Like me, many people have large amounts of personal and business data, and they keep it on their laptops instead of storing it on servers that are backed up. There have been many times we’ve had to rescue someone who stored their entire digital life on their computer, and where either their hard disk crashed, or someone stole the laptop. It’s heartbreaking. Either situation is bad, but these days I think having it stolen is worse, and certainly harder from which to recover.
For our financial services and healthcare clientele, we insist on encrypting any device that will be used outside of their office, no matter what. In some cases, we’re also encrypting desktop computers and servers that stay in their office, because the Federal penalties are so severe if their data is exposed, and encryption renders the issue moot. Encryption is so effective that it is considered the ultimate data protection by regulating agencies.
What is encryption?
Put simply; it is the on-the-fly transformation of your stored data into an human-unintelligible format via an encoding algorithm. The algorithm renders all of the data unreadable by anyone not possessing the special key. The key is typically a particularly long and complex phrase of letters and numbers that would take lifetimes to crack. When you’re using an encrypted computer, it works and feels like any other system, and you can’t tell the difference except when it is initially encrypting the data. When you turn that computer off, your data is locked tight on the disk. When you turn it on it will prompt you for the key. If you don’t have the key, you don’t get access. If someone stole that computer and extracted the hard disk, they would only see random letters and numbers instead of your data unless they had your decryption key. You as the owner possess that key; a thief would not. Therefore, if someone steals your computer, they may get your machine, but they don’t get your data. That’s why encryption is so powerful.
Encryption is just one of three components to consider for your data safety, and encrypting a computer without first having current computer backups would be crazy. If something went wrong with the encryption, you’d be as locked out of your data as a thief. There is no “hacking” an encrypted computer; for all practical purposes, it’s impossible. Equally crazy is not first protecting yourself from the most common risks we deal with right now, namely ransomware, viruses, and other malware. The common thread here is protecting your data.
The point is that the care and feeding of your data requires forethought and planning. We can’t let the fact that nothing has happened to you be confused with something not being able to happen at all. Here are some basic questions everyone should be asking of themselves and their businesses.
- Are there legal, financial or privacy implications if the data I keep on my laptop is stolen and accessed by a hostile third party? (If you answer “yes” then that machine should be encrypted.)
- If you lost your computer and the data was inaccessible, what would you miss? Business plans? Family Photographs? The book you’re writing? Your Quickbooks database? Patent designs? Analysis and spreadsheets? Intellectual property? What would be the impact on your person or business, and could you tolerate it? Sometimes we use computers as nothing more than an appliance with all of our data on the web, so the hardware is disposable. However, if there is data on that computer you’d miss, a regular, professional backup should be employed.
- What would the impact on your business be if all of the computers were suddenly externally encrypted by ransomware, and you were asked to pay Bitcoin to recover the data? Hopefully, you have backups and can thumb your nose at the perpetrators. The bigger question to ask is what failed that allowed you to get infected? We created the PCIO TSP product to prevent exactly this situation. If you have been attacked and would prefer to avoid it in the future, please consider that we have a 100% track record of successful ransomware protection with this product.
Computers come and go. Your data is the only thing that matters. To your data, having good backups, encryption, and proper security products is the same as you wearing a seatbelt when you drive a car. You can probably skip it for a while without getting into an accident, but the odds are against you, and eventually, it’s going to hurt a lot.