Most computer users nowadays would consider themselves proactive when it comes to online safety. More and more people are beginning to use antivirus and firewall software, and as a result, everyone’s a lot safer online.
But is there anything else we can do to protect ourselves? In a word, yes. Hundreds of thousands of computers are lost to theft each year. Whether it’s taken from your house during the night, or you just happen to take your eye off your laptop at an Internet cafe, losing a computer means having to replace expensive hardware, or worse still, face never getting irreplaceable data back.
Physical security is all about making it more difficult for the guy who breaks into your house, or the co-worker who fancies taking your laptop home with him. It doesn’t matter what passwords you’ve set and how many firewalls you’re using, anyone who has physical access to your computer could simply walk off with the whole thing.
Laptops and Components
Virtually every laptops and monitors incorporate a Kensington Security Slot. The slot forms part of a simple lock-and-cable mechanism commonly used in shops. It’s equally at effective at securing a laptop to your desk whilst our on lunch break, or keeping a monitor locked up overnight. Even if this doesn’t totally prevent it from being stolen, it will at least slow the person down and give you more of a chance at stopping him.
It is often said that for many people, the data stored on their hard drives is much more valuable to them than the cost of the computer itself. It can take someone less than a minute to open your PC case and remove the hard drive; you’ll lose any data you haven’t backed up, and confidential information could end up in the wrong hands. To help remedy this, a lot of computer cases now allow you to fit a padlock and secure the inside components. Or if you haven’t got one of these type of cases, you can now buy locking screws that prevent somebody removing components even once they’ve opened the case.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a raft of products out there, ranging from full size cages that protect your tower, to locking brackets that prevent your monitor being moved. Remember, if someone can break into your house, then that person can, and probably will, take your computer back out with them. Of course, the best way to protect the contents of your home is to better secure the house itself, but that’s expensive; all of these options I’ve just talked about are very affordable, and most cost considerably less than a Internet security suite would.
The BIOS is what you see when you first turn your computer on. It’s the part of the computer that activates before anything else, and then goes about its business of starting all the other components up: hard drives, graphics cards, USB ports, etc. Crucially, all of this happens before your operating system is started. And that’s the problem, your hard drives are spinning before Windows ever asks you for your password.
Disk and floppy drives are an open door to anyone with a boot disk. Simply insert into the drive and BIOS will probably start it, and give that person access to all of your hard drives. Similarly, another security hole lies in way the hard drive itself is connect to the rest of the computer. It doesn’t take a genius to open the case and plug the hard drive’s SATA cable straight into their computer.
Luckily, there’s a very simple solution: set a password. It can be a bit fiddly to get into the BIOS settings, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Without a password being entered on boot, the BIOS won’t start any hard drives and won’t even accept a floppy disk. As an added security measure, you can remove the disk drives from the boot list all together.
Together, good physical security and well configured BIOS settings should keep your computer and data safe from all but the most determined thieves. But in case your machine does happen to fall into the wrong hands, it’s worth installing tracing software. This sort of software will cost you, but it’s probably the best chance you stand of locating a stolen computer.
But of course from all of this emerges one final piece of advise. You’ve heard it time and time again I’m sure, but there’s no substitute for backing up. External hard drives can be bought very cheaply now, and even if you only keep it in the sock drawer, it’s better than nothing. Leaving it at a friend’s house is safer, but better still is opening a safety deposit box at your local bank branch.