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How to Prevent Laptop Loss

You protect your home, car or bicycle with security systems, locks and preventative measures when you're traveling -- why should your mobile data devices be treated any less carefully?

In Part 1 of this series, I showed how creating a mobile-device security policy is an essential step toward reducing data-loss risk. Here, then, are essential security practices and products for any business traveler carrying a laptop or portable device.

An Ounce of Prevention

Making a habit of safe computing can protect you and your company, even if a loss should occur.

For starters, before a planned trip, do hard-drive housekeeping to ensure that you're not toting around more data than you need. Today's 120-gig hard drives make it possible to carry around massive amounts of information, as seen by the size of some of the recent losses that have made the news, such as the University of California, Berkeley's laptop theft that exposed the personal information of 98,000 graduate students in 2005, or the 30 million names lost by an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2006. For most business travelers, there's no reason to archive many files permanently on your portable device.

So know what data you have on your laptop, and purge it regularly. If you must transport your company's complete financial records from the last three years to a meeting at the head office, or have complete HR files on every staffer on hand for a conference, delete it as soon as possible after the meeting.

Make backups of your portable device regularly, and find a more secure place to keep the disks than in your briefcase or laptop bag. Check to ensure that all antivirus, antispyware and firewall software is properly installed, and keep it up-to-date.

Also before you travel, protect your laptop with a password, so the system is locked before the operating system will start. If your laptop supports biometric authentication, use your fingerprint together with your password. Never share your password or leave it written on a scrap of paper in your laptop case.

Any smart traveler who will be storing sensitive data would also do well to invest in encryption software. These programs make the data unreadable if someone other than you accesses your machine.

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