October 21st, 2004, 07:36 AM
US-CERT: Protecting Portable Devices: Physical Security
US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team)
National Cyber Alert System
Cyber Security Tip ST04-017
Protecting Portable Devices: Physical Security
What is at risk?
- Many computer users, especially those who travel for business, rely on laptops and PDAs because they are small and easily transported. But while these characteristics make them popular and convenient, they also make them an ideal target for thieves. Make sure to secure your portable devices to protect both the machine and the information it contains.
Only you can determine what is actually at risk. If a thief steals your laptop or PDA, the most obvious loss is the machine itself. However, if the thief is able to access the information on the computer or PDA, all of the information stored on the device is at risk, as well as any additional information that could be accessed as a result of the data stored on the device itself.
Sensitive corporate information or customer account information should not be accessed by unauthorized people. You've probably heard news stories about organizations panicking because laptops with confidential information on them have been lost or stolen. But even if there isn't any sensitive corporate information on your laptop or PDA, think of the other information at risk: information about appointments, passwords, email addresses and other contact information, personal information for online accounts, etc.
How can you protect your laptop or PDA?
What can you do if your laptop or PDA is lost or stolen?
- Password-protect your computer - Make sure that you have to enter a password to log in to your computer (see Choosing and Protecting Passwords for more information).
- Keep your laptop or PDA with you at all times - When traveling, keep your laptop with you. Meal times are optimum times for thieves to check hotel rooms for unattended laptops. If you are attending a conference or trade show, be especially wary -- these venues offer thieves a wider selection of devices that are likely to contain sensitive information, and the conference sessions offer more opportunities for thieves to access guest rooms.
- Downplay your laptop or PDA - There is no need to advertise to thieves that you have a laptop or PDA. Avoid using your portable device in public areas, and consider non-traditional bags for carrying your laptop.
- Consider an alarm or lock - Many companies sell alarms or locks that you can use to protect or secure your laptop. If you travel often or will be in a heavily populated area, you may want to consider investing in an alarm for your laptop bag or a lock to secure your laptop to a piece of furniture.
- Back up your files - If your portable device is stolen, it's bad enough that someone else may be able to access your information. To avoid losing all of the information, make backups of important information and store the backups in a separate location (see Good Security Habits for more information). Not only will you still be able to access the information, but you'll be able to identify and report exactly what information is at risk.
Report the loss or theft to the appropriate authorities. These parties may include representatives from law enforcement agencies, as well as hotel or conference staff. If your device contained sensitive corporate or customer account information, immediately report the loss or theft to your organization so that they can act quickly.
Author: Mindi McDowell
Last updated September 15, 2004
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