Securing a laptop, but no silver bullet

I first met Ong Hock Sun a while back to discuss his interest in contributing to the Tech Podium blog. He had just returned from an oversea work stint, and was eager to get back into the local IT industry.

I first met Ong Hock Sun a while back to discuss his interest in contributing to the Tech Podium blog. He had just returned from an oversea work stint, and was eager to get back into the local IT industry.

And that he did.

Since we last met, Hock Sun has secured work as an IT consultant with the Youth Olympic Games, which Singapore will be hosting next year.

Over the years, he has accumulated experience as an IT infrastructure consultant in the real estate and hospitability sectors.

In his free time, Hock Sun enjoys discussing issues related to IT security. So, it's only fitting that his debut in Tech Podium revolves around tips on how to safeguard data in anticipation of any potential laptop theft.

Much has already been written about how one can try to secure a laptop, so this blog is not to preach the best approach (since there isn't any that is 100 percent "foolproof") but to showcase different solutions, for different scenarios.

According to the FBI, one of the most common places to lose a laptop is the airport and most of the laptops were never recovered or returned to the rightful owner. Also, statistics obtained from showed that 21 percent of data loss was contributed by stolen or missing laptops.

Three basic must-do steps Since the chance of getting back your precious laptop is almost zero, the most basic steps one must take are:

1. Backup, backup, backup. Regularly back up the data into another media (CD-ROM, flash-based storage drives or portable disk comes in handy here) and store it safely. 2. Encrypt the data with a proven commercial tool. This will prevent sensitive and personal data being leaked to the wrong hands or the Internet (think Edison Chen). 3. Dump that standard laptop bag. Invest in a laptop carrier that does not indicate that you're lugging a laptop. But, stay away from popular brands that, by now, are easily recognized to contain a laptop compartment.

Make laptop hard to reuse when stolen Since the goal of a laptop thief is to steal the data or sell the laptop for a quick buck (think recession), one should make the laptop almost un-usable to the "new" owner.

1. Personalize the laptop. Paint it bright or put some decal of your choice that doesn't come off easily. 2. Set up the BIOS password. This is simple, yet effective, solution that is often overlooked. It will, at least, make it harder for thieves to reboot your laptop and gain access to it immediately.

Trigger the alarm Create a commotion when the thief tries to make a quick getaway with your laptop. There aren't many such solutions out there but there is one,, which offers an application that sounds an alarm when certain parameters are triggered. The downside, however, is that the laptop will never go into sleep mode once the software is running.

Protect, track and manage This last category is really hard to justify if you are securing a personal laptop, and is more suitable for a company that wants an enterprise-level solution. However, most of the solutions listed below may only work in the States and may be unsuitable here.

1. FailSafe Technology. A solution provided by the BIOS maker, Phoenix. 2. Computrace. The technology is licensed by Absolute Software from LoJack, the technology that is touted to prevent car theft. 3. Intel's vPro Anti-Theft. This solution sounds promising although I have yet to come across any organizations that have deployed it company-wide.

The first two solutions can still be circumvented by re-flashing the BIOS or removing the CMOS. However, it's unlikely to be easily carried out without some technical expertise. Having said that, if you subscribe to the earlier statement that most laptops will not make their way back to their owner, companies need to ask themselves if it make sense for them to invest in these solutions?

Conclusion The risk of losing a laptop have many undesired consequences that is not only economically painful, but you can run the risk of identity theft, particularly if you keep a lot of personal details in the hard drive.

Ultimately, what solution or approach one should take really depends on how the laptop is being utilized. The more you depend on your laptop to do your daily chores, the more thought and money you need to invest in carving the right solution for your personal need.

Unfortunately, no one solution fits all.


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