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Top 25 Essential Steps in Laptop Security

As the prices of laptops have come down heavily and the consumer liking is drastically shifting towards mobile devices, the laptop sales in India have hit a 114% per year growth in 2008 with a total of 1.8 million units sold. This growth rate is far ahead of that of desktop PCs which are lagging behind more and more in sales to personal users.

According to India’s Manufacturer Association for Information Technology (MAIT), laptops accounted for 25% of total PC sales in India in 2007-2008. The current ratio of laptops to desktops in India is 20:80 and is predicted to reach 50:50 in the next 3 years.

Accelerating the rising demand for laptops are their sleek & attractive designs, enhanced security functions & modules and various built-in accessories. The enterprise sector particularly favors faster processors, increased portability and connectivity, according to industry analysts.

But the major pitfall of this growth in laptop sales would also most likely boost another dangerous aspect of the PC industry – Laptop Theft. Keeping your information in highly portable devices like laptops and PDAs is bound to trigger a huge security issue revolving around data & hardware thefts.

Here are some ways how you can increase security of your laptop and minimize chances of data loss.

The security of laptops is a huge field which can be broadly divided into two main segments:

1.External Security or what is more commonly called Physical Security
2.Internal Security or what is more commonly called Software Security
External Security tends to address issues like Laptop Thefts while Internal Security is more oriented towards protecting it from Data Thefts.

Elements of External Security
i. Get custom Engraving done on the Laptop

Permanently marking (or engraving) the outer case of the laptop with your company name, address, and phone number may greatly increase your odds of getting it returned to you if you happen to forget it somewhere carelessly. Websites like www.engraveyourtech.com and www.razorlabs.com do custom engravings.

ii. Get your Laptop registered with your manufacturer

This not only helps you to track your laptop if it arrives at any maintenance shop but also helps you get regular updates and support.

iii. Use a Cable Lock

Using a custom Cable Lock will help you secure your laptop to an immovable object beside the place where you keep your laptop. This ensures that nobody just walks in and then walks away with your laptop. You can get a cable lock for $15-$30. Cable Locks can be purchased from sites like www.securitykit.com, www.computersecurity.com , etc.

iv. Use a Chain/Cable Lock while in Car

Using a cable lock while using your laptop in the car ensures that nobody can steal your laptop even when you are outside the car.

v. Use a Docking Station

While in office always place your laptop to a docking station where you can fix your laptop. 50% of laptop thefts occur from offices because of poorly screened housekeeping staff and disgruntled employees.

vi. Use third party devices like Hard Drive Locks, Motion Detectors and Trackers

Hard Disk Locks are great to lock in your hard disk inside your laptop so that no one can just open your laptop and walk away with your hard disk. Remember, your hard drive is the main storehouse of all information.

You can also have special Motion Detectors like Caveo installed in the PCI bay of your laptop that trigger an alarm whenever the laptop is moved without your permission.

Laptop Trackers inform the authorities about the whereabouts of the laptop whenever a stolen laptop is connected to the Internet or the telephone. Nowadays GPS trackers have the ability to track your laptop using satellite data but they are more costly.

vii. Get a Laptop with biometric identification

Biometric Identification reads your thumb finger print and unlocks your system. Without the thumb impression of the authorized individual, the laptop cannot be unlocked. In this way your laptop is safe from prying eyes trying to steal your account password.

viii. Use Handy Laptops backpacks which you will always carry wherever you go

Laptops backpacks are better in the context that you can always place it on your shoulder comfortably and go anywhere thereby eliminating the worries of losing or forgetting your laptop. Be it washroom or conference room or transport station, your laptop goes with you everywhere.

Elements of Internal Security
i. Get a secure Operating System with the Latest Updates

Always try to get a genuine copy of your operating system with the latest updates. For Windows XP users, get the XP Service Pack 3 installed on your laptop for maximum security. Every Service pack eliminates past vulnerabilities and incorporates greater security features in your OS.

ii. Always use the NTFS file system

The NTFS file system is far better than the FAT32 file system in the sense that it is more secure and more crash-proof. The data corruption rates is very low and even if you lose your data through format or partitioning or deleting, you can still recover it through special Hard Disk Recovery or File Recovery softwares.

iii. Disable Guest Account

The Guest account is hacker’s golden gateway. Check from you User’s Panel if it is On. The best possible thing to do is disable your Guest Account. Otherwise, you can keep it on but make sure, you protect it with a password by making use of the Computer Management Panel (to access this, type compmgmt.msc in Start>Run) of Windows.

iv. Disable Administrative Shares

Windows by default keeps all the partitions in your Hard Disk shared in the form of hidden administrative shares like C$, D$, E$, etc. This is a big security risk for your laptop specially when it is connected to a Wireless/Wired Network. Go to the Computer Management Panel and Disable sharing them permanently.

v. Rename the Original Administrator Account

A hacker is always on the lookout for an account named administrator that Windows creates by default while being installed. Take the essential step of renaming your Administrator account from Computer Management Panel to some other name. This would delay the hacker’s intrusion attempt by some time.

vi. Create a dummy Administrator Account

While this is not so effective, but it can stop amateurs hackers from compromising your system. Delete your old Administrator account and make a new account with the name Administrator and assign limited privileges to this account.

vii. Disable the IR Port

The Infra Red Port is one of the deadly information leak channels in your laptop. Anybody could connect to your laptop through an unsecured IR port and copy your data. With the taskbar notification turned off, it won’t even ever strike you how your data was stolen and who connected to your laptop.

viii. Switch on the Bluetooth Port only when required

The Bluetooth high speed transfer port is another communication medium through which data can be accidentally lost. Be careful to choose which incoming Bluetooth connections to accept and which to reject. Never connect your laptop to an unknown Bluetooth device.

ix. Always install Antivirus and Antispyware in your laptop

Any good antivirus with regularly update databases and bundled with an antispyware is a must for your laptops. A great deal of security concern arises from Viruses, Malware, Spywares, Trojans and Rootkits in your laptop that would otherwise get installed in your system in the absence of an antivirus without your knowledge. Remember, the main purpose of these malicious programs are not to corrupt your laptop OS or bug you or freeze your system but to manipulate the system in such a way that you unintentionally and forcefully expose your vital information to these programs which then happily transmit it to their owners sitting in different countries through the Internet. Antivirus like AVG, QuickHeal, NOD32, CA , Symantec are professional software providers in these fields.

x. Switch on firewalls for Wired and Wireless Connections

Firewalls control the information that is sent to and fro across your Network connections. It has the ability to stop malicious programs from stealing sending vital information from your laptop to another computer outside. With the good configurable policies, firewalls really add good value to your security of your laptop. Keep firewall always enabled for all your connected Wireless/Wired Connections. Komodo, ZoneAlarm, SonicWall, ESET Firewall, etc. are great firewalls to start with initially.

xi. Store your important files and documents in a single place and keep them encrypted

The greatest loss that is realized after a laptop is stolen is not the price of the laptop but the price of the information it had been carrying. If you are always weary about the sensitivity of the information that you carry in your laptop then make sure you keep these documents organized properly in a particular partition of your hard drive and then encrypt the whole partition with strong 128 bit encryption.

This way even if the stolen laptop gets into the hands of your enemies or competitors, it will take them more than a lifetime to decode the information even with very powerful computers. By that time, that information would have lost its face value.

The industry standard encryption programs are TrueCrypt, Jetico, CryptoForge, DeltaCrypt, etc. that can offer 128 bit encryption level and even military grade encryptions.

xii. Implement more control over removable Storage Devices and CD/DVD Drives

Use special Data Loss Prevention softwares that implement a higher level of access control over your laptop which the Windows is otherwise unable to provide. You can set permissions for different devices and different users in your laptop thus controlling storage devices access to your laptop. You can even maintain a file log audit and session audits for each file transfer. This can help you a lot to trace where your information is going and how to stop it. Some well know personal DLP softwares are MyUSBOnly, USB Disk Security and other End Point Protection softwares.

xiii. Be careful when connecting to a new Wireless Network

When connecting to a Wifi hotspot in a place, first make sure about the security of the network from the local authorities. Cross check the name of the network and then connect carefully to the network. You can easily confuse one Wi-fi Network with the other and end up connecting to a high risk network instead of the secured one.

xiv. Use firewalls effectively on USB Modems which you use to access Internet

With the arrival of the new High Speed Internet Access (HSIA) and 3G Network connectivity, portable USB Modems and mobile Internet access have become successfully connected to the lifestyle and requirements of a major section of Internet users. But these modems are highly insecure unless well monitored and controlled using Information Flow control softwares and Firewalls.

xv. Lock your Laptop whenever you are away

Whenever you leave your laptop and go somewhere for even a second, make sure you that you press the Windows Key+L key combo to lock your computer and bring up the login screen, in which all the user accounts show up. Make sure all the accounts are password protected. This prevents just anybody from accessing your computer whenever you are afk.

xvi. Always keep backup of your files in another central computer or server or external Hard Disk

It is imperative to always keep a mirror image of your hard disk data in another central company server or another fixed computer. You can also use an external hard disk with which you can periodically synchronize your data to keep a ready backup of your most important files.

xvii. Protect your PC with a good BIOS password

The easiest way to penetrate a stolen laptop is to just format it instantly. Sometimes all the data is lost or otherwise anyone can format one partition of your laptop and then get unauthorized data from another partition just by overwriting your OS. So it is better that you lock your BIOS settings and at the same time disable booting from anywhere other than the Hard Disk Drive. This partly prevents your system from being formatted.

The most Important step amongst the above steps is to show greater vigilance and concern for your laptop and your data that is preserved in your laptop. Being self-aware while being dynamic is the ultimate solution to Data Loss problems.


 

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