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Are encryption products better than self-destructing data?

Your article on laptop encryption was interesting. How effective are "lost data deletion" technologies that delete protected files as soon as a stolen laptop accesses the Internet?

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I am personally very uncomfortable with such technologies because they often go awry. Such tools can falsely trigger, preventing users from accessing data until it can be restored from a backup. At worst, though, the tool could destroy data that isn't backed up at all.

As a kid, I remember hearing the audio in the Mission: Impossible TV show with its urgent exhortation that, "This tape will self destruct in five seconds." While it may be a cool gimmick in a spy-vs.-spy TV show, self-destructing data can cause problems for large enterprises.

I much prefer solid encryption products that require a difficult-to-guess and difficult-to-crack passphrase, not just the user's operating system password. Better yet, I like to see encryption products that store the crypto keys on a separate token, such as a USB key fob, but still require a strong passphrase for decrypting the data.

More information:

  • Read Ed's previous article on laptop encryption.
  • Learn the right way to manage your encryption keys.
  • This was first published in June 2007

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