Managing mobility: Ten tips to protect your laptops

Warren Cartwright
Absolute Software

They’re everywhere: laptops, smart phones and PDAs. Once reserved for the elite and the traveling business professional, these technologies are now being deployed in organizations at an astonishishng rate. According to GartnerGroup, four out of every five new workstations provisioned are laptops and IDC believes the U.S. mobile population will grow to 55 million in 2004.

It’s no wonder they’re so popular—mobile devices are smaller, more powerful and increasingly affordable. What’s more, these tools help employees to be more productive, and the companies they represent more profitable. Unfortunately, for many organizations, including those in the power utility sector, being better connected comes at the expense of security.

Consider these facts:

  • 387,000 notebook computers and 16,000 desktops were stolen in the U.S. in 2000 (Safeware);
  • The average loss due to laptop theft is $61,881 (CSI/FBI);
  • According to 2002 CSI/ FBI study, 90 percent of respondents detected computer security breaches within 12 months;
  • In the same study, 74 percent cite Internet connection as a frequent point of attack.

These statistics reveal that the threat from computer crime and other information security breaches is real and continues unabated. Outlined below are some very basic steps that electric utility management professionals can take to safeguard their mobile computing devices and the valuable information that resides on them.

“-Secure your passwords. Make sure you change your access password routinely and do not use the default “save password” feature for network access. Never leave your password where someone else may find it (i.e. on a sticky note attached to your monitor or underneath your mouse pad).

“-Treat your laptop like it was cash. You wouldn’t leave a $100 bill unattended, so why leave your computer lying around? Keep your laptop with you or in plain sight at all times, especially when checking in to hotels, staffing trade shows, or traveling. At airport security checkpoints, carefully watch your laptop as it enters and exits the X-ray machine, or ask that it be examined in front of you, by hand.

“-Don’t leave your laptop in a “hidden” area. If you can’t see it, chances are you won’t see someone taking it. Avoid leaving your laptop in a vehicle, even if it is locked. If you must leave it there, the best place is in a locked trunk. When staying in a hotel, consider locking your laptop in the hotel’s safe.

“-Use an inconspicuous carrying case. Carrying your laptop around in a traditional computer case is an immediate “red flag” that you’re carrying something valuable.

“-Consider using a backpack, duffel bag, briefcase or attachàƒ© case instead.

“-Encrypt your data. The only way to ensure that the data remains secure, even if the device is not, is to encrypt the data on the PC. A product that also offers e-mail encryption provides enhanced security.

“-Lock it up. When you leave for the day, secure your laptop to an immobile object, such as a desk, with a cable lock. If you do not have access to such a device, place your laptop in a locked drawer or cabinet.

“-Secure access to the workplace. Statistics reveal that approximately 70 percent of computer crime consists of “inside jobs”. Therefore, never let unaccompanied strangers wander around in your workplace. Offer assistance and deliver the visitors to their destinations.

“-Install a personal firewall. Personal firewall products can be configured for dual-zone protection, leaving system access unrestricted while on the trusted local network and providing tight security while on the Internet.

“-Back it up. Back-up valuable data onto disks or preferably the corporate network, instead of relying on your computer’s hard drive. Back-ups can be scheduled, and should tale place at least weekly.

“-Report it missing ASAP. In the event that your laptop is lost or stolen, re-port it missing to your employer and local authorities as soon as possible. This will help to expedite the recovery process.

Cartwright is the senior product manager at Absolute Software; he’s responsible for driving the strategy, development, and implementation of products and services for the company.

Absolute Software helps organizations overcome the security risks and asset tracking challenges associated with their PCs—remote, mobile and local. More information can be found at www.absolute.com.

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