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Beginners Guides: Preventing Data Theft from a Stolen Laptop

Beginners Guides: Preventing Data Theft from a Stolen Laptop - PCSTATS
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Abstract: And, if that doesn't work, at least you can protect your data better than you did that brand new notebook. Harsh words, but sound advice.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCstats Sep 08 2005   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCstats

Password Tips and Encrypt Vital Data

The more numbers, uppercase letters, symbols and digits in your password, the harder it is to discover. Microsoft themselves recommend using no less than 6-digit passwords with at least three of the following: lower case, uppercase, numbers and special characters. Make sure ALL enabled user accounts have been assigned passwords.

It's a pain to have to memorize complicated passwords, but if you use the laptop primarily for traveling, simply jot the password down and carry it somewhere on your person (not in the laptop bag).

While you are at it, changing the 'administrator' account to an alternate name is also a good measure to make it harder to break in. Everyone knows that Windows XP uses an administrator account, and that it cannot be disabled, so it is the prime target for data thieves. By renaming it 'Bob' or something stranger still, you can add some time and frustration to your thief's life. To do this:

Log into windows using an account that has administrative privileges (any user created during install process or the administrator account itself)

Right click on 'my computer' and select 'manage.'

From the computer management window, Expand 'local users and groups' then open the 'users' folder and highlight the 'administrator' account. Right click and select 'rename' to change it.

STEP 3: Encrypt vital data

Again, if you've read our recent article on password recovery you'll have realized that it is not really necessary for an intruder with physical access to the computer to actually hack the passwords of your user accounts in order to get at your data. There are a slew of utilities out there that will happily boot your computer into an alternate OS like Linux and then reset your user passwords. It is also quite simple to grab a portable operating system that boots itself from CD (such as Knoppix), or a DOS boot disk with an NTFS reader on it and then copy the information straight off your laptop's drive. For that matter, laptop hard disks are generally easy to remove anyway.

An intruder could purchase an adaptor or a USB case and hook your laptop's hard drive up to his or her own system and siphon off your files. So what use are Windows user passwords? Well, plenty of use when you combine them with proper encryption…

Windows XP Professional, like Win 2000 before it, features built in strong file encryption based on the identity of the user. When you use the Encrypting File System (EFS), a file is encrypted with an algorithm derived from the unique SID (System Identifier) number generated for each user account. Once the file is encrypted, it cannot be decrypted except by the original user (and anyone he chooses to grant access to the file). This means that any other user account will not be able to view the file, period.

The encryption is permanent and remains on the file even when Windows is not running. It doesn't matter if a new account with the exact same name and password is created, only the original account with the original SID number can decrypt and read the file.

The benefits of using file encryption are obvious. The only feasible way to break it without a supercomputer is to bypass it by gaining access to the user account that did the encrypting. If you set strong passwords, as above, this is very tough to do. None of the conventional methods of getting at secured data will work on encrypted files.

Of course, encryption carries its own set of dangers. If the original user account is destroyed due to a system failure or user error, you too will lose all access to the encrypted data. It is possible (and highly recommended) to create a 'recovery agent' which provides a secondary account with the ability to recover the data. This can be created as a digital certificate which can be exported to a floppy disk, then applied to a user account when needed.

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Contents of Article: PCstats
 Pg 1.  Beginners Guides: Preventing Data Theft from a Stolen Laptop
 Pg 2.  Biometric security
 Pg 3.  Laptop tracing software
 Pg 4.  Protecting your data in the event of theft
 Pg 5.  — Password Tips and Encrypt Vital Data
 Pg 6.  How to encrypt files in Windows XP
 Pg 7.  Creating a Recovery Agent
 Pg 8.  Exporting a data recovery certificate

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