As a computer security professional I tend to spend a lot of my time reading about and researching sophisticated attacks against computer systems and high-tech ways to defend against these attacks. The grim reality of mobile computing, however, is that the low-tech crime of tablet PC theft can be committed with devastating results by unsophisticated criminals with no computer knowledge whatsoever. This kind of attack cannot be thwarted by personal firewalls, secure protocols, and or WPA wireless encryption, but there are some steps you can take to minimize your chance of suffering a tablet PC (or ultra-mobile PC) theft.
According to the 2006 CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey, laptop, tablet PC, or mobile hardware theft was the second most common type of computer crime reported by survey participants behind computer virus incidents. Interestingly, computer intrusions, while the fourth most common computer crime, accounted for a larger amount of financial loss at $85,621 per incident (tablet PC and mobile device theft ranked third at a staggering $30,057 per incident).
Statistics aside, tablet PC and mobile device theft pose at least a couple serious threats to the mobile computer user. First, there is the loss of important data that you need to do your job. Imagine suddenly losing your tablet PC or ultra-mobile deviceÃ¢â‚¬”forever! To protect against this possibility, data back-up is critical. And keep in mind that a good back-up plan keeps the backed-up data away from the operational machine. So don’t store your back-up in your backpack or tablet PC case. If you do, the guy who steals your tablet PC and its container will walk away not only with your hardware, but all the data you’ve worked so hard to compile.
This leads directly to the second threat. The theft of your mobile hardware poses a real problem for your business and possibly for you because of the sensitive data contained on the device. Sensitive company information is in real jeopardy of falling into the wrong hands when your tablet PC is stolen. Even if the theft of your mobile device was for purely monetary reasons (for instance, sale of the hardware) the uncertainty surrounding the loss of sensitive data could cost your company or organization thousands of dollars and open it up to a flood of legal actions. Also there is the possibility that your own personal information could find its way into the hands of identity thieves. Imagine how much personal and financial data a complete search of your hard drive would uncover, keeping in mind that most deleted files are still present on your computer unless you use a special program to delete them securely. To protect against your data falling into the wrong hands, use file or full-disk encryption like Microsoft’s new BitLocker technology (available in Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system).
Fighting low-tech with low-tech, some common sense anti-theft tips could greatly reduce your chance of attracting thieves and having your mobile computer stolen:
1. In coffee shops or wireless hot spots, don’t sit near the front door or exit
2. Don’t leave your tablet PC (not even for a moment) to get a refill, visit the restroom, or get a new book
3. Don’t leave your tablet PC in plain sight if you leave it in your car (a significant number of the tablet PC’s stolen are taken from vehicles)
Finally, an anti-theft device (for instance, a cable that can be secured to your computer and to a table or chair) is a cheap and effective deterrent. Thieves are looking for easy targets. Your computer strapped to a bulky table or chair may persuade a thief to look for an easier target. Keep in mind, mobile computers are one of the criminal’s favorite prizes; keep yours within reach or it could end up being much more mobile than you ever expected.
In the final chapter of this series, we’ll look at a growing threat that is largely unknown by mobile usersÃ¢â‚¬”data seepage.