Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : January 2011

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SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

Many of you may have received new laptops, smartphones or tablets (such as the iPad) this holiday season. All of these new technologies are making us even more mobile and, unfortunately, more vulnerable. Laptops and other mobile devices have become so ubiquitous that we sometimes have a very cavalier attitude about our devices and our data.

There are real and serious security threats to our computers and data, but many of the real problems occur not because of some outside nefarious plot to attack your “stuff” but rather because we do not follow simple yet critical rules to protect our technology from our own carelessness. Too often, we are the problem.

Over the next few months, I will address some issues related to various types of security problems. Since it is such a broad topic and constantly changing, I will also link to many other sites for more extensive details.

This month’s article is going to list some very basic and practical rules you must follow to protect your computers and your data. It will also contain links to many other articles to expand on the information. You can get the article with direct URL links (so you do not have to retype them into your browser) by going to www.msba.org >Departments > LOMA > Articles > Tech Stuff, or www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/index.htm. In addition, there will be a checklist for computer security based on this article and the links at the site. Use it in your office and at home.

Preventing Theft

There is much conflicting information regarding statistics on laptop theft/security because, according to one report, most companies can only account for 60 percent of their computers and many businesses are very reluctant to report thefts. However, most statistics list that anywhere from 600,000 to 1 million laptops are lost, misplaced or stolen each year and according to the FBI, only 2 percent of those will ever be recovered; hence, preventing loss or theft is the best place to start.

Various insurance industry surveys report that anywhere between one and 15 laptops will be stolen or misplaced this year, many of them either at airports and/or due to carelessness on the part of the laptop owner.

So, keeping this information in mind, here are some very simple rules to bear in mind:

1. As much as is humanly possible, do not let the laptop or mobile device out of your sight for any reason.

2. Keep most confidential information on a separate device, such as a thumb drive or in a “cloud” site. You can back up your information on an online site; the MSBA offers an excellent online backup with Corevault. There are many others, as well, and you should consider one of these online backup systems even if just as a backup to your backup.

3. Make sure all of the information you have on your laptop is backed up in another location.

4. Although it should go without saying, your laptop should be password-protected and if you do leave it (for whatever reason) you should turn it off or use the password screen so that no one can view your data.

Many thefts of laptops occur at airports during the security screening process. Never take your eyes off your laptop. Be very cautious about the person in front of you before putting your laptop on the conveyor belt. Do not put it on the belt or push it through until right before it is your turn to go through the scanner.

There are some devices and software that you can use to help you prevent laptop theft. Some of these tips are taken from an excellent article at www.guidingtech.com, “13 Must-Know Laptop Security Tips, Tricks, Software”.

The simplest and most cost-effective way to protect your laptop, especially when in a hotel or other public place, is by using a laptop security lock. If you take your laptop anywhere, you should have a lock. I actually lock my laptop to my desk at home – just in case – and I always have it when I travel. I have even been known to lock my laptop when I am giving presentations and have to be away from the podium.

A variety of lock types are available, including cable locks, laptop “safes” and plate systems, and can be purchased at any computer store. Additional information about various types of locks can be found at www.securitykit.com or www.computersecurity.com.

Software to Help

A wide variety of software is also available to help with the task of theft-prevention, or tracking your laptop if it is stolen or lost.

  • LAlarm (www.lalarm.com) is a software product that allows you to set various alarms to protect your laptop, and it is free for personal use.
  • Laptop Alarm (http://www.syfer.nl/) will set off an alarm if someone tries to take your laptop.

    Although not specific to laptops, there are excellent reviews of general mobile security software at Top Ten Reviews (http://mobile-security-software-review.toptenreviews.com/).

    If your laptop is stolen or lost, there is software that will help track it down and, more importantly, delete and/or encrypt the data so it cannot be viewed.

  • Laptoplock (www.thelaptoplock.com) is a free (for now), PC-only product that will delete and encrypt files.
  • LoJack (www.lojack.com/pages/laptop.aspx) has been an industry leader for some time and its software works with both PCs and Macs. Another product that works with both PCs and Macs for tracking is Prey (http://preyproject.com/)

    In addition, both Norton and McAfee have suites that provide many levels of protection, including anti-virus and anti-malware.

    There is much more information related to laptop protection and security available, but so little space. I have included a checklist on the website as well as links to other sites that will give additional information.

Resources

- Some information in this article came from “13 Must-Know Laptop Security Tips, Tricks, Software” (www.guidingtech.com/5222/laptop-security-software-tools-tips/).

- A good government site, www.onguardonline.gov includes all type of tips for protecting yourself in many ways while online.

- From About.com, “Top 9 Laptop Computer Safety Tips” (http://mobileoffice.about.com/od/usingyourlaptop/tp/laptopsafety.htm) offers some practical tips for keeping your laptop up and running.

And finally, if you received new laptops or devices and need to get rid of your old hardware, there are two excellent articles from Rob Pegoraro in the “Help File” of The Washington Post: “Options for Recylcing Electronics” (http://tinyurl.com/23mug42) and “How to Wipe Data from a PC or Mac” (http://tinyurl.com/29jreua).

I will be posting information like this on a regular basis on the http://www.twitter.com/MSBALOMA. Be safe out there, but do not be paranoid. Have a good new year.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January 2011

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