windows. It's also a good idea to assign it a long string of random numbers as a password, just for good measure.
3. Many hackers will try to log in to a Windows laptop using the Administrator account. Rename this account with something that does not look obvious. Some have even set up a dummy Administrator account as well.
4. Modify your laptop so that the last username used to log on is not displayed in the logon dialog box.
5. Don't set your laptop to automatically log into websites, and don't save passwords on your laptop to make login easier. Otherwise, a thief who has stolen your laptop can easily log into your accounts.
6. It's possible for someone to access your files even without touching your computer. One way to stop this is to disable the infrared port on your computer.
In addition, be careful about using Wi-Fi access. If you don't know what Wi-Fi is (or you are unclear about W-Fi Internet hotspots which we discuss below), we've created a page that briefly explains Wi-Fi and hotspots.
With unencrypted Wi-Fi, every password, email message, and Web page can be read by any other user on that Wi-Fi network. That means you should only use secure (encrypted) email and should never enter a password or confidential information on a webpage over Wi-Fi unless it is a secure connection. (If you don't know what that means, then don't use email and don't enter private information from your browser when using Wi-Fi.)
For more info on the problems with using Wi-Fi Internet access, visit our article on evil twin problems.
7. Add Spoofstick to your browser. It helps you identify bogus websites. For more info, visit this page on SpoofStick.
8. Use data encryption whenever possible. This is for more advanced users. For more info, here's an interesting article on laptop security.
For Mac Powerbook users: consider setting your Powerbook's Open Firmware Password. For more info, visit this page on the Apple site.
You Can Increase Your Chances of Getting Your Stolen Laptop Back
If your laptop is stolen, there are three simple things you can do to help increase the odds (at least a little) that you get it back.
1. Record your serial number in a separate location. You will need this to prove ownership of any recovered laptop. This is also important if you file an insurance claim.
2. Register your hardware with the manufacturer. You can contact them if your laptop is stolen, so if the thief ever sends it in for repair, you will be notified.
3. Put a tamper resistant metal asset tag on your computer. This will help police track down the legal owner.
In closing, a laptop computer is certainly an important -- and often mission critical -- asset. Be sure to protect yours by following these tips. In fact, we recommend you take action right now to improve your computer laptop security.