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BE ORIGINAL Most people are not very imaginative when it comes to log-ins; the two most common passwords are “password” and “secret.” Instead, use nonintuitive, letter-number combination passwords. Also, consider biometric devices, which may sound exotic but, in reality, are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Targus Inc. makes a thumbpad for $120 that connects to a laptop’s USB port, and uses your fingerprint to authenticate your identity. CONTROL THE FLOW Thanks to the proliferation of Wi-Fi (wireless networking) access points and the use of wireless PC cards, a laptop may now be advertising its presence to would-be hackers. Use a software firewall, like Symantec Corporation’s or McAfee Security’s popular products; without it, hackers could gain access to your laptop or network. And when communicating with your office computer network, make sure the IT staff has set up a virtual private network, which will allow encrypted files to travel back and forth without being intercepted. ENCRYPT, ENCRYPT, ENCRYPT Encrypt sensitive files — it will deter all but the most sophisticated data thief. Windows PCs come with encryption tools preloaded; Apple PowerBooks allow users to encrypt files and directories. Consider partitioning your hard drive into two, installing high-grade encryption software to protect the sensitive portion, and using a smart card (which functions like an ATM card) to verify your identity for decryption. LOCK IT DOWN — LITERALLY Laptops, designed for portability, are also easy to steal. So lock yours down when you’re in a conference room or other public area. Use a cable lock, which attaches to a table top via a long steel wire. Also, consider a motion-sensing PC card, which will sound an annoying alarm if someone tries to move the machine. TRACE IT Several companies enable users to keep tabs on their laptops’ whereabouts with GPS — enabled (global positioning system) software or IP address (Internet protocol, a distinct number that every Internet-connected PC contains) tracing detectors. A few, like zTrace Technologies’s IP address tracing product, let users send messages to a thief and even disable the machine remotely.

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