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In 2005, laptop theft resulted in a financial loss of $2.1 Billion (Ponemon Institute [PDF]). Only a small percentage of that sum actually relates to the hardware cost however, as 80% of stolen laptops are stolen for the information they contain, and not for the hardware itself (SANS [PDF]). A laptop is an important company investment, especially for a small business. If you don't already take laptop security seriously, now is the time to start.
A Common Laptop Theft Scam:
Two people at a busy airport target a potential victim—YOU—carrying a laptop computer. After you place your laptop on the security conveyor belt, one of the scam artists will set off the metal detector. While everyone's attention (including yours) is turned toward the individual at the metal detector, the second person picks up your laptop when it appears on the conveyor belt. There might even be a third person that takes the computer as a hand-off and then disappears into the busy crowd. Your laptop is gone before you realize anything has happened.
Laptop Security at the BIOS Level
“Financial loss due to laptop theft has been second only to loss due to computer virus for the last seven years running.”—2002 Computer Security Institute/FBI Computer Crime & Security Survey
Steps can be taken at the BIOS level to further protect your laptop from unauthorized access.
Configure the BIOS to boot from C: then A:
Any modern BIOS will allow you to configure the primary drive to boot from during startup. By selecting C: then A: over the default settings of A: then C:, you can prevent an attacker from forcibly booting the system from their own customized boot disk. In situations where you may need to startup from a boot disk, reverse the BIOS options to A: then C:. When you are finished, don't forget to reinstate the original BIOS boot option.
Enable BIOS passwords
To ensure that an attacker does not reconfigure the BIOS to allow them to boot from a disk drive, enable the BIOS password system to protect BIOS configuration. This will require a password to be input before the computer will boot.
Tips to help you protect your laptop:
- Maintain copies of important data somewhere other than the laptop. You might consider using an external portable storage device.
- Be sure to back up all data, and make use of encryption features when you do so.
- Exit out of programs prior to shutting down your laptop to avoid data loss and program corruption.
- Never handle or manipulate a drive while it is operating.
- Use a locking cable to secure your laptop to your desk or workstation.
- Carry your laptop with you in a very non-descript carrying case, perhaps a backpack. Make sure your carrying case is sturdy, weatherproof, and padded. Keep it with you at all times; never place it on a seat beside you.
- When traveling, never check your laptop as baggage.
- Never put your laptop on the conveyor belt at a security checkpoint until the person in front of you has successfully passed through the metal detector. Keep a constant eye on it as it enters and exits the X-ray machine. Keep a close eye on the people in front of you and what they are picking up.
- Engrave your laptop with your company logo and an identifying number.
- Use a disk drive lock to prevent unauthorized access and operation of the computer.