To many of us, our data, our work and our personal information is sacred. Digital copies of home-movies and photos are treasured and irreplaceable, and just as we lock away our jewellery and legal documents it’s important that we take care of our prized digital possessions as well. The threat of cyber-attack and identity theft grows every day, bringing more and more people into its firing line: but what are you doing to keep your data safe? There are a few simple, easy techniques that you can do to prevent some of the most popular techniques from forcing access to your digital information. Online threats and physical threats differ greatly, but here’s what you can do to prevent somebody with the ability to touch your machine from getting to your stuff.
Encryption is always a safe bet and is generally recognised as the best defence home users have against digital intrusion. It comes in many shapes and forms, ranging from full hard-disk encryption to locking single files away from prying eyes. There are a number of terrific encryption utilities available for free, such as TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt is great because it suits advanced and basic needs, it’s open source (so, as a general rule, it’s trustworthy) and can provide better-than-government-grade encryption for no extra cost. Most operating systems come with the ability to encrypt files right from boot, so this might be the most viable option.
Often the easiest approach to secure your personal data is by putting passwords on your computer. There are a number of ways of doing this, but perhaps the easiest option is using your operating system’s built-in function to require a password on boot. This deters most would-be data thieves from coming across your files without permission, but a lot of Windows passwords are easily broken without too much trouble. The best technique is to use a combination of passwords and encryption, but if encryption isn’t available try to use two passwords: one at BIOS level and one at boot. By implementing a BIOS password (you can access most computer BIOSs by pressing one of the F- keys at boot) you’ll prevent most physical attacks to your data: your attacker is then required to open up your computer’s case and fiddle around.
Keeping Your Data Elsewhere
If you’ve got really sensitive data, it might make sense to not keep your data on your computer at all. For example, if you’re handling top secret documents and there’s a risk somebody might eventually steal your computer, don’t keep your documents in an obvious place, i.e, on your computer! Computers and laptops are popular with thieves because they can contain information which is later sold on. If at all possible, it might make sense to keep your data offline, on a USB pen or external hard drive that you can then hide or put in a safe somewhere. This then protects you from the risk of somebody taking your machine in the middle of the night.
Ultimately, there’s no definitive way of preventing an attacker getting access to your data: it’s all accessible eventually, it just takes time. If an intruder has physical access to your machine you’re at much greater risk, so it’s always a good idea to protect yourself as best you can with techniques such as these. Software exists which allows you to use promotional USB thumb drives as keys to your computer, which prevent it from booting without them plugged in. Look around, see which technique benefits you most, then get your data locked up.