Portable Computer Security

Tips & Hints

25 January 2003

Portable computers have dropped in price dramatically over the last few years. What was an expensive tool for travelling business people is now affordable for students and home users. Experienced road warriors learned a long time ago that portables present their own range of security risks, we recap them for the new generation of users.

  1. Hide your notebook.
  2. Being small and expensive, portable computers are great targets for thieves. You shouldn’t advertise the fact you have one by carrying it in a laptop case. Many bag manufacturers make backpack and suitcase style laptop carriers. Never leave it where it can be seen in a car.

  3. Don’t leave your laptop unaccompanied.
  4. Make sure you take it as cabin baggage on flights and don’t put it the boot of taxis. Never leave it unattended in a lecture hall or classroom. Even leaving it in an office is a risk, many large companies insist staff take portable computers home with them.

  5. Password protect the BIOS.
  6. This stops the computer from being started up without a password. It isn’t an infallible solution but it does increase the difficulty of getting at the data. Another good effect is password protection dramatically reduces the resale value.

  7. Be careful with passwords.
  8. Do not save login passwords on the computer. If the computer does get stolen then the thief may have access to your accounts. Keep your written passwords away form the computer.

  9. Distrust wireless and hotel networks.
  10. Basic websurfing and checking e-mail are fine on unfamiliar networks, but be careful of using on-line banking and similar functions. Wireless, uni and hotel networks are an obvious target for hackers. Be careful when using them.

  11. Don’t save credit card and bank details on a laptop.
  12. This includes old e-mails that may be stored on the computer. Delete all references to bank accounts, credit cards and identifying documents such as birth certificates, passport numbers and drivers licences. Otherwise, you may find whoever steals your laptop can steal your identity.

  13. Insure your computer
  14. You have to assume your portable will get stolen. While the prices of laptops have fallen dramatically, these are still expensive items. Check your home or office contents insurance will cover these items and if doesn’t, then get some insurance.

  15. Backup your data

Assuming your laptop will go missing, you must backup anything important. With any new portable computer you should get a CD-burner that will allow you to save your data onto a CD. If you have a network, then important files should be copied to a server or desktop computer.

Portable computers are a great idea when you find yourself in more than one place. But their advantages do come at a cost of both security and cost. To get the most from them you have to take some basic precautions.

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