R. Fink | Ignore those passwords on my cubicle wall

The Packet Rat | Commentary: Stolen-laptop stories make the Rat paranoid

Packet Rat

On Sept. 9, someone broke into Mitt Romney's presidential campaign headquarters in Boston and stole 'multiple laptops and a television,' according to news reports. Fortunately, the laptops were password-protected and their hard drives were encrypted, so no top-secret campaign materials, psychiatric records or tips on how to change positions seamlessly fell into unfriendly hands.

'The only thing they're good for is parts,' campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the Associated Press.

Reading the report, the Rat repressed catty comments of his own to his colleagues in response, as he is an equal-opportunity offender of political partisans, and couldn't come up with a witty comment about Hillary to balance his sarcasm.

Instead, he tilted toward the bipartisan 'Of course, if they have a copy of some non-Windows Genuine Advantage operating system to install on them, they'd be good for some burglar to maybe do a spreadsheet analysis of fluctuations in their portfolio, maybe.'

Somehow, because of a few little laptop faux pas, laptop computers have gotten a bad rap as a potential security hole ' usually by being stolen off the back seat of a car, or off a desk at home with some veterans' health data, or just not being accounted for until long after they disappeared.

Federal agencies haven't been the only ones to get egg on their faces over data lost on stolen laptops. On Sept. 10, Gov. Jodi Rell of Connecticut announced a new policy on laptop security amid fallout from the theft of a computer filled with taxpayer records. That computer was stolen from the car of a state employee on vacation.

'The first rule of laptop security,' the Rat said with a sigh, 'should be, 'Don't be Stupid.' But common sense apparently needs to be codified.'

As the Romney campaign has demonstrated, laptops can be a potential security threat even when they're allegedly secure, sitting on someone's desk.
'They're probably less secure sitting on a desk,' the cyberrodent snickered, 'because all the passwords are probably on sticky notes on the cube wall behind them.'

And despite the ample supplies of laptop locks on steel cables that can prevent the occasional impulse theft, laptops are still easily purloined at leisure when they're left in plain sight.

Of course, with the size of some of the latest desktop computers, laptops are no longer the only target for easy theft. Sure, it's still a hassle to run off with all the cables'but with LCD displays, stealing desktops requires a lot less muscle than it used to. And the usual approach to reducing shrinkage on computers, the property control decal, isn't exactly useful if no one is around to check it as it goes out the door.

'No thief I ever met cared too much about property inventory control tags,' the whiskered one said with a shake of his head, and went off to count computers just in case.

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