Keep Computer Data Secure

The new ways that we handle information electronically make it easy to do business, but not without their own unique problems. Identity theft and other cyber crimes are just getting too common.

Everyone knows the danger of your own personal information being compromised, but when you are in the mobile tool business, you have to worry about your customers’ information as well. When your technicians and shop owners give you their personal information, they have a certain degree of trust that you will keep that information safe.

There’s a whole new criminal out there! These people put spyware on computers to pick up keystrokes as you type. They intercept personal information as it is sent over the Internet. They unleash viruses that attack computers and leave you vulnerable. And some will just up and steal your computer.

Just think about the information that you store on your computer about your customers. Maybe you take a social security number from each person? (If you don’t, you probably should, as most collection agencies can use this to trace skips.)

Even home addresses are considered private information, though not to the same degree as social security numbers. Buying history and balances are private, as are, of course, debit/credit card numbers.

You have a responsibility to your customers to keep this personal information safe and secure. So, how do you do it?

PHYSICAL LOCKDOWN

The first step is to physically secure your computer. With so many high-tech security solutions, we sometimes forget the simplest thing—lock it! If you keep the computer on your truck when you are in a shop, lock your truck.

At its simplest, if someone was to steal your computer, how would you like to spend hours, or possibly even days, re-creating the information that it holds? Most laptops have a place to attach a security cable, which adds an extra level of security beyond just locking the truck. It prevents someone from making a quick grab of your PC.

This is probably one of the simplest, yet overlooked, forms of security.

PASSWORDS

Next, you should protect your computer with a password. This works to protect the data in case someone does steal your computer, or if they just walk up to it to try to steal information. The easiest way to do this is to password-protect a screensaver that starts after you are away from the keyboard for a period of time.

For the greatest security, the password-protected screensaver should start after as little as 30 seconds, but most people strike a balance between convenience and security, and set it for 2 to 5 minutes. Use a strong password—one that includes letters and numbers in upper and lower case. The strongest passwords are not found in the dictionary. For instance, you could take the first line of a song that you like and use the first letter of every word in that line. Add in a couple of numbers you can remember, and you have a fairly strong password.

Although the password feature in Windows is good, it still can be defeated by the right people. Using strong passwords will make this less likely. There are some aftermarket software solutions, like Password Door, but I have never used one. Windows protections, used properly, are usually sufficient.

HARDWARE LOCKS

You can also use a hardware lock for security. This is a lock that goes into your computer’s USB port. It looks like a USB thumb drive, and without it inserted into the drive, your computer remains locked. (If you have a hard time remembering passwords, this could be the solution for you.) If you need to leave your computer, just pull it out, and take it with you. The main problem is if you lose the lock. Securikey and PC lock are types of this lock.

If you want to go super high tech, you can get a fingerprint reader. This is a little pad that hooks up to the USB port. You place your index finger on the pad, and it will read your unique fingerprint. Once it assures a match, it signs you in with no password—another solution if you have trouble with passwords.

ENCRYPTION

If you live or work in a high-crime area, have a great deal of sensitive information stored on your computer, or just want to be extra sure that everything is secure, you can move into data encryption. You can purchase software programs that will encrypt your hard drive and the files on it. These programs use a key—a group of letters and numbers—to make the information on the hard drive unreadable to anyone without the key.

Depending on the software that you use, it may not be compatible with file encryption. You will have to check with your business software vendor, or with the company selling the encryption software. Also beware of using encryption on older, slower computers, as they may not have the power and speed to operate effectively with encryption. The computer has to do many math functions to decode the information, and that can take a lot of power.

So now you have some basic security tips to protect yourself and your customers. In my next column, I will cover in more detail what you need to know about protecting credit card numbers and other sensitive data.

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