Unfortunately, I know nothing at all about this subject, apart from the fact that when the Ur-Guru needs to leave his laptop in a hotel room, he puts it in his unbreakable Samsonite suitcase and then uses a cable with a combination lock and alarm to secure said suitcase to a large piece of furniture, like a bed.
I’ve owned and traveled with laptops since 1994 and never had one stolen, possibly because I don’t let them out of my sight (or, usually, grasp) unless locked in the trunk of the car. Mostly, though, I think I’ve been lucky. Actually, I know I’ve been lucky, as on a couple of occasions I’ve managed to leave the house unlocked when I went out, but came home to find all my possessions where I left them.
Iron Mountain hasn’t been so lucky: they just lost more backup tapes. Just because the storage giant acquired LiveVault and its Continuous Data Protection technology doesn’t mean all its data-storage customers have switched from tape-based to disk-based backup. But I’ve talked about the vulnerability of tapes in trucks before (in the March 4, 2005 backup reminder), and nothing much has changed on that front, so I won’t repeat myself here.
Instead I’ll replay my generally-uneducated answer to the theft question and then ask readers for their input.
“I’ve done a few Google searches on security kits for computers. I’m surprised at the paucity of good solutions. Laptops have cable locks with flimsy connections to the computer that I’ve been told can easily be broken off. With larger computers, you can encase them in metal, like Robocop, or else super glue a D-ring onto the case, to which you can attach a cable and lock. Why aren’t computers designed with a better security connection?”
“I don’t know whether people prefer to have insurance, or what. Some people have systems with removable drives, so they can take their data home at night. (Complete computer towers and servers are bulkier to shift than laptops.) Of course, data centers have security guards at the doors and keep the machines in wire cages, with nothing but dumb terminals out in the open.
“The less accessible your machine is for thieves, the less accessible it is for you or your IT repair staff. Most modern tower machines can be opened with a simple latch pull, and unhooking the drive and the various boards is a trivial effort. That makes taking the whole tower away rather beside the point, particularly if it’s your business data they’re after and not just salable parts–though they can still realize a substantial profit on anything they rebuild from the components they take from you.
“I think protecting your computers is a bit like protecting your car. A garage that thieves can’t get into is going to do you a lot more good than a car alarm.”
One thing I didn’t think of at the time is that there’s a difference between protecting your data and protecting your hardware. Good encryption can protect your data from all but the most skilled hackers even if all your hardware gets hauled off in a truck. (Without off-site backups, though, you may not have any more access to your data than the thieves do.) But encryption, like locks and steel cages, makes working with the data yourself more trouble. This is part of why most of us only encrypt a few files at best. I password-protect my Quicken files and the PDFs of my tax returns, as well as invoices and contracts. I also password-protect sensitive client data, and my own collection of passwords. But anyone stealing my computer or my XHD would still get some pretty comprehensive information about me.
Mike asked what I’d heard from other readers on the subject of protecting computers against theft. Nothing, so far—but I’m hoping that will change. Any of you with experience in this area, please send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them here on the blog (click the little link below that says “comments”).
See you next week with more backup news!