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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the subject line, write "Notebook Theft Monograph."