Letter to the editor

We all should be alarmed about the loss of laptop computers at government agencies ["Laptops lost, stolen at Justice"]. But this is nothing new.

In 2000, a laptop was stolen from a State Department conference room by a stranger who simply walked into the building. Since then, laptop thefts nationwide have increased more than 50 percent. Based on estimates I've seen, about 1,600 units are stolen each day in this country.

But theft of the physical device is only part of the problem. Protecting the data stored on notebooks is the real issue. Also, a notebook can be used to gain access to networks because laptops sometimes contain remote-access log-in scripts, e-mail addresses and passwords. So protecting notebooks also means protecting networks.

What makes data theft insidious and frightening is that we may never know that someone has gained unauthorized access to sensitive information. Remember: If a person can steal a laptop, that same person can probably download information from a laptop without ever stealing the hardware. Think about it. Who is watching your laptop at the office when you go out to lunch? Who is guarding your data when you're on a road trip and you leave your computer in your hotel room?

The range of techniques available to protect computers and data is very broad — and surprisingly simple. Security cables, alarms (motion-sensor alarms are available, to answer a letter to the editor dated Aug. 21), equipment tagging, data encryption software and access control technologies are a few.

But the important point is that more than one technology should be used.

For instance, use a physical lock, which is easily displayed. That will slow down or turn away the opportunistic thief. However, spies undeterred by locks and other devices will be thwarted by strong data encryption software and computer access control programs.

We've written a monograph on this subject and would be happy to send it to any interested person. Feel free to contact PC Guardian at info@pcguardian.com. In the subject line, write "Notebook Theft Monograph."

Steven Lerner-Wright
PC Guardian

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