If your laptop was lost or stolen, how bad would that be? Yep, really, really, bad. You need to protect yourself and your files, just in case the laptop falls into the wrong hands. That's where laptop encryption comes in...
Protect Your Laptop With Encryption
Most people have lots of data on their laptop that they absolutely do not want a thief to get hold of: identification info such as social security number; usernames and passwords for bank and stock trading accounts; credit card numbers; names, addresses, and personal info of family and friends; business secrets; and maybe even some things you wouldn't want to appear in the local newspaper.
Securing your laptop with a logon username and password is not enough. Logon passwords are frequently lost so there are plenty of fast, easy ways to defeat or change such things. See my article Windows Password Reset to learn just how safe you're NOT if you've been relying on a logon password for laptop security.
A much better idea is to encrypt your data so that only someone who knows the encryption key can read the data.
What is Encryption?
Encryption changes data with a complex mathematical algorithm so that it cannot be read without first being decrypted. Encryption software uses a string of characters called an encryption key to derive a pattern of changes it makes to your data. If you enter the key into the encryption software again, it can figure out how to reverse the encryption to make the data usable. The principle of encryption and decryption is simple but there are many considerations for choosing and using encryption software.
Some encryption algorithms - ways of calculating encryption patterns - are better than others. Any encryption can be cracked, given enough time and effort. The trick is to make cracking encryption not worth a thief's effort, while keeping it simple to use legitimately. For consumers and many corporate users, the Pretty Good Privacy encryption software strikes just the right balance.
Encryption and decryption take time and computing resources, so there's a trade-off between security and performance. If you encrypt your entire hard drive, every read/write operation will take a little longer. So many users choose to encrypt only the most sensitive data on a laptop drive. Software such as PGP lets you encrypt an entire drive; selected partitions; specific folders; or individual files.
Another option is Microsoft's BitLocker, a data security and encryption feature included in Vista Enterprise and Ultimate, and Windows 7. Bitlocker will prevent a laptop thief from accessing the encrypted hard drive, even if they use the trick of booting up the laptop with another operating system, or move the hard drive to another computer.
Generally, encryption keys stored in hardware devices are harder for thieves to crack than those stored only in software, which can be manipulated in RAM memory. The Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is a specification for such hardware-based encryption that is widely implemented on computers including many laptops. Check your laptop's features and user manual and enable TPM if it is present.
Laptop encryption can cause you delays while traveling internationally. Customs inspectors often power up laptops to make sure they are working computers and not dummy cases disguising bombs. If they encounter encryption, they may suspect you are hiding something (which you are, of course). That can lead to a private interview, demands for your encryption key, and hours-long inspection of your entire hard drive. We live in that sort of world now, unfortunately.
Got something to say about laptop encryption tools? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Dec 2009
|For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.|
What Is Picasa?
The Top Twenty
Free Online College Courses
Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions
Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter
Copyright © 2005
- Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Article information: AskBobRankin -- Laptop Encryption (Posted: 9 Dec 2009)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved