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The perils of portability protect your laptop and your data

lock2.jpgIf a thief makes off with your laptop, you could lose not only a pricey piece of hardware But financial data, medical records, even your identity.

More disturbing still, with wireless connections, your data can be compromised even if your laptop never leaves your hands. Here are a few solutions to consider:

PHYSICAL SECURITY
Invest In a lock. Industry standard locking cables tether your computer to a desk or other stationary object. Most cost about $20 to $70 and use three- or four-digit combination dials or hard to-crack cylindrical key locks.

More-expensive models might add features such as an audible alarm. Register your notebook. If you fill out the warranty card, the manufacturer will have a record of ownership.

Consider registering with property- protection programs, typically offered by university Police, insurance agencies, and credit-card companies. Install tracking software. A few companies offer unreadable programs that will secretly send a coded signal wit h location informati on to a central computer when the laptop connects to the Internet. Service Starts at about $50 per year. Note: that it works only if t he missing PC is used online.

DATA SECURITY
Lock down boot-up. You can set your laptop to prompt for a password before loading The operating system (generally by hitting F2 when you see the brand logo at start-up or by using Windows’ configuration utility). Choose a “strong” password made up of letters, Numbers and symbols.

Use encryption software. This type of program scrambles data on your hard drive. To Access files, you must enter a password or plug in a “token,” a device that decrypts files. Consider biometrics. Biometric security devices such as finger print scanners allow Only authorized users (those with fingerprint patterns registered in the system’s memory) to use the computer.

Some laptops have built-in scanners. External fingerprint scanners, which often include built-in storage, plug into a USB port on any laptop.

WIRELESS SECURITY
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connections can be hijacked by passersby who want entry
Into your laptop or network for nefarious purposes, to protect your self: Enable encryption on your router. Turning on the “Wi-Fi”

Protected Access” (WPA) on your wireless router allows only Wi-Fi computers with the proper soft ware “key” to connect to your wireless home network and compute rs on it.
Change the default password and router names. Manufacturers set a default password and router name.

Change both to protect your network from being hijacked. Turn on your router’s MAC Filtering. Every computer on a network has a unique Media Access Control (MAC) address. By setting the router to allow connections only from your own MAC addresses, you block entry to your network and Internet connect ion.

Use a firewall program. In Addition to using your router’s protection, it’s wise to use software that will monitor data Traffic and detect suspicious activity, Mac OS X has a basic one-way firewall built in. That protects you from incoming threats but won’t monitor outbound traffic.

So if there’s malware on your system, that firewall won’t stop it from sending out your keystrokes or data. Windows Vista has a two-way firewall, but we didn’t find it very effective out of the box.

Third-party programs, some free, offer added layers of protection, with two-way security.
Be wary of Wi-Fi hot spots. Clever data thieves can create

Clones of legitimate, for-pay Wi-Fi services to grab your credit card info when you try To log in at a public spot. If you must use a public Wi-Fi hot spot, you might want to avoid logging in to sensitive sites your company’s network, say and limit connection time to a minimum. Turn off transmitters when you’re not using Wi-Fi.

You’ll conserve battery power. Present a “peerless” PC. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be Used in peer-to-peer modes that allows another computer to connect to yours on a one to-One basis. Consult your operating system’s manuals on how to disable ad-hoc networking. If your laptop has Bluetooth, the manual should tell you how to modify automatic pairing, discovery and visibility settings.

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