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Security Tip (ST04-020)

Protecting Portable Devices: Data Security

Original release date: January 27, 2010 | Last revised: February 06, 2013

In addition to taking precautions to protect your portable devices, it is important to add another layer of security by protecting the data itself.

Why do you need another layer of protection?

Although there are ways to physically protect your laptop, PDA, or other portable device (see Protecting Portable Devices: Physical Security for more information), there is no guarantee that it won't be stolen. After all, as the name suggests, portable devices are designed to be easily transported. The theft itself is, at the very least, frustrating, inconvenient, and unnerving, but the exposure of information on the device could have serious consequences. Also, remember that any devices that are connected to the internet, especially if it is a wireless connection, are also susceptible to network attacks (see Securing Wireless Networks for more information).

What can you do?

  • Use passwords correctly - In the process of getting to the information on your portable device, you probably encounter multiple prompts for passwords. Take advantage of this security. Don't choose options that allow your computer to remember passwords, don't choose passwords that thieves could easily guess, use different passwords for different programs, and take advantage of additional authentication methods (see Choosing and Protecting Passwords and Supplementing Passwords for more information).
  • Consider storing important data separately - There are many forms of storage media, including CDs, DVDs, and removable flash drives (also known as USB drives or thumb drives). By saving your data on removable media and keeping it in a different location (e.g., in your suitcase instead of your laptop bag), you can protect your data even if your laptop is stolen. You should make sure to secure the location where you keep your data to prevent easy access. It may be helpful to carry storage media with other valuables that you keep with you at all times and that you naturally protect, such as a wallet or keys.
  • Encrypt files - By encrypting files, you ensure that unauthorized people can't view data even if they can physically access it. You may also want to consider options for full disk encryption, which prevents a thief from even starting your laptop without a passphrase. When you use encryption, it is important to remember your passwords and passphrases; if you forget or lose them, you may lose your data.
  • Install and maintain anti-virus software - Protect laptops and PDAs from viruses the same way you protect your desktop computer. Make sure to keep your virus definitions up to date (see Understanding Anti-Virus Software for more information). If your anti-virus software doesn't include anti-spyware software, consider installing separate software to protect against that threat (see Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware and Coordinating Virus and Spyware Defense for more information).
  • Install and maintain a firewall - While always important for restricting traffic coming into and leaving your computer, firewalls are especially important if you are traveling and using different networks. Firewalls can help prevent outsiders from gaining unwanted access (see Understanding Firewalls for more information).
  • Back up your data - Make sure to back up any data you have on your computer onto a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, or network (see Good Security Habits and Real-World Warnings Keep You Safe Online for more information). Not only will this ensure that you will still have access to the information if your device is stolen, but it could help you identify exactly which information a thief may be able to access. You may be able to take measures to reduce the amount of damage that exposure could cause.

Authors

Mindi McDowell and Matt Lytle

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