laptop security

Laptop Encryption - the Last Defense

It used to be that laptop encryption was only considered relevant to the cloak and dagger brigade. Not any longer, laptop encryption is now recognized as an essential requirement for anyone who uses a laptop.

laptop encryption

Why is laptop encryption essential?

  • Laptops are ubiquitous and easy to steal.
  • Tens of thousands of laptops are lost or stolen every day.
  • Laptop security devices are a deterrent at best. They provide little protection against identity theft or data breach.
  • Cyber-criminals target laptops as a prime source of information they can use or sell.
  • Laptops are a rich source of readily negotiable data.
  • We live in the information age.
  • Information is the key to identity theft
  • Proof of identity is established by information rather than physical presence.
  • Proof of identity opens bank accounts and releases funds to whoever can "prove" an identity.
  • Identity theft is a booming business.
  • Passwords do not protect information on a laptop.
  • Encryption is the only reliable way of protecting sensitive information.

We used to believe that passwords protect our data. That myth was exploded long ago. Passwords give a false sense of security. Even if a password is really strong and unique (which very few are) it's unlikely to withstand an attack from a password hacking tool. All passwords can be cracked; it's just a matter of time.

Laptop encryption has also become popular because of advances in technology and the science of cryptography. These advances have overcome many of the old myths:

  • Complexity: the better encryption solutions are not only simple but transparent to the user and completely automatic.
  • Performance: advances in cryptography now deliver robust encryption without any noticeable impact on laptop performance.
  • Cost: it's now generally recognized that the cost of losing data is more expensive than the cost of replacing hardware.

Encryption Basics

The concept of "Keys" is crucial to understanding encryption. Different systems use various types of encryption key. They control the encryption and decryption process. The strength of data protection is related to how well the keys are protected.

Whole Disk Encryption v. File Encryption

Whole disk encryption encrypts everything on the disk including: data, operating system, temporary files, swap files ? Every byte of data is protected on the laptop until a pass phrase is entered that unlocks it and permits the computer to boot up. Even if the disk is removed from the laptop, data cannot be accessed without the required pre-boot authentication.

Some encryption software provides a single sign on facility. It permits the user to log on once at pre-boot and automatically be logged into an operating system user account. Thereafter the encryption - decryption process is totally transparent.

File encryption is selective. Nominated files are encrypted, but everything else is in the clear and accessible. Because the user needs to make selections, file encryption options are less secure. There is also the issue that operating systems keep copies of data in temporary and work space areas that are seldom included when file encryption are deployed.

The advantage of file or folder encryption is that it permits multiple users to share a single PC and each can secure their respective data files. Some whole disk encryption options also support that capability by permitting users to set up their own virtual encrypted disks within a fully encrypted physical disk.

As encryption has become more widely adopted it's been incorporated into hardware such as disk drives and flash drives in an effort to establish some differentiation. Experts and analysts recommend software only solutions over these free options because they more completely address recovery and data transfer issues.

Another trend is for encryption software to be bundled with operating systems such as Windows XP and Windows Vista. Having reviewed these options our preference is for products that come from organizations such as PGP , that are focused on cryptography and have already overcome useability and performance issues in the laptop encryption market.

Other Laptop Security Essentials

Surf The Internet At Work?


Windows and other software programs store history about the different activities that you have performed on your computer and on the Internet. This information is stored in the system areas of your hard disk and the built-in Windows functions like 'Clear History' offer little protection as they can only partially delete this data. Anyone can take a look at your history and find out what you have been doing on your computer, and this raises serious privacy concerns.

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