I'm also comparing the cost and benefit of cable lock tie downs, hard drive encryption, antitheft tags or a multiple combination.
With any question like this, the first response to the best laptop security is "it depends." How far you should go to protect your laptop and by which means, depends on your use and threat environment. Is security required for an individual or entire workforce? Is the laptop simply moved from home to work and back, or is it used by a road warrior through airports, hotels, conventions, etc.? Is your workplace relatively secure or does it have open access to the public? And, are you trying to protect the laptop from outsiders or users?
There are three minimum precautions you should take:
Back-up everything on the laptop and often. Once a week at least, and include essential applications and tools. To many users a laptop is like a family member, extra limb, or second brain. The loss can be immeasurable.
Encrypt the hard drive with strong encryption (Blowfish or similar) and a real key -- 12 random characters, not a simple password. An encrypted hard drive will protect you from the loss and embarrassment of stolen secrets. And as most thieves are opportunists with more neck than brain, that should ruin their day. A good screen lock could have the same effect.
Insure it. If you've backed everything up, you're life wasn't ruined by the theft, and your secrets are safe, you don't really want the thing back, do you? But it would be nice to get your money back.
If you or other road warriors are on the road a lot, laptop alarms are wonderful. The remote control types allow you to activate the alarm from a keyring, identifying the culprit immediately if within range.
As for tracking devices like Computrace and StealthSignal, there are great stories of lost laptops phoning home and leading the cavalry to the thief's lair. But they only work if the hard drive is still in the machine, and the machine is connected to the Internet or phone line.
They can also be useful if there is a problem with employees not returning their laptops if they've been fired, but that requires stealth and a well-managed recovery system.
Cable locks are great if there's a real threat of a walk-in thief. A stranger wrestling with a laptop on your desk is always a giveaway.
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This was first published in February 2002