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April 19, 2008

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Other thoughts:
1) Back up your laptop frequently. I do full backups once a month, and backup my Quicken and financial files daily to a thumb drive. This is just as important for personal security as it is for recovering from computer hardware failures.
2) I use different passwords for different sites. I keep passwords in a password-protected Excel file, and occasionally print it out and keep it in the safe. That way, if the machine gets stolen, you can quickly go to all your sites and change the passwords without having to rely on memory.
3) Use strong passwords for everything...use multiple classes (uppercase, lowercase, numbers, symbols). And don't use variants of the word "password"! It won't take long to break "Pa$$w0rd"...trust me.
4) Don't let your browser save passwords...if the laptop is stolen, then having passwords is a moot point.

Instead of worrying about changing passwords after the fact, keep your whole laptop encrypted. You enter a password before Windows boots and after that, performance is hardly impacted at all.

Windows Vista has a technology called BitLocker, but that won't work for everyone (in addition to Vista, you need special hardware built into the laptop).

There's a free program called CompuSec. I haven't tried it myself, but it looks like it does the right things. http://www.ce-infosys.com/english/downloads/free_compusec/index.html

There's a free open-source program called TrueCrypt. I've used the program, but not for its full drive encryption capabilities.
http://www.truecrypt.org/

Pointsec is an enterprise-class solution. In addition to excellent security and usability, it has centralized management and key recovery features useful for IT departments. http://www.checkpoint.com/products/datasecurity/pc/index.html

Yea... ID theft sucks. Fortunately, I haven't had a piece of sensitive hardware stolen from me (or lost), but I did fall for the old phishing trick back in the days when I naively cruised the internet :(. Wasn't much fun at all... I would still feel the consequences for a few years after that.

I had my laptop stolen on my last vacation...was very glad that I generally don't store any passwords on it, but I did have to change them all anyway and put a fraud alert on my accounts (and check them more frequently than usual anyway). What a pain!

Set power-on (BIOS) and hard disk passwords (if your laptop has hard disk password feature), preferably different to prevent computer-savyy thief's getting hard disk password from BIOS security chip. This way the machine will not even boot without both passwords. Moving a hard disk to another computer will not help the thief because a hard disk password is store in the hard disk firmware. Just be sure to remember them, especially the hard disk one; otherwise, you might end up with a useless hard disk. There are some companies on the web advertising to be able to unlock some hard disks, but they charge more than what a new hard disk cost. A thief has to be very motivated to do it.

BTW - I work for a technology company, and it is an absolute requirement that we have both power-on and hard disk passwords.

Having your laptop stolen is not the only way one can get to your data, network is another. So - rename "Administrator" account and use a non-obvious password for it. Have a non-obvious password for "root" account if using Linux. Get rid of an account with obious user id like "Guest" as well. Install a firewall as well as up-to-date anti-virus software.

I have a notebook from work, not my own, and it is my constant fear that it'll get stolen, I am totally paranoid about it. My notebook has good security features for BIOS/hard disk passwords. I don't know if having it stolen would get me fired or not, but I'd rather not find out.

I thought that it was irritating enough when a laptop breaks and all the data is lost but I have never rally contemplated the extra hassle involved if it was stolen. Fortunately I have no need to take mine out of the house so it should be reasonably safe.

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