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Laptop Liabilities

Sometimes the information you need is too much to be accessed remotely (especially in an Internet café with a shared broadband connection). In this case, it may be desirable to bring along your own laptop to use. Aside from the obvious dangers of the laptop being damaged during travel, there are also several potentials for identity theft involved in bringing a laptop with you.

The most obvious danger is the laptop being stolen. This not only provides the obvious hassle of having to replace the laptop, but also carries the potential of having vital information - both business and personal - fall into the wrong hands. Laptop theft can be prevented by a good lock and keeping a watchful eye over the laptop and other portable digital devices that you take with you. But even a lock cannot deter a determined thief, and you will have much better things to do than keep a constant eye on your laptop while traveling. So it is always a good idea to keep safeguards in place in the event that you do become a victim of laptop theft.

Regular backups of vital information (such as any projects or documents that you are working on, email, etc) will help you recover in the case of lost data. Investing in strong disk encryption will also help prevent laptop thieves from accessing and using critical information on your laptop. Apple laptops running Mac OS X 10.3 or later have access to FileVault, a disk encryption mechanism that can encrypt a user's home directory with 128-bit AES encryption and is provided within the operating system itself (Figure 2).

Figure 2: FileVault in action on Mac OS X

Figure 2: FileVault in action on Mac OS X

Windows users must rely on third-party software for disk encryption (though the forthcoming Windows Vista will include BitLocker encryption). PGP's Whole Disk Encryption provides a way to encrypt an entire disk, and is available in either Enterprise (for organizations that want to implement a centralized encryption solution) or Professional (for individual users) flavors. FreeOTFE is a free (as-in-beer) disk encryption program for Windows that allows for a variety of different encryption algorithms and ciphers to be used in encrypting the disk.

On the Linux side of things, kernel 2.6.4 contains native support for dm-crypt, an update of the venerable and vulnerable Cryptoloop. For extra security when running Linux, the root plug module may be used. This module can be used to prevent a thief from running processes as the root user, since it blocks processes from running as root if a specific USB device is not present in the machine.

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