Planning on doing some traveling this holiday season, or heading out of town early to visit with family and loved ones? If you intend to bring your laptop along - be it for work or for fun - you may first want to check out the tips that I've put together to help you better protect your laptop and the precious data on it.
Get a Kensington Laptop Lock
One evergreen suggestion to protect a laptop is to secure it by its Kensington slot using a laptop lock. The common refrain against using a laptop lock is the not-illogical belief that a sufficiently larger wire cutter will always prevail. When I spoke to Rob Humphrey, director of security products at Kensington Technology last year, however, he told me that any arguments about laptop locks not being effective is really a misconception.
"Thieves are likely to pass a locked laptop since the locking mechanism takes (more) time to defeat," said Humphrey at that time. He noted how there are "plenty of situations" where the presence of a lock would create a 5-minute deterrent that could be sufficient to put off opportune thievery. "It (the lock) is not a foolproof method for security, just a deterrent."
Encrypt Your Data
One way to significantly increase one's protection against data leakage is to make use of data encryption. This can be trivially done today using open-source encryption software such as TrueCrypt, or using the BitLocker full disk encryption (FDE) capability found in Windows Vista and Windows 7. While a disk volume protected by FDE will be slightly slower than an unencrypted one, I personally have not noticed any degradation with BitLocker enabled on my laptop. As reported on ExtremeTech, a study on the impact of FDE has highlighted how even intelligence agencies are having problems with breaking into data protected by encrypted data volumes; properly configured, there is absolutely no way that your small-time crook will succeed in violating the data from a stolen laptop.
Password-Protect Your Account
Encrypting a data volume is of no use if the laptop is not also password-protected. If you've not done so yet, ensure that you set a fairly difficult password for your user account and disable automatic login. When implemented in tandem with FDE, a password-protected account guarantees the continued sanctity of your personal data.
Set a Screensaver with Prompt for Password
One way to twist the screws of security even tighter is to configure the Windows screensaver to activate with a corresponding activation timeout. This additional precaution will go a long way towards ensuring that the data on your laptop is protected even if it is stolen at the most inopportune moments.
Consider Using a Cloud-sync Service
Beyond the pain of losing an expensive laptop, the irretrievable loss of important work files can also be a pretty painful experience. The easiest way to prevent the latter from happening is to ensure that work files are regularly backed up. An alternative that I personally use is to deploy an appropriate synchronization tool to automatically sync changes in real time to a cloud-based service.