Many SMBs are now recognising that laptop, notebook and netbook computers are risky endpoints for data loss. With significant numbers of mobile computers being lost or stolen, it corresponds that plenty of sensitive data is also being lost or stolen. Also it is now the law in some countries that customs or border security can ask to inspect laptops, phones, USB drives, data cards and other electronic devices. They can even make copies of the data or whole hard drives before returning the device to you.
So just what can you do to ensure the information on laptops stays safe?
Lloyd Borrett, Security Evangelist at AVG (AU/NZ), says, "Thankfully, there is a cheap and relatively easy way to ensure laptop data is safe even if the device itself falls into the wrong hands - data encryption software."
Most laptop encryption software products today support strong encryption using trusted algorithms such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), with acceptable 256-bit key lengths. Commercial laptop encryption software solutions are available from $20 to $100 per laptop depending on the management and support features offered.
There are also free and open source options available, such as TrueCrypt and FreeOTFE. In general, open source free solutions are only applicable for SMBs that can manage each laptop's encryption individually, since management consoles with key recovery and other features aren't available.
"I personally use TrueCrypt, with a 20-plus character long, highly secure password," says Borrett.
For some organisations, the best option to protect laptops from the majority of loss or theft scenarios might be a combination of encryption methods. For most laptops, full disk encryption (FDE) or pre-encrypted drives are the best and simplest approaches.
However, if laptops are shared by multiple team members, files or content may need to be encrypted instead of the entire drive. Numerous commercial products today offer both types of encryption, and they're generally managed from the same central console.
Password Protect Everything
Borrett advises people to password protect their laptop and smart phone. "Of course, with so many web sites and programs requiring the use of a password, you may have too many to remember easily. Help is at hand in the form of KeePass, a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage all your passwords in a secure way."
Cloud Services Can Be Your Friend
While your laptop may be the most convenient place to keep your data, it's hardly the safest when it comes to storing sensitive documents or lists of contacts.
Store your sensitive documents using a cloud storage service, such as Dropbox, a popular service with both free and paid plans. You can then access your information from anywhere with an Internet connection. Plus, if your laptop gets seized, searched or stolen, you'll still be able to access your secure documents using another computer.
Stay Safe From Online Data Theft
"Of course," Borrett says, "The other form of data protection you need to ensure the lockdown of information on a laptop is good security software. For the basic online activities of surfing the web, good anti-virus and anti-spyware protection is available free for home and non-commercial use from companies like AVG and others.
"If you're also working, shopping, banking and gaming online, or out and about using public Wi-Fi connections to the Internet, then you really should consider purchasing a full Internet Security software suite. These products have the ability to deliver full anti-malware, web, anti-spam and enhanced firewall protection layers to ensure your valuable data stays safe from the bad guys while you're using your laptop both in and out of the office."
AVG (AU/NZ) has a comprehensive range of security tips on its web site at http://www.avg.com.au/resources/security-tips/. For more video tips from AVG (AU/NZ), see http://www.youtube.com/user/avgaunz.
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