What paranoid steps do you take to secure your stuff?
December 4, 2008 10:04 AM   Subscribe

How do I secure my electronics from theft?

Although I've thought about the possibility of my computer and external hard drives being stolen from my apartment I haven't done anything about it. Yesterday my friend's place was broken into and her laptop, hard drives, cameras, ipod and husband's underwear (!) were stolen during the middle of the day. I don't see how I could secure my expensive cameras, but it's a wake up call that I need to be more vigilant about backing up my files and possibly take more steps to secure my data. I'm home a lot, live on the third floor and have bars on the windows that back up to the back porch so I've felt a little safer than if I was on the bottom floor.

I work from home and have all of my client files (graphic design jobs) backed up to an external hard drive. These files are incredibly important and many of them I need to reference or re-use. In an ideal world a thief would be decent and just steal the computer, not the backup, but my friend losing all of her project files, vacation photos etc. proves that they will take everything. She was almost finished with a job that wasn't backed up on CD and now she's going to have to start it from scratch. I have renter's insurance, but what can I do to secure my computer or hard drives? I'm Mac-only.

As a bonus, what do you do to secure you personal information (bank statements, medical files, checkbooks and other papers) that could be used for identity theft? I am not interested in going completely paperless.

1. Is adding a login when the computer starts up enough to stop them getting my data?

2. How do I stop them from getting data off my hard drives? I saw this post and wonder if I should do the spare image thing or use TrueCrypt.

3. Is there any deterrent that I can implement to stop them from taking either my hard drive or computer? Can I securely tie them to the leg of my desk with a cable? My old computer is a G4 with the handles but how do I secure a laptop or a hard drive? My desk has A-frame legs that something could be looped around. I realize that cords could be cut or wooden legs broken but it would be some kind of deterrent.

4. What backup steps should I be taking? I'm horrible about backing up projects until I'm done. I have been waiting to implement time machine until I get a new computer and third hard drive. Even if I do backup projects to my hard drive it could be stolen. Keeping a hard drive off site seems silly and I would probably never use it. It's possible I could keep files on my web server as a backup, is there any good way to do that and how secure is it? I suppose I could put a password on that directory.
posted by Bunglegirl to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't make it easy to find or leave with your stuff. Don't leave valuables laying out. Even just putting cameras, iPods, and laptops away after using them can makes them much less likely to be stolen. You can secure computers with cable locks around a sturdy object. I keep my external hard drives in a locked desk drawer (just make sure the ventilation is adequate).

The only way to truly protect your data is to have offsite backups. All of the locks in the world won't stop a determined thief or a fire. You can pay a company to host the data for you, in which case backups are as simple as running some software on your computers (sorry, can't make an Mac-specific recommendations). Another option is to rotate between two or more external drives. Keep one at home and one locked up at work and swap them daily or weekly, depending on how much data you are willing to lose.

Adding a password to your system will people who just want to resell the machine. To prevent somebody with even a little bit of technical knowledge from accesssing your data, you have to go with some form of encryption (again, I can't provide an Mac-specific advice).
posted by indyz at 10:31 AM on December 4, 2008


Some of the below might be overly paranoid and pessimistic, but here we go...

1. Is adding a login when the computer starts up enough to stop them getting my data?

A general rule of thumb is, if someone has physical access to the machine, they can eventually get to the data on any storage devices (hard drives). Adding a login and password is at least a cursory deterrent, but will not stop a dedicated person who really wants to get into your files.

I'd add a login and password. But now we need some file encryption, which leads us to...

2. How do I stop them from getting data off my hard drives? I saw this post and wonder if I should do the spare image thing or use TrueCrypt.

I've never used the Mac version of TrueCrypt, but an encrypted sparse image as described in the post you linked to would probably suffice. Just make sure that you're doing SOME sort of encryption, with a non-trivial password, and that you're not saving the password on your computer.

3. Is there any deterrent that I can implement to stop them from taking either my hard drive or computer? Can I securely tie them to the leg of my desk with a cable? My old computer is a G4 with the handles but how do I secure a laptop or a hard drive? My desk has A-frame legs that something could be looped around. I realize that cords could be cut or wooden legs broken but it would be some kind of deterrent.

The more physical security you apply to the machine, the more it'll be an effective deterrent. Kensington offers some products aimed at securing laptops, small disk drives, and the like:
http://us.kensington.com/html/1434.html

But yeah, as you mentioned -- if someone can cut the cable, or whatever you have the cable attached to, they're walking away with your stuff. I'm no burglary expert or anything, but a thief who just wants to do a quick snatch-'n-grab might be deterred enough by the presence of a security cable...

4. What backup steps should I be taking?

If you're using an encrypted disk image of some sort, it's easy enough to drag and drop this image onto an external hard drive, or perhaps burn a cd/dvd of the encrypted image. If the data is extremely sensitive, or if it'd be catastrophic to lose your backup copy, you should consider storing a copy in an off-site location.

Time Machine may or may not be a viable way for you to back up a disk image. I'm personally a fan of copying things manually.

The tricky part is being diligent enough to keep up with whatever backup regimen you choose to go with -- will you remember to back everything up every day/week/month? How much can you afford to lose in terms of lost work?
posted by peeet at 10:38 AM on December 4, 2008


If you don't ut data offsite, you can't have any confidence it'll be safe. You work from home, which keeps you from using my own strategy of keeping my offsite backup in my desk there, but maybe you could use a friend's house?

You can also use offsite web services like Mozy, which work well, but - IMHO - are far too slow for critical access, and take for-freaking-ever if you regularly generate substantial amounts of data.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:40 AM on December 4, 2008


im a big advocate of mozy. unlimited backup for $5 helps me sleep much better.

its been getting rave reviews
posted by phritosan at 10:52 AM on December 4, 2008


Offsite backup is easy and cheap with a service like Carbonite. It will take some days, maybe even weeks to back up all of your data, and it could take hours or days to download stuff that has been lost, but $50/year is pretty cheap for peace of mind. It also offers "Oh shit, did I just save over that?" protection, as long as your original file has been backed up.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:54 AM on December 4, 2008


While it won't stop the theft, documenting the makes, models and serial numbers of the items will help you with the insurance companies. A few pictures and numbers can go a long way to prove what you had and help you insurance claim get processed quickly.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 11:14 AM on December 4, 2008


FileVault is built into OS X and will seamlessly encrypt your user files. This won't encrypt anything on your external drives, though, so you might want to still look at TrueCrypt for that.

(FileVault can be accessed by opening System Preferences and going into the Security preference pane.)
posted by joshrholloway at 11:17 AM on December 4, 2008


I have 380 GB of free space on my web server (hosted by Dreamhost, I know some people really hate them but it's worked for me more or less for 5 years). Is there any benefit to hosting with a service like Mozy or Carbonite instead of uploading the files to my server and password-protecting them somehow? If so, what's the best way to secure those files? My job files aren't especially sensitive but I still don't want anyone having access to them. Either way I think it's going to take a long time to do the initial backup.

I understand that if someone really wants something they can take it. However, I think sometimes if it's going to require special tools or more than a few minutes they might not bother. That's why I think that a cable might be a good idea, knowing that it's not a guarantee.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:18 AM on December 4, 2008


And thanks, JuiceBoxHero, I have receipts but I should photograph everything too.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:20 AM on December 4, 2008


Either way I think it's going to take a long time to do the initial backup.

Yeah. Mozy says it backs up between 2 and 9GB a day on broadband connection.

They should have an option where you back everything up on an external hard drive, ship it to them, then they make copies and send it back to you. I'd be willing to pay extra for that.

After that, the future backups will be relatively painless.
posted by grumblebee at 11:23 AM on December 4, 2008


Is there any benefit to hosting with a service like Mozy or Carbonite instead of uploading the files to my server and password-protecting them somehow?

Yes. Dreamhost will not guarantee storage, and has explicit terms about not being a backup service. It's like backing stuff up and keeping it at your wacky neighbours house. Although I suppose you could put your entire hard drive in an SVN repo.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2008


After getting my backup hd and laptop stolen, i got this.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:24 PM on December 4, 2008


You now can use some of your Dreamhost space for backup (up to 50 Gb I believe). Just go here to activate it (and get the login info you need).
posted by langeNU at 12:32 PM on December 4, 2008


Is there any deterrent that I can implement to stop them from taking either my hard drive or computer? Can I securely tie them to the leg of my desk with a cable? My old computer is a G4 with the handles but how do I secure a laptop or a hard drive? My desk has A-frame legs that something could be looped around. I realize that cords could be cut or wooden legs broken but it would be some kind of deterrent.

Laptops, flat panel monitors, and some hard drives have a 'kensington lock slot', a small hole you can lock a security cable into. It provides some security, but most locks and slots don't look all that strong IMHO.

You can buy computer lock kits which include strong glue, loops you can glue to your computer or monitor, security cables and padlocks. You can get pretty strong looking ones, but with the downside that you have to glue a metal loop onto whatever you're securing, so it's not so good for laptops.

You can even get computer security enclosures which take computers and basically lock them in metal boxes. You get this sort of thing in 24-hour-access college computer labs.

As a practical matter though, to secure a laptop and some hard drives I would suggest you get a sturdy bit of furniture with a locking drawer and put the laptop and hard drives in there. Better security than a Kensington lock, but more practical than more heavy duty locks.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:35 PM on December 4, 2008


I've got a Targus laptop alarms for my laptop and monitor but they seem kind of flimsy. The anchor ring is securely screwed into the underside of the desk but if someone broke in, they could just clip the cables and drop the alarms into the toilet.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2008


Orbicule Undercover won't keep your Mac from getting stolen, but it'll give you a pretty good chance of getting it back.

You also want to set up a firmware password. This will prevent the thief from erasing your hard drive (unless they really know what they're doing, or they physically install it in another computer).

Obviously, you want a password on your main user account, and don't log in automatically at startup. It's a good idea to enable a guest account, however, so your thief can still get on the internet, which will make him easier to track down.
posted by designbot at 3:02 PM on December 4, 2008


All recent Macs have Kensignton security slots, BTW, including the Power Mac G4. There's a little icon of a lock above it. (Using the security slot also locks the door handle.)
posted by designbot at 3:04 PM on December 4, 2008


i use a combo of external hard drives, encrypted os x disk images for each project, backed up every month to amazon s3. costs me not too much, gives me peace of mind of sorts.
posted by spyke23 at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2008


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