July 8, 2008

Laptop, External Storage Encrypted
Miami Beach, United States

Owning a laptop is something new for me. Other than memory sticks and photos stored on the nearly dozen SD memory cards I carry around, I've never really worried about losing quantities of (sensitive) information during travel before. But the more I use this laptop, the greater my liability becomes.

I've got a cable lock for the Kensington slot on my laptop—marginal physical security—and a solid anti-virus system to help keep things healthy, but didn't have anything in place to safeguard my data should my system be stolen. A simple Windows user login and password (and even a BIOS boot password) does little to keep someone from actually grabbing the information off your hard drive, should they be interested enough to do so.

This is where encryption steps in. I actually find cryptography quite interesting, and studied it at the University level a few years ago.

There's an excellent open-source (read: free) software program available called TrueCrypt that brings government-grade encryption to the average computer user. This isn't new, encryption mechanisms have been around for many, many years, but the speed, simple ease of use, and end-user transparency is something that I've never seen before.

People encrypt for any number of reasons—sometimes plausible deniability. Perhaps you don't like the TSA or customs authorities sniffing around your data upon entry into some countries. TrueCrypt allows you to load a clean, dummy operating system onto your laptop and keep the real one completely hidden (and undetectable). One password for the customs officers, another for the real operating system.

TrueCrypt has recently added full disk encryption to the software's list of capabilities. This is what I did to both my laptop, and the 160GB external hard drive that dad recently donated to me.

It took about two hours apiece to encrypt my internal 80GB hard drive and external drive, while Windows was still running. And now when I boot up I get a prompt for a password where the operating system would normally launch.

Yes, it can be a little annoying to type in a 30-character password on boot, but it only shows up when I shut down completely, or enter hibernation mode—not the laptop's quickie sleep mode.

Encryption and decryption is done on the fly, meaning the entire hard drive isn't encrypted and decrypted when you're using it—just the information you're working with. I notice very little delay, and Windows Vista boots up in exactly the same amount of time that it did prior to encryption.

Performance on the external hard drive is identical, and just as easy to access.

I'm very impressed, and now feel more confident about traveling with tens of thousands of personal photos and documents. Should my PC or external hard drive get snatched, the only thing these people are going to get is the machine—no bonus data to peruse before selling it off.


The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

July 9th, 2008

U.S. Airports are Hotbeds for Laptop Loss

Flustered flyers leave behind an astounding 12,000 laptops in U.S. airports each week, according to a recent study (pdf) sponsored by Dell. But here’s the really scary part: The Economist’s Gulliver blog reports that less than 35 percent of those lost laptops are returned to their owners.

On a related note, this video from the British show “The Real Hustle” provides a step-by-step demonstration of laptop theft at an airport security checkpoint. According to these guys, about 3,500 laptops are stolen at U.K. airports each year.

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