5 physical security tips for protecting your digital devices

How To

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As we read earlier this week, the chances that one or more of your digital devices may get stolen are uncomfortably high. So what would happen if your mobile device falls into the wrong hands? Here are a few tips that will help minimize the damage if it happens to you.

1. Password-protect your computing devices.

While it sounds obvious, if anyone steals your device they will have to defeat your password to get at your data and accounts, which will significantly slow attackers. Although it is not impossible to defeat password protection on a digital device, it adds a useful layer of protection, buying you time to locate and recover the device.

2. Always backup your files.

Why? Even if you can’t recover a stolen device that does not mean you have to lose all your information and software. Regular backups are the ultimate defense against theft of your files. There are plenty of options for backup these days including online backup. (Here’s an example of an online backup service.)

My colleague David Harley has written about backup here on the blog and here is a link to Aryeh Goretsky’s white paper on the subject (.pdf). Taking the time to setup backup really pays off if a device is stolen, helping reduce the pain involved in re-creating the sensitive content.

3. Use tracking software to help get your stolen device back.

Why? Getting your stolen device back is not impossible, particularly if the device itself can tell you where it is and you can communicate with it using a sort of “remote control” via SMS or other methods. You may even be able to communicate with the person who has it. (Here’s an example of how one piece of anti-theft software for PCs.)

4. Don’t tempt thieves with unattended mobile devices, particularly in public places.

Why? Leaving your computer or mobile device unattended in a car, airport or restaurant is akin to asking for it to be stolen. In a recent survey we found that 1 in 5 stolen devices were taken from a car, 12% from an airport, train, bus, or other public transportation, and 11% from a restaurant or coffee shop. (Here’s an example of anti-theft software for Android devices.)

5. Encrypt sensitive data.

Why? Storing sensitive data in encrypted files prevents anyone exploiting your data if your computer is stolen. Note: File encryption is available free on recent version of both the Microsoft Windows and apple Mac OS X operating systems. This step is a lot easier than it used to be, so the pain level is low these days (unlike in years past).

Bonus tip. Think about removing sensitive data from your device.

Why? Your computer may interact with sensitive data but it does not need to store all of it right there in one place. Consider using encrypted removable media for sensitive data and carrying that separate from the computer. Maybe leave sensitive work files on the company network and access remotely over a secure connection. This way, if “bad things” happen, you’ll have much lower likelihood that the bad actors got off with critical information.

 

Author Cameron Camp, ESET

2 Responses to “5 physical security tips for protecting your digital devices”

  1. Caitlin Roberts says:

    Those are all great tips, I would like to add one more to the list, it might not be not very popular, but here it goes anyway:
    Do not buy the most expensive phone in the shop unless you really need it.
    Thieves are obviously mostly attracted to expensive phones.

  2. Cameron Camp says:

    @Caitlin: Yes, potential resale value and "curb appeal" in the resale markets have a direct bearing on the likelihood of the device coming up missing. It makes sense to determine if you really need the higher value target, and to put more protections in place if you do. Alternately you may be able to get by with something much simpler, and thereby reduce the risk of theft significantly.

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