October 21st, 2004, 07:37 AM
US-CERT: Protecting Portable Devices: Data Security
US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team)
National Cyber Alert System
Cyber Security Tip ST04-020
Protecting Portable Devices: Data Security
Why do you need another layer of protection?
- In addition to taking precautions to protect your portable devices, it is important to add another layer of security by protecting the data itself.
Although there are ways to physically protect your laptop, PDA, or other portable device (see Protecting Portable Devices: Physical Security
for more information), there is no guarantee that it won't be stolen. After all, as the name suggests, portable devices are designed to be easily transported. The theft itself is, at the very least, frustrating, inconvenient, and unnerving, but the exposure of information on the device could have serious consequences. Also, remember that any devices that are connected to the internet, especially if it is a wireless connection, are also susceptible to network attacks.
What can you do?
- Use passwords correctly - In the process of getting to the information on your portable device, you probably encounter multiple prompts for passwords. Take advantage of this security. Don't choose options that allow your computer to remember passwords, don't choose passwords that thieves could easily guess, and use different passwords for different programs (see Choosing and Protecting Passwords for more information).
- Consider storing important data separately - There are many forms of storage media, including floppy disks, zip disks, CDs, DVDs, and removable flash drives (also known as USB drives or thumb drives). By saving your data on removable media and keeping it in a different location (e.g., in your suitcase instead of your laptop bag), you can protect your data even if your laptop is stolen. You should make sure to secure the location where you keep your data to prevent easy access.
- Encrypt files - By encrypting files, you ensure that unauthorized people can't view data even if they can physically access it. You may also want to consider options for full disk encryption, which prevents a thief from even starting your laptop without a passphrase. When you use encryption, it is important to remember your passwords and passphrases; if you forget or lose them, you may lose your data.
- Install and maintain anti-virus software - Protect laptops and PDAs from viruses the same way you protect your desktop computer. Make sure to keep your virus definitions up to date (see Understanding Anti-Virus Software for more information).
- Install and maintain a firewall - While always important for restricting traffic coming into and leaving your computer, firewalls are especially important if you are traveling and utilizing different networks. Firewalls can help prevent outsiders from gaining unwanted access (see Understanding Firewalls for more information).
- Back up your data - Make sure to back up any data you have on your computer onto a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, or network. Not only will this ensure that you will still have access to the information if your device is stolen, but it could help you identify exactly which information a thief may be able to access. You may be able to take measures to reduce the amount of damage that exposure could cause.
Authors: Mindi McDowell, Matt Lytle
Last updated October 20, 2004
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