Data encryption is critical for laptop users. Most desktop computers are in a fairly secured location, such as an office or your private residence, making it difficult for a data thief to get at your information without getting caught. But a laptop is mobile, and, if left unattended, can be easily stolen. If you don’t use any encryption on your laptop, then you are essentially giving the thieves a green light to go through all of your personal information.  

If you want to make a smart decision, then you can start by installing some encryption on your data and increasing the security on the laptop. The last thing that you want is to give free access to people for your laptop, they will find all of your sensitive information and use it to their advantage. If you leave your credit card info or you are logged in on some store website, they will order and use your money to purchase new items from the internet. 

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In the last year, the federal government, the armed services, and more than one State agency have had to report that laptop computers containing sensitive information had been stolen. This information included social security numbers, benefits information, and other facts that could be used for identity theft. 

In the private sector, the problem is equally severe. Think what would happen if a competing company got a hold of your client information or sales figures or plans for the launch of a new product. 

Even if you are not a government official or a high-powered account executive, you still have data on your laptop that could compromise the financial and personal security of yourself and your family. 

Data encryption has been around for decades, dating back to the early days of electronic data storage. Just like paper files, if one person can access a file, so can someone else. 

Electronic data has some advantages and disadvantages over paper storage. On the plus side, it can easily be stored and retrieved. 

On the negative side, it can easily be retrieved and stored, and if done by unauthorized personnel, this can be a problem. A data thief can leave the office building with a 1000-gigabyte small drive in a small bag, containing data that would require a large truck to transport in paper form. 

What is encryption?

Simply put, it is an encoding system that scrambles the character values in your data using an extremely complex procedure called an algorithm. Similar in principle to the substitution codes we used as kits, but infinitely more complex. The scrambling is based on a key provided by the user, and the resulting data appears random and unreadable. In many cases, it is literally unreadable as some letters and numbers will be translated into unprintable characters normally used for computer system control and communications. 

The data can be unscrambled again, but only with the same key as was used to scramble it in the first place. 

Several things can determine the effectiveness of encryption. 

The algorithm itself. The most commonly used method is called PGP or Pretty Good Protection. While not quite up to Pentagon or CIA standards, PGP is, however, freely available, making PGP-based products affordable. 

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Another factor is the size of the encryption key. The longer the key, the more possible combinations and the harder it is to crack.  

Cracking encrypted data is not impossible, but it does take time. Basically, the cracking program tries different keys until it finds one that produces data that makes sense.  

While most people only encrypt individual data files, you can also encrypt the data on an entire folder or your entire hard disk. This is particularly important for laptop users, where the entire hard disk can be stolen along with the laptop that carries it. 

Encryption is good and important, but is is a passive protection. If you laptop is lost or stolen, the thought of someone breaking into your data may never go away. 

There are more active (and proactive) solutions to a stolen data situation. Remote control programs are available that can be installed on your laptop. When a stolen laptop is connected to the Internet, it will ‘call home’ to tell you where it is located. This can assist police in recovering your computer, hopefully before your data is accessed. 

As an additional measure, some packages will allow you to actually log into the PC and delete critical files before they can be used. 

LocateMyLaptop (LocateMyLaptop.com) has a feature that will let you delete data in a way that is far superior to simply deleting the files from Windows. Normally deleted files can be easily recovered by someone with the correct software. Even free space on the disk can contain latent information that can be recovered with the right tools. 

LocateMyLaptops delete function will digitally shred the deleted file, making it impossible to recover even the faint impressions left behind on the hard disk. The free space on your disk is subjected to the same kind of treatment, essentially rendering the data useless to the thief.