You have all the data security tools you need - a firewall, an antivirus program, and antispyware protection. But what if a thief walks into your office - or breaks into the boot of your car - and tries to walk away with your trusty computer?

The Hassle:
I have a desktop PC at the office, use a notebook when I travel, and have confidential client financial files. How can I protect my computers?

The Fixes:
To guard my computers, and the data inside, I use several tricks.

  • Lock and key: My first experience successfully foiling a theft came in 1991 when a burglar broke into our home. We lost some valuables, but my PC was safe because I had secured it with a Kablit Security Package kit, still available for $50. Similar products are available in the UK, probably the best known being the Kensington range). The thief had just a few minutes to grab the easy stuff; the PC, wrapped in steel cables, apparently looked like too much of a hassle. If you're really worried, get a full security enclosure for your entire tower.

    In those days, I kept my laptop locked to my desk with an AnchorPad Security plate. The same plate is available today.

  • Notebooks on the road: Because I don't want my notebook stolen when I take it on a trip, I keep my eyes on it. But for added security - say, when I'm at the airport and I doze off while waiting to board a delayed flight - I use a Targus DefCon Ultra (£34 in the UK). The thin, steel cable isn't terribly secure (I'm guessing that wire clippers would slice through it), but the locking device sets off a piercing tone if the cable is touched.

    If my notebook does sprout wings, perhaps from a hotel room, the thief is in for a big surprise. Without a special key from SecuriKey inserted into the USB port, my notebook just won't boot. The CD-ROM drive is locked down, too, so booting from it is impossible. SecuriKey also frustrates computer-savvy crooks who try to boot with a floppy or external drive. Securikey costs $120 in the US.

  • Storage tricks: When traveling, you can keep your notebook's data safe by removing the hard drive and stashing it in another location. If the data it contains is critical, keep it on a flash thumb drive and then load it on your notebook when you need it. A second option is biometrically protected storage, which uses your fingerprint as a password equivalent. ThinkCP's 1Gbyte biometric flash drive costs $289 in the US, other brands are available in the UK.
  • Cover yourself: If your notebook or PC is stolen, you'll want to replace it, so think insurance. My homeowner's insurance covers me at the offices of Bass International, as well as when I'm on the road. Check your coverage; you may need a business policy at the office. The alternative is a policy from an insurer that specializes in covering PCs.

Tool of the Month

Passwords: Safe and Secure There are a few password management programs around. RoboForm, the one I use, saves user IDs and passwords, generates hard-to-guess passwords, automatically logs me on to sites, and can fill in online forms. But besides making my surfing life easier, it has a wealth of security features. For instance, I'm protected from keyloggers because the program enters my passwords itself, so I don't need to type them from the keyboard. The trial version reverts to a limited-use, free version after 30 days; the Pro version costs $30.

Steve Bass writes the Bass Blog, and is the author of PC Annoyances, published by O'Reilly.