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10 ways to secure a laptop

10 ways to secure a laptop

Travelling with a laptop can represent a significant security risk to your business. This is because the data it contains is far more vulnerable when you are on the move than when you use a laptop in the relative safety of your office or home environment.

It doesn’t have to be stolen; because it takes just seconds for a hacker to slip a USB stick into a laptop when it is unattended to install malicious software or steal data. Even relatively unsophisticated hackers can run programs like Mailpassview from a USB stick to steal your email account details and email password.

There are steps you can take to reduce the risk. Here are 10 simple things you can do to help keep your laptop secure when you are on the go.

1.Use a password

Ensure that your Windows account is protected with a password. The laptop should be configured so that the password has to be entered every time you turn the machine on or when it comes out of hibernation, sleep or screensaver mode.

An account password is an effective first line of defence, but only if you avoid choosing a commonly used – and therefore easily guessed – password. An analysis of passwords stolen from websites during recent security incidents reveals that the most common include “password”, “123456″, “abc123″, “qwerty” and, bizarrely, “monkey”.

2.Disable booting from CD or USB

It’s easy to change or remove an account password using a free resetting program such as pogostick, or to guess a short one using a “bruteforce guessing” program such as Ophcrack.

But running these involves booting the computer from a CD or USB stick, so you can increase security by disabling the ability to boot from one of these devices. This can be done by altering the settings in your laptop’s basic input/output system (BIOS) – the built-in software with generic code to control the machine – which can usually be accessed by pressing F1, F4, F10 or Del just after you switch it on.

To ensure that no-one can override these settings, password-protect the BIOS so that no more changes can be made to it without entering the password. This can also be configured in the BIOS settings.

3.Encrypt your hard drive

If your laptop is stolen from your car or hotel room there is usually nothing to stop the thief from removing your hard drive and attaching it to another computer. Doing this bypasses any account password protection and allows them to access your data easily.

The best way to prevent this is to encrypt your laptop’s hard drives. Encrypted drives can only be accessed after the encryption key is supplied – usually in the form of a PIN, a password or by inserting a USB stick containing the key.

You can encrypt an entire drive using BitLocker, an encryption utility included with some versions of Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. A free, open source alternative is TrueCrypt, which also works with Windows XP, Linux and OS X.

4.Use a virtual private network (VPN)

Publicly accessible networks, such as those offered in airports, conference centres and hotel rooms, present a particular security risk to laptop users. This is because hackers armed with free programs such as Cain and Abel, Wireshark or Ettercap can connect to the same networks and eavesdrop on emails or copy passwords as they pass over the network.

The best way to protect your data from interception by other network users is to encrypt it while it is in transit between your computer and your office network, using a company VPN.

If you don’t have access to a company VPN, you can use one from service provider such as StreamVia or StrongVPN. This ensures your data is encrypted and protected from other users of the public local network.

5.Use secure email

Sometimes it can prove difficult to get a VPN connection working, so it’s prudent to ensure that any email program, webmail system or cloud based email service that you use is configured to use a secure sockets layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS). This ensures that both your username and password, and the contents of your emails, are encrypted as they travel across the internet.

Webmail services like Gmail and cloud based services like Microsoft’s Office 365 are configured in this way by default, but email offered by many internet service providers is not.

6.Protect yourself from other users

For additional protection against malicious users connected to the same business centre or hotel network, connect your laptop though a travel router that plugs in to an Ethernet jack

A travel router such as the TP-Link TL-WR702N acts as a highly effective hardware firewall which helps keep your computer isolated from other users on the network. (Most computers have a software firewall installed, but these can be disabled by viruses and other malicious software.)

7.Check for known vulnerabilities

When you connect your laptop to the internet when travelling, you may not be protected by any security systems your company uses to filter out malicious emails or to keep you from malicious websites. That can result in hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in the software on your computer to infect it with malware.

To reduce the chances of this it is important to check that your computer’s operating system and other software has been updated with the latest security patches.

Security company Qualys offers a free service called BrowserCheck that scans your computer and provides links to updates for any software it finds with known security vulnerabilities.

8.Don’t lose it in the airport rush

Tens of thousands of laptops are lost in airports every week, and only about one third are ever returned to their owners, according to research carried out by the Ponemon Institute.

One way to avoid leaving your laptop behind when you go through security or get called for your flight is to attach a proximity alarm such as a Kensington Proximo, a Proximity Tag or a Hippih hipKey to your laptop bag.

These inexpensive devices send an alert to your smartphone if they detect that they have moved more than a few metres away from you.

9.Keep your USB sticks secure

If you carry a USB memory stick to make backups of your work or store other data, it’s important to make sure that it is as secure as the data on your laptop.

You can do this the same way that you can encrypt a computer hard drive – using TrueCrypt or a version of Microsoft’s BitLocker called BitLocker To Go (which is included in some versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.) Once encrypted the memory stick can only be accessed after supplying a password.

An alternative is to use a USB drive with encryption hardware and other security features built in, available from companies like IronKey. Its secure USB drives self-destruct if the wrong password is supplied 10 times in a row, making it all but impossible for a thief to access the data it holds by repeatedly guessing the password.

10. Lock it up

Perhaps the most obvious piece of advice, but one which is frequently ignored, is to make it hard for an opportunistic thief to walk off with your laptop.

One way to do this is by using a Kensington lock – a metal cable which you can loop around a suitable fixed object and which attaches to any laptop equipped with a Kensington slot.

Kensington locks certainly don’t provide total security, as the cables can be cut or they can be ripped out of the laptop, but it is enough to make many thieves move on to easier pickings.

Posted in Computing, Hardware, Internet, Mobile Phones, Open Source, Security, SoftwareComments Off

Google’s got some Android activation figures to brag about

Google's got some Android activation figures to brag about

If we’ve learned anything from Google executives over the past few years, it’s a lot of statistical information about the success of the company’s Android operating system.

Those in attendance at the Dive Into Mobile (DIM) conference listening to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speak soon learned just how serious the search engine giant was about its mobile OS.

Last October, we learned from Schmidt Android was being activated on 1.3 million device daily, which he then estimated would put the OS on more than 1 billion devices in 2013.

According to Schmidt’s statements on Tuesday at DIM, not only have Android activations increased since last fall, but now Google has an even better chance of hitting the 1 billion mark before the end of the year.


Android is now being activated on 1.5 million devices a day, which is a pretty nice improvement over October’s numbers.

Based on that trend holding true for the rest of the calendar year, Schmidt expects to increase the current number of 750 million active Android devices by one-third, which puts it right at the 1 billion mark.

Of course, Schmidt didn’t just talk numbers the entire time, and even touched on subjects like Facebook Home and the Maps situation with Apple.

When asked if Google was worried about Facebook Home, Schmidt dismissed the mere idea entirely.

“We’re phenomenally happy that people are using Android in these ways. You can’t have half-open source. It’s open source,” Schmidt said.

“Facebook read the manual, they read the rules, and they adhered to them. Shocking. Good for them! They went to great lengths to remain application-compatible.”

Even after all these months, the Maps mess is still a sensitive subject to some, but Schmidt assured that it was of no consequence.

“From our perspective, we really want them to use [Google Maps],” Schmidt said. “It’d be easy to take the app in the store and use it as their basic one.”

“They decided not to. But we’d really still like for them to use our Maps.”

When 10.5 million people are activating your operating system every week, you can probably be a little less concerned about what the competition is doing.

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MWC 2013: HTC One beats Xperia Tablet Z to Best in Show at MWC 2013

MWC 2013: HTC One beats Xperia Tablet Z to Best in Show at MWC 2013

In the inaugural TechRadar MWC Awards, there could be only one Best In Show – and our crack team of experts deemed the HTC One the cream of this year’s mobile crop.

The One also took the coveted Best Phone award, while the Best Tablet went to the impressive Sony Xperia Tablet Z and the People’s Choice award went to Firefox OS.

“It’s been tremendously hard to judge these awards – congratulations to those that won!” said Gareth Beavis, phones and tablets editor at TechRadar.

Stiff competition

“The sheer level of competition shows that we’re in for a strong 2013 in terms of technology and new levels of innovation, with Full HD screens, waterproof designs, next generation connectivity and even new ways of charging our phones being very much to the fore.”

Explaining why the HTC One took Best Phone, he described it as “refreshing” for “combining innovation with consumer needs”.

“While we were very impressed with efforts from LG, Sony and Huawei, HTC’s combination of stunning design, alternative camera technology and cutting edge specs have created a real buzz around its impending launch,” he added.

Tablet tie-break

When it came to Best Tablet it was a hard won battle for the Xperia Tablet Z. Gareth explained: “Another close fight between Sony and Samsung, but the Xperia Tablet Z prevails due to its lightweight design, NFC integration and sheer screen quality – we found it very hard to fault in our preview.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 was a strong contender, as the S Pen / screen size combination is really impressive, but the Xperia Tablet Z edged it thanks to its impressive Reality Display.”

Xperia Tablet Z

On to the People’s Choice award, and it was Mozilla’s open source OS that took gold.

“Firefox OS has had an inauspicious start to life, but it really came to the fore at MWC 2013 thanks to a number of manufacturers pledging to support the platform with devices,” said Gareth, explaining the judges’ motivations.

“It might be designed for emerging markets, but the OS has a real chance of making waves in budget smartphones and could herald a new way of developing apps for phones in the future.”

The best… around!

And finally, the Best in Show – what Gareth describes as “a superbly tricky category to call”.

But it was the show floor that swung it for HTC: “You only needed to look at the swaths of people clustered around the HTC stand to play with the One to see that this is where the buzz resides at the show this year.”

If all that talk of top-notch mobile madness has left you thirsty for more mobile action, catch up with all the news, hands on reviews and in-depth analysis in our comprehensive MWC 2013 round up.

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Sony commits to Firefox OS, promises first device in 2014

Sony commits to Firefox OS, promises first device in 2014

Sony has thrown its considerable weight behind the new Mozilla Firefox mobile operating system, promising to launch its first device on the open source platform next year.

The Japanese manufacturer has teamed up with network Telefonica (which owns O2 in the UK) with the aim of bringing a device (or devices) running the HTML5-friendly software to market sometime in 2014.

The announcement came at MWC 2013 in Barcelona, where Sony and Telefonica revealed a multi-year deal for the latter to stock the former’s Android-based Xperia devices in territories around the world.

With the news, Sony becomes the fifth company to commit to Firefox OS devices, with LG, Huawei, ZTE and Alcatel also in on the act.

Premium Sony experience

Earlier today, Chinese manufacturer ZTE became the first company to reveal a Firefox-based handset with its 3.5-inch, entry-level ZTE Open device, which will go on sale later this year.

However, Sony’s entry into the arena promises a more premium experience, with the company underlining the ‘great potential’ of Mozilla’s mobile offering.

“At Sony Mobile we continue to evaluate innovative technologies that can help deliver the premium user experiences that Sony’s consumers expect,” said Bob Ishida, deputy CEO and head of products business group at Sony Mobile Communications.

“Our engineers are now working with Firefox OS Mobile and HTML5, evolving technologies which show great potential. In addition, we continue to work with our operator partners, including Telef

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Ubuntu for tablets officially takes a bow

Ubuntu for tablets officially takes a bow

The strange tremor in the open source force that you may have just felt was a thousand Ubuntu fans cheering at the news that Canonical has officially presented the tablet interface.

Billed as a step towards unifying personal computing on phones, tablets, PCs and TVs, Ubuntu guru Mark Shuttleworth insists that this is the future of computing.

Ubuntu for phone launched back in January, with handsets expected by October - and now that small screen experience has been maximised.

The Linux-based Ubuntu tablet interface allows multitasking, and will even let you put a phone app on screen at the same time as a tablet app – with side stage created to improve small screen apps on our slates.

Mo’ features

There’s full multiple account support – useful for households that share and share alike but still want their own stuff to stay private.

Also on the feature list is a unique heads up display (HUD) that can apparently be voice controlled. Siri-ously.

We’re liking the sound of Edge Magic, although this is less about sawing someone in half and more about using the borders of the tablet to navigate between apps. This does away with the need for physical buttons.

Last, but clearly not least, this is a fully convergent interface that will stay consistent across any device.

The tablet interface supports devices from six to 20-inches with resolutions between 100 and 450ppi, so expect to see it on an open source fan’s tablet soon.

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