Endpoint
2/22/2017
10:15 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

6 Tips for Preventing Laptop Data Theft

Experts point to stronger passwords, full-disk encryption, and multi-factor authentication as ways to stop data theft in the event a laptop is lost or stolen.

Anybody can have their laptop stolen. It happened to Hillary Clinton's campaign last fall, when three laptops were stolen from campaign workers in Philadelphia. In that case, the devices were ultimately recovered and no data appeared to compromised in what was considered a routine theft.

But laptop thefts can cost money. An Intel study from several years ago found that the average laptop theft costs companies roughly $50,000 – and up to $1 million in some cases.

Such thefts can be very damaging. Last year, Oregon's Health Co-op, a nonprofit health insurance company, reported that a stolen laptop compromised the personal information of more than 15,000 current and former members.

Al Sargent, senior director of products at OneLogIn, notes that Kaspersky Lab found that the average worker takes more than 24 hours to report a lost or stolen device. That's plenty of time for criminals to steal data or access the company's corporate network.  

"Gartner reports that one laptop is stolen every 53 seconds," Sargent says. "What we suggest is that companies look to a single sign-on solution to change the social contract. Basically, it's the IT department telling the users to come up with one strong password in exchange for better security."

Frank Dickson, research director for worldwide security products at IDC, says SSO with a strong password only goes so far, however.

"The problem I have with SSO is that it still relies on the password," Dickson says. "There are other forms of authentication, such as push notification to a cell phone and a YubiKey that companies can use. SSO needs to be paired with strong authentication to add that extra level of protection."

Alex McSporran, director at Control Risk and International SOS, adds that companies need to spend some time training employees on these issues, especially the ones who travel for business.

"The training will equip them with a better understanding of the nature of the risk, and the measures they can take to better secure their information," McSporran says. “While technical defenses remain critical, appropriate training, planning, preparedness and vigilance can make a real difference."

Here are some tips compiled from Sargent, Dickson and McSporran, for reducing laptop and laptop data thefts:

Deploy a single, very strong password. Companies moving to more cloud applications understand that it's become impossible for users to manage a password for each cloud app. By issuing a single sign-on system with one strong password, they will make life easier for both the IT staff and the rank-and-file users. It's much tougher to break into a well-thought out strong password. But SSO still has its single point of failure weaknesses, so experts recommend using multifactor authentication (see next tip).

Employ strong authentication. IDC’s Dickson is a stickler for strong, multi-factor authentication. He especially likes a push notification that gets authenticated on a cell phone. For example, if someone steals an employee’s laptop, they also need to have stolen their cell phone to access the laptop. Plus, people generally know when they’ve lost their cell phones and don’t wait 24 hours to report a loss, and most cell phones require a fingerprint ID or password.   

Rotate passwords. Teach people about the credential supply chain. When credentials are stolen they get bundled with other stolen credentials for sale on the black market. Change passwords every 30 days. In the event that a laotop is stolen, there's a better chance that the password that was stolen will no longer be valid.

Do research on your travel site. Before your remote employees travel, have them research the potential threats to your company's sensitive commercial information specific to the location they will be visiting. This will help them take effective security measures to help prevent problems during the trip.

Don't broadcast your trip. Unless it's your spouse, significant other, or key people at work, don't advertise a business trip. People are free and easy on Facebook today about their travels and it may not always be a good idea.  

Think in terms of BYOD. Companies may decide that it just makes more sense to get out of the business of managing technology. Many companies are just giving people an allowance for a laptop and smartphone and making each person responsible for the device’s maintenance. From a security perspective, this can be scary, so if your company goes this route, know what kind of encryption the devices have. Macs come with FileVault and it’s possible to remote wipe devices via iCloud. For PCs, make sure they have full-disk encryption, experts say.

Related Content:

Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience, most of the last 24 of which were spent covering networking and security technology. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Security's #1 Problem: Economic Incentives
Dimitri Stiliadis, CEO of Aporeto,  9/25/2017
SMBs Paid $301 Million to Ransomware Attackers
Dark Reading Staff 9/21/2017
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Security Vulnerabilities: The Next Wave
Just when you thought it was safe, researchers have unveiled a new round of IT security flaws. Is your enterprise ready?
Flash Poll
[Strategic Security Report] How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Problem
[Strategic Security Report] How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Problem
Enterprises are spending more of their IT budgets on cybersecurity technology. How do your organization's security plans and strategies compare to what others are doing? Here's an in-depth look.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2017-0290
Published: 2017-05-09
NScript in mpengine in Microsoft Malware Protection Engine with Engine Version before 1.1.13704.0, as used in Windows Defender and other products, allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code or cause a denial of service (type confusion and application crash) via crafted JavaScript code within ...

CVE-2016-10369
Published: 2017-05-08
unixsocket.c in lxterminal through 0.3.0 insecurely uses /tmp for a socket file, allowing a local user to cause a denial of service (preventing terminal launch), or possibly have other impact (bypassing terminal access control).

CVE-2016-8202
Published: 2017-05-08
A privilege escalation vulnerability in Brocade Fibre Channel SAN products running Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) releases earlier than v7.4.1d and v8.0.1b could allow an authenticated attacker to elevate the privileges of user accounts accessing the system via command line interface. With affected version...

CVE-2016-8209
Published: 2017-05-08
Improper checks for unusual or exceptional conditions in Brocade NetIron 05.8.00 and later releases up to and including 06.1.00, when the Management Module is continuously scanned on port 22, may allow attackers to cause a denial of service (crash and reload) of the management module.

CVE-2017-0890
Published: 2017-05-08
Nextcloud Server before 11.0.3 is vulnerable to an inadequate escaping leading to a XSS vulnerability in the search module. To be exploitable a user has to write or paste malicious content into the search dialogue.