Are you just being paranoid if you worry that the data on your hard drive may fall into a competitor's hands?
If your laptop should suddenly disappear, it's probably just a young thief looking for quick money - but you can never be absolutely sure. Maybe, just maybe, the sensitive company records or other data stored on your laptop could fall into the wrong hands.
Is it worth taking chances?
While stories of laptop theft are surely overblown, if you worry at all about your data, it may no longer be worth taking chances. Encryption software is becoming increasingly easy to use.
There are two types of encryption that you might find of interest. One type is used to encrypt files or e-mail that is to be sent over the Internet. The other, discussed here, is used to jumble the data on your hard drive in such a way that it can't be deciphered unless a password is entered. The data is encrypted through the use of various mathematical formulas.
Various encryption software products are now on the market. To give you a better understanding of how this software works, we'll take a look at a new product called SafeHouse, sold by PC Dynamics in Westlake Village, Calif.
SafeHouse takes a rather straightforward approach to encryption. It creates a new drive letter on your system, such as D:, E:, or F:. Then whenever a file is saved into that volume, it is automatically encrypted. No one can then gain access to that file unless they know your password.
For the user, that's about all there is to it. If you have the password, you can access your encrypted files. No password, no access. But while everything on the new volume on your hard drive is automatically encrypted, software that has been loaded on other portions of your drive is not affected in any way. SafeHouse claims no "appreciable" impact on the performance of encrypted files, but even the nonappreciable impacts won't affect the basic functioning of your computer, since only your data files will be encrypted.
SafeHouse is available for Windows 95 and installs in just a few minutes, according to PC Dynamics. For $79.99 you get a full-retail 56-bit version of SafeHouse, giving you a choice of what type of encryption to use, including DES, triple DES, Blowfish, and FAST. All versions of SafeHouse are licensed for export.
A 40-bit DES version of the software is also available for free download from PC Dynamics' Web site. This is a fully functional version of the software with no expiration date.
To get a better appreciation of how encryption software can be used, Roadnews.com interviewed Ernest Hernandez, an internal information security consultant for Dow Chemical Co. in Richwood, Texas. Hernandez has recently supervised the installation of SafeHouse encryption software on 5,000 laptops used by Dow's sales and marketing employees.
Roadnews.com: Why are you installing encryption software?
Ernest Hernandez: We have had some notebook computers (measured in the tens, not the hundreds) lost or stolen, but the main reason is a more general concern that corporate proprietary information not get into the wrong hands.
RN: Will the software, as you've installed it, automatically encrypt all data files, or is there a user option?
EH: A little of both. All files stored in the encrypted volume are automatically encrypted, but files not stored in the encrypted volume are not. Our software is configured to automatically look for the encrypted volume as the default for storing files. But the user can override this and save on a diskette or on another drive.
RN: Some people fear that once they encrypt something, their computer may keep even them from reading their files. Have you had any such problems?
EH: We have seen no such problems with encryption.
RN: Is there any sacrifice in performance in the laptops equipped with encryption?
EH: As long as software products are not stored in the encrypted drive, there is negligible impact on performance. We only encrypt proprietary information, not Microsoft software and the like.
RN: Have you had complaints from users?
EH: No complaints yet. The only time a user knows that encryption is enabled is when they power on their notebooks and SafeHouse asks them to authenticate with a password so that they can access their encrypted volume. Other than this, people aren't aware that their files are being encrypted.
RN: What should people look for when selecting encryption software?
EH: Here are some helpful hints:
Encryption should use a good algorithm.
It should fit your business purpose. If you are a global operation, it should be licensed globally and be able to be exported.
It should be seamless and effortless for people to use.
It should not affect performance of the computer.
IT SHOULD BE SECURE!
RN: What other advice can you offer?
EH: Don't be afraid of the encryption software. Get it, test it, and if you need it, use it.