4 simple steps to bulletproof laptop security
Follow these tips, tools, and techniques to protect your Windows notebook against theft, intrusion, and data loss
Security: You either have it you don't. It's a matter of degrees or, as the experts prefer to think of it, layers. The more varieties of security you have, the better the odds your goods can be protected successfully from intrusion or theft.
Layered security applies as much to laptop computers as it does to corporate networks or the Pentagon -- good news because laptops present a major target for theft. Aside from the (illegal) resale value of the laptop itself, there's always the possibility that personal data can be harvested from it. Although hacking has surpassed the lost or stolen laptop as the leading cause of data breaches, the notebook is no less vulnerable to theft for precisely that reason.
With that in mind, I've collected a variety of techniques, software products, services, and functionalities that are either available on certain notebooks or can be implemented on just about all of them. Some involve hardware (fingerprint readers), some involve software (Prey, TrueCrypt), and some involve nothing more than using your head (strong passwords). Not all of them might be implemented on a given machine, but the more layers of each kind of security you can add, the better.
I don't expect most people to implement every single suggestion found here. I myself have a notebook that has a TPM (Trusted Platform Module), a fingerprint reader, full-disk encryption, a StuffBak sticker (to facilitate the return of a lost device), and a Prey account (to track a stolen unit) -- but I know full well that combining all of these protections is the exception, not the rule.
That said, there's nothing stopping you from implementing two or more of these layers of security on your notebook. Prey plus full-disk encryption, for instance, are both feasible and inexpensive; you can do both without paying a cent, and together they provide useful defenses. StuffBak costs money, but not a lot; a package of stickers can be had for under $20, and you pay (if you pay at all) only for a return when it actually takes place. The most expensive proposition is to either add a fingerprint reader to an existing system or to buy a system that has a fingerprint reader plus TPM as factory-installed features.
But no matter what your budget -- $2, $20, or $2,000 -- there are affordable layers of security you can add to your notebook that can prove priceless.