Laptop Security Part 1

An employee travels with her laptop.

Laptop Security Part 1

Traveling with a laptop can represent a significant security risk to your law firm. This is because the data it contains is far more vulnerable when you are on the move than when you use a laptop in the relative safety of your office environment.

It doesn’t have to be stolen; because it takes just seconds for a hacker to slip a USB stick into a laptop when it is unattended to install malicious software or steal data. Even relatively unsophisticated hackers can run programs from a USB stick to steal your email account details and email password.

There are steps you can take to reduce the risk. Here are 10 simple things you can do to help keep your laptop secure when you are on the go.

1. Use a password

Ensure that your Windows account is protected with a password. The laptop should be configured so that the password has to be entered every time you turn the machine on or when it comes out of hibernation, sleep, or screensaver mode.

An account password is an effective first line of defense, but only if you avoid choosing a commonly used and easily guessed password. An analysis of passwords stolen from websites during recent security incidents reveals that the most common include “password,” “123456”, “abc123”, “qwerty,” and, bizarrely, “monkey.”

2. Disable booting from CD or USB

It’s easy to change or remove an account password using a free resetting program or guess a short one using a “brute-force guessing” program.

But running these involves booting the computer from a CD or USB stick, so you can increase security by disabling the ability to boot from one of these devices. This can be done by altering the settings in your laptop’s basic input/output system (BIOS) – the built-in software with generic code to control the machine – which can usually be accessed by pressing F1, F4, F10, or Del just after you switch it on.

To ensure that no one can override these settings, password-protect the BIOS so that no more changes can be made to it without entering the password. This can also be configured in the BIOS settings.

3. Encrypt your hard drive

If your laptop is stolen from your car or hotel room, there is usually nothing to stop the thief from removing your hard drive and attaching it to another computer. Doing this bypasses any account password protection and allows them to access your data easily.

The best way to prevent this is to encrypt your laptop’s hard drives. Encrypted drives can only be accessed after the encryption key is supplied – usually in the form of a PIN, a password, or by inserting a USB stick containing the key.

4. Use a virtual private network (VPN)

Publicly accessible networks, such as those offered in airports, conference centers, and hotel rooms, present a particular security risk to laptop users. This is because hackers armed with free programs can connect to the same networks and eavesdrop on emails or copy passwords as they pass over the network.

The best way to protect your data from interception by other network users is to encrypt it while it is in transit between your computer and your office network, using a company VPN.

5. Use secure email

Sometimes it can prove difficult to get a VPN connection working, so it’s prudent to ensure that any email program, webmail system, or cloud-based email service that you use is configured to use a secure sockets layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS). This ensures that both your username and password and the contents of your emails are encrypted as they travel across the internet.

Webmail services like Gmail and cloud-based services like Microsoft’s Office 365 are configured in this way by default, but email offered by many internet service providers is not.

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