Maximum Security

Keep your prized portable – and data – safe from hackers, malware, theft, and other security threats.

Let Windows Help
Windows XP and Vista include security tools that provide a first line of defense against malware and unauthorized access to your data. The Windows Firewall utility in Control Panel lets you restrict access to your notebook via the Internet or a network connection, and Windows Defender (included in Vista and a free download for XP users) protects against installation of unwanted software.

All-in-One Protection
It’s a good idea to protect your notebook and your data with antivirus and spyware-detection programs, but if you want to make sure you have all your bases covered, consider an all-in-one security suite like Symantec’s Norton 360 ($69.99; This versatile application contains antivirus, antispyware, and anti-phishing utilities, as well as a powerful firewall and Web site-authentication tools to protect against identity theft.

Wi-Fi Watchdog
Wi-Fi hotspots are a great way to stay connected, but they can be extremely dangerous if you’re not careful. First, turn off file-sharing while surfing in the public domain by right-clicking your Wireless connection icon and get to the Properties box. Deselect the File and Printer Sharing box. JiWire’s Hotspot Helper ($24.95 per year; is a handy utility that not only helps you located available hotspots but also provides a VPN connection with a JiWire server for secure Wi-Fi transmissions.

Encrypt It
Encryption uses algorithm schemes to render your data unreadable by anyone but you, so even if your notebook falls into the wrong hands your files will remain private. Both Vista and XP support various levels of data encryption to lock down data. Right-click on a folder that you want to encrypt, click Properties and then General, and use the Advanced tab to enable/disable encryption. Cryptainer LE ( is a free encryption utility that offers a more robust solution, enabling users to easily drag and drop files and folders into secure vaults on a variety of media types, including portable and fixed hard drives, USB keys, and flash drives.

Password Protect It
A simple yet often overlooked method of protecting your data is enabling password protection whenever you can. Start with BIOS password, which will prevent intruders from even getting into Windows. You can typically access the BIOS as you’re powering up your notebook by pressing a Function-key combination (it will vary by system, so follow your manufacturers instructions). If you have a biometric fingerprint reader, activate it. Then, go to the User Accounts folder in Control Panel to create a Windows password. WinAbility’s Folder Guard ($39.95; offers an easy way to enable password protection on files and folders. It also gives you an added layer of security by restricting access to specific applications and Control Panel functions, thus preventing unauthorized software installations.

Keep a Low Profile
Hauling your notebook around in a typical laptop case is like painting a bullseye on it for would-be thieves. Use a backpack if possible; they’re usually harder to pry off a potential victom, and they hide the fact that you’re carrying an expensive piece of equipment. The Mobile Edge Select Backpack ($69.99; is small enough to fit in an overhead compartment but has plenty of room for your laptop and other mobile gear. It offers a SafetyCell protection compartment for your notebook, a mesh-ventilated back panel, and a detachable cell phone pocket.

Know Your Inventory
Make a record of your notebook’s serial and model number and keep it in a safe place. If the unit is lost or stolen you’ll have to provide positive ID to reclaim it if it’s recovered. It’s also a good idea to label your notebook and accessories with your name and contact info. With a little luck, your lost laptop will be found by an honest person and be back on your lap in no time.

Recover Your Swiped System
If you fall victom to a stolen notebook, all is not lost. Security products such as Absolute Software’s Computrace LoJack for Laptops ($49.99 per year; uses proprietory software to send a signal to a monitoring center when someone connects to the Internet with your lost or stolen laptop. The Computrace Recovery Team uses the signal to track the location of the notebook and works with the local law enforcement to reclaim your property.

Back Up Regularly
It may not seam like a security measure, but backing up your data while on the road can save you a lot of headaches if your notebook is lost or stolen, especially if you’re on a critical business trip. You may not get your notebook back, but at least your important data will still be intact. Use one of the new portable USB devices, like the 160GB Seagate FreeAgent Go (; $159), to archive your data. If you don’t feel like carrying extra gear, try an online backup service like Mozy (2GB free, unlimited for $4.95 month; to store your data on a secure remote server.

Lock It Up Ear-piecing, in a good way.
Despite having a full complement of hardware and software security measures in place, if you leave your notebook unattended it can disappear in an instant. Purchase a cable lock to use while you’re in the office or a hotel room, and keep close tabs on your carry-on while in airports or hotel lobbies. For added protection, pick up the Targus System ($49.99;, which attaches to your notebook and emits a high-decibel alarm when the motion sensor is activated or if someone tries to cut the security cable. At 95 decibels, that would-be thief will be nabbed in seconds.


A thirty-something code ninja + web diva. Former New Yorker who's passionate about web development, HTML/CSS, beautifying things and marketing.

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