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How to Protect the Data on your Laptop or Mobile Device – Part Two

SmartphonesRead Part One of this article here.


I recently wrote about the lessons I’d learned from losing my laptop computer, and the measures I’d taken to ensure my devices and data were protected going forwards.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop returned to me, but what would happen if you lost a mobile device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet?

Earlier in the week I looked at tracking your lost device, but now I’m looking at protecting the most valuable part of any Laptop or other mobile device – your data.

In yesterday’s article I looked at using Encryption and Device Lock mechanisms to protect your mobile device data.

In the second part of my guide on how to protect the data on your laptop or mobile device, let’s take a look at how you’d recover your data if you ever lost the mobile device that data is stored upon.

Backing up your basic Data

For all mobile devices – including laptops – there are a plethora of backup  which involve synchronising your essential data – such as contacts and calendar – to the cloud, enabling you to access that data from other devices and restore it to the same or a different device.

For Android users, Google already does a great job of making sure most of your basic data (such as contacts and calendar) is synchronised to the Cloud. Additionally, using an app like AppBrain ensures that all those apps you’ve installed are quickly and easily restored to any new device – albeit you’ll need to re-configure their settings. You could also use an App like SMS Backup+ to backup all your SMS, MMS and Call Log entries to GoogleMail, and Google+ ensures all your phone camera photographs are automatically synchronised on-line too.

If you’re using Microsoft Exchange or GoogleMail for your e-mail, then your E-Mail, Contacts and Calendar are typically automatically synchronised to a central server. Re-connect any device to Exchange or GMail and this information will be downloaded to the new device.

Even if you’re not using a Smartphone but an older more traditionally mobile phone – a service like Mobyko enables you to backup all of your photos, videos, texts, calendar entries and contacts on-line – so if you get a new device, you don’t have to manually re-input them all.

Typically though, all of these Cloud Synchronisation methods are aimed at backing up your most basic data – E-Mail, Contacts, Calendar, etc. What about the documents you work with such as Spreadsheets, Music and more?

Backing up your Files and Documents

A more robust Cloud based Backup solution will give you the option to select pretty much any set of data to back up, limited only by the capacity of the Cloud Backup provider you use.

Typically, this data would include your private documents such as Spreadsheets, Word Processor documents and more – but could easily be extended to include Pictures, Music, Videos and just about any other type of data you wish.

imageApple’s iTunes software already does a good job of backing up your iPhone, iPod or iPad – meaning if you lost your device, typically your music, apps and purchases are easily transferred to a new device – even if your original device is not available. With iOS 5, iPhone and iPad users also have access to Apple’s free iCloud service – which backs up your e-mail, contacts, calendars and documents to the Cloud.

But for more flexibility, a service such as Dropbox is a must-have.

Dropbox LogoA free Dropbox account gives 2GB of Cloud based storage away for free, and has software clients available for nearly all major platforms – including PC, Mac, iOS and Android.

Dropbox works by making sure that any data stored within a folder you create as home for your data is automatically and near instantly backed up to the Cloud, and additionally can be sychronised to any other device you choose too.

For myself, I have Dropbox installed on my Laptop PC under Windows 7 and within my Dropbox folder have sub-folders containing all everything from work to travel documents. I then have Dropbox installed on my Notebook PC so that if I’m travelling I have access to all my work, and any changes I make are automatically backed up on-line and synchronised to my laptop.

Furthermore I have Dropbox installed on my Android Smartphone, iPhone and iPad, so I can quickly refer to any of my documents in a flash.

I therefore always have the latest copy of my document with me, whichever device I’m using.

The added benefit of Dropbox is that because everything is also stored on a secure central server, I can also access any of my documents from any other PC in the world via a secure login. What’s more, if I want to share documents with another Dropbox user – I can simply right-click a folder and grant them permissions (ranging from Read Only, to full Edit) and the document appears on their device for their use – and they can do the same with me.

Knowing all of your data is continuously backed up and available wherever you are in the world gives real peace of mind. Never lose or forget a document again!

Obviously, you need to be aware of the capacity limits of your free Dropbox account – start using it to backup your large Music or Picture collection and you’ll soon run out of space – but Dropbox do offer a paid for premium  account with much greater capacity should you chose.

There are a plethora of other free and optionally premium backup solutions out there too – such as Mozy – and many other Synchronisation tools such as SugarSync and Windows Live Mesh – and there’s nothing stopping you using more than one service! On my Home Server in addition to having a local NAS based backup, I also use Mozy for home documents, SugarSync for my Videos, and Windows Live Mesh for old Archived documents. All are accessible from a web-browser from any device, so I figure there’s no harm in having your data backed up in more than one place!


Full Device Backup

For real belt and braces backup of your mobile devices, you’ll want to take a full device backup in addition to cloud based backups of your ever changing data.

A full device backup will backup all the settings on your device and often all the Operating System files too, meaning that if you ever experience a faulty device or catastrophic software issue then you can quickly reset the device back to full working order by restoring from the original image backup. The restore will then be complimented with your most current data from your Cloud backup.

Android Smartphone and Tablet users have a number of other options for full device backup. Check out Titanium Backup Root and Sprite Backup amongst many others.

StorageCraft ShadowProtect LogoFor Laptop computers and Netbooks, I use StorageCraft ShadowProtect to make a full image backup of my PC once it’s created and store this locally on a USB Hard Disk kept at home, as well as on a spare data partition. In conjunction with a Recovery CD or USB Key Disk (provided by StorageCraft) this means that even when I’m on the road travelling, in the event of a particularly nasty software failure I can restore my PC back to a working state using the original image, and have a backup stored at home in the event of a total Hard Disk failure.

Whenever you’re making a local backup of your device, always make sure that  any backup of your laptop or device is password protected (most backup software has this option) to ensure the data contained within that backup is safe. Otherwise a lost backup could offer someone the chance to snoop at all of your private data in one fell swoop!



I hope you’ve found this short guide, born out of the fact I thought I’d lost my own laptop, useful!

By making sure you use tools for tracking your lost laptop, smartphone or tablet, implementing both a Device Lock and Data Encryption, and ensuring that all of your data is backed up and synchronised to the Cloud, perhaps in conjunction with a full device backup – you should feel assured that in the event that you do lose your mobile device, you’ve given yourself every chance of recovering it and can rest safe in the knowledge that any data contained upon that device will remain secure.

Thoughts or feedback? Do you use different tools or strategies? I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment or get in touch!


How to Protect the Data on your Laptop or Mobile Device – Part One

Picture of a LockI recently wrote about the lessons I’d learned from losing my laptop computer, and the measures I’d taken to ensure my devices and data were protected going forwards.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop returned to me, but what would happen if you lost a mobile device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet?

Yesterday I looked at tracking your lost device, but today I’m looking at protecting the most valuable part of any Laptop or other mobile device – your data.

In my case, I had a Windows 7 laptop protected with a strong password – but I know from experience that someone who is well motivated and has even basic IT knowledge could get past a password alone. So what other measures can you take to protect your data?


Device Lock

A really simple one, this – but one many people overlook.

If you’ve got a Mobile Phone or Smartphone, then turn on the SIM lock – a PIN number which needs to be entered when you first turn the ‘phone on or put your SIM into another device. This prevents your lost ‘phone being used to make outgoing calls and racking up a nasty bill for you, or your SIM being placed in a new device for the same purpose.

iPhone Lock ScreenIn addition to a SIM lock, or if you’re running a device without a SIM, turn on the device lock. Every Mobile Phone, Smartphone, MP3 player and Tablet should have this functionality – which ensures that any time your device is unlocked, you need to put in a PIN code to begin using it.

For Laptops and Netbooks, turning on the “Start-up Password” or “Boot Password” uses a similar concept to a device lock. Before the Hard Disk boots, you need to type in a password to enable the process to begin. Typically these types of password are harder to hack than a simple Windows logon – but again, a well motivated and IT savvy individual could get around this with time and experience.



The concept of encryption is based on complex mathematics, yet simple to implement. Using software, the data you choose on your PC is scrambled using a specific encryption password of your choice. When you enter the correct password (usually at start-up) the data becomes readable. If you don’t have the password – then even if you try to circumvent any other security measures to get to the data on the device – the only information you’ll be able to read is gobbledegook.

TrueCrypt LogoIn my case, I implemented the Open Source (and therefore free) TrueCrypt on both my netbook and laptop PC. TrueCrypt is freely available for Windows 7, Vista, XP, Apple Mac OSX and Linux.

Once you download and install the software, you can choose to either create an encrypted folder or folders on your PC (perhaps containing confidential data) or alternatively, an entire Partition on your Hard Drive or indeed the entire Hard Drive itself can be encrypted.

If you create an encrypted folder then each time you use your computer and before you access the files within that specific folder, TrueCrypt prompts you for your encryption password. Enter the password and the folder looks and behaves like any other folder – you can work with documents, add and delete files, etc. But if you don’t have the password to that folder then you can’t gain access to its contents – in fact, the folder actually just looks like a normal file that contains data that can’t be read using any method.

As I wanted to protect all of the data on my laptop (including the temporary files that Windows creates – such as Web-Browser history, downloads, etc.) I chose to encrypt both partitions on my Hard Disk, the first containing my Windows data, the second containing my personal data.

TrueCrypt ScreenshotThe process was simple. Within TrueCrypt I selected “Create a New Volume” and then selected the C: drive. After creating a strong encryption password, TrueCrypt prompted me to create a recovery CD – which could be used to recover the data on my Hard Disk should I ever forget my encryption password.

TrueCrypt then ran a test to ensure my laptop would be able to handle the encryption. Once the test ran successfully, the encryption process began – which for my 60GB SSD Hard Disk took about 90 minutes.

I repeated the process for my D: (data) drive, and around an hour later I rebooted my PC whereon I was prompted for my encryption password.

Windows 7 booted up, and I continued to use my computer as pre-encryption – albeit safe in the knowledge that if my laptop was ever lost or stolen, the data contained on it would be near impossible for anyone to read without my encryption password.

The only downside I found to the process is that restoring my laptop from Hibernation (Sleep) mode was a *lot* slower than it used to be. I’ve noticed no perceptible difference in speed in using the PC otherwise though, so a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Other encryption software is available, including BitLocker on certain Windows PC’s, and Droid Crypt for Android devices. TrueCrypt remains my preference for computers though.


End of Part One

So once you’ve made sure your device isn’t easily accessed, and the data contained on it isn’t able to be read by prying eyes – thoughts then turn to how you’d recover your data if you ever lost the mobile device that data is stored upon.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the methods I use to backup the data on both my PC’s and Smartphones. Read Part Two of this article here.


3 Free Tools for Tracking your Lost Laptop, Smartphone or Tablet

I recently wrote about the lessons I’d learned from losing my laptop computer, and the measures I’d taken to ensure my devices and data were protected going forwards.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop returned to me, but what would happen if I lost a mobile device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet?

Take it from me when I say that when you lose a device, your first thoughts turn to ascertaining whether the device has been accidentally lost, or actually stolen.

Fortunately there are a raft of Tracking and Anti-Theft software available – and in many cases, free of charge. The caveat with all of these methods is that they’re dependant upon an active Internet connection being live. If you have a continuous 3G signal – great, you’ll be on-line most places. But if the device is Wi-Fi only then you’re reliant on the device being actually connected to a Wi-Fi signal.

With that in mind, here are the three free tools I’ve installed on my mobile devices to track them in the event of a loss.

Prey Project

Prey Project LogoThe Prey Project is a lightweight, Open Source (i.e. free of charge) application that is available to install on any PC – Laptop, Netbook or Desktop, Apple Mac, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Linux or Android device.

The application is quickly downloaded and installed, and using a single e-mail address you can protect up to 3 devices for free. There is also a Pro version available that allows you to protect many more devices and beef up your security further.

In the event that your equipment is lost, you visit the Prey Project Web-Site and through the Control Panel report your device as missing. Over the next twenty minutes, Prey then tries to communicate with the device and send you back a report via e-mail that highlights the devices GPS location, any Wireless networks found nearby and if available, a photograph taken using the devices webcam.

You can also perform actions such as set off an audible alarm on the laptop, display an alert on the devices screen (such as a message with your contact details) or lock the laptop keyboard – only to be unlocked by the password you specify.

When I lost my laptop I was fortunate enough to have Prey Project installed on it, but the laptop was never connected to the Internet so I never received a report. Once I’d got my laptop back though, I watched as within a few minutes of being connected on-line, Prey Project e-mailed me with me GPS location of my laptop (with me at home!) and a screenshot of me in front of the laptop. Prey Project is not fool proof, but you never known when you might need it!


Find my iPhone

Find my iPhone LogoThe Find my iPhone service is bundled free with any iPhone or iPad, and for those running iOS5 using iCloud, it’s bundled in.

In short, once installed upon your iPhone or iPad, you can use any other iOS device to find it and protect your data.

You can track your device using GPS to show a Map Location, and you can remotely play a sound or send a message to the device – regardless of whether it is muted or locked.

You can also remotely lock the device, and if you choose, remotely wipe the device protecting your data.

If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad – go and grab the free Find my iPhone app from the App Store now and set it up. It’s very, very useful.


Android Lost

Android Lost LogoMuch like Find my iPhone for iOS, Android Lost for Android Smartphones is a free tool that once installed enables you to remotely track your device, lock it, send messages to it, or remotely wipe the data from it.

But Android Lost also allows you to do many other things, such as take a photograph using the forward facing camera, use text to speech to make your phone say a message out loud (“I am lost! Please pick me up!”), notify you when the SIM card is changed, send a list of incoming and outgoing calls from the device via e-mail, forward your calls, erase any attached SD Card, read the phone status (to show Battery life, IMEI, SIM Card ID and more) and send commands via SMS from other mobile phones.

It’s hugely powerful, and as it is free, is an absolute no-brainer for any Android owner to install on their device.



In this blog post I’ve just covered PC, Apple Mac, Blackberry, Linux, iOS and Android devices – but as a former Windows Mobile and Windows Phone owner, I know there are similar tools for those platforms.

I’ve got Prey installed on my Laptop, Netbook, Android, iPhone and iPad, as well as Android Lost on my HTC Sensation, and Find my iPhone on my iPhone and iPad. Overkill? Maybe – but the overheads of these tools are so low, that there’s not much downside to installing multiple tracking tools on the same devices.

The key here is to install these apps and tools *before* you need them, because as I’ve already found out, whilst you think it’ll never happen to you – it’s very easy to lose a mobile device!

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about the measures you can take to ensure your precious data is safe in the event of a lost device.


The Lessons I Learned from Losing my Laptop Computer

A few weeks ago I was presenting at the Autotask Community on Tour event at the Grand Connaught Rooms, a very prestigious and (as the name implies) grand venue in London.

My presentation was just before lunch, and arriving early in the day I dropped my laptop bag (containing my laptop and my presentation) alongside many of my colleagues near the event registration desk.

Laptop ComputerAbout an hour before my presentation, I went to retrieve my laptop and in horror discovered that it was no longer where I had left it. I scouted around nearby tables, looked in every conceivable location, recruited help in the form of my friends crawling under tables but alas, the laptop had gone. My heart sank – not only had a £1,000+ worth of laptop gone, but all my valuable mobile accessories and more importantly, my presentation due in 30 minutes had gone with it!

Lesson Number One – Keep your belongings with you at all times!

Ironically (given I was about to give a presentation on Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery) I had stored a backup copy of my presentation on Windows Live Mesh. Borrowing Autotask MVP Lee Evans laptop, and using fellow presenter Paul Dadge’s wireless Internet, I logged on to Live Mesh to recover the presentation. Or at least I would have if I could find how on earth you actually logged on to Live Mesh from a web browser. Microsoft have changed the Windows Live tool brand so many times recently that I wasn’t sure what it was called anymore – Live Mesh, Live Sync, Live Mesh 2011? When I needed to access my backup in a hurry, the stress of trying to find out how to do so is most unwelcome.

Lesson Number Two – Know how to quickly access your Data Backups

Thankfully I finally found the correct login web-site, and thanks to having my KeePass information stored on my iPad (which was safely in my possession) I could logon to Windows Live, grab a copy of the presentation and copy it to a key disk ready to go on stage with.

I’m glad to say the presentation went well, despite my thoughts admittedly being on to how I could find my laptop after I got off stage.

Over lunch, my friends and I scouted around again and with no luck in finding my laptop, I finally resigned myself to the fact that it had gone and contacted hotel security. I reported my laptop stolen with the local Police Station who asked for specifics of the laptop. Luckily, I’d recorded the Serial Numbers and other specifics of not only the laptop, but my Flip HD camcorder which was also in the laptop bag, on – the web-site of the UK National Property Register.

Having this information easily to hand via my iPad meant I was able to describe the laptop and give all pertinent information quickly, as well as tag the laptop and Camcorder as stolen. In the event that the stolen laptop turned up at a Police Station, it could be identified as mine.

Lesson Number Three – Maintain an accurate record of your high value goods

My thoughts then turned to the data ON my missing laptop.

The laptop was password protected, and all data backed up to the Cloud, but it is not too difficult to access a file system using tools outside of Windows, nor to crack a Windows 7 password to gain full access to a system. Chances are that any thief would be stealing the laptop for the hardware, not the data contained on it, but that sinking feeling that you get when you realise the data on the machine is confidential is definitely not a nice one. I really wish I’d have gotten round to encrypting it as I kept promising I would…

Lesson Number Four – Your Data is more valuable than your hardware. Protect it accordingly!

Then, thanks to a conversation with Gareth Brown which jogged my memory, I recalled I’d installed the free Tracking software from Prey Project on my laptop. If the laptop was connected to the Internet at all I’d be able to track where it was and even take a screenshot of whomever was using the laptop via it’s webcam, but more importantly, I could remotely lock the laptop to hinder any attempt to access the data upon it.

Lesson Number Five – Install free Tracking Software on your Mobile Devices before you lose them!

I reported the laptop lost on Prey Project, and waited for it to report back. The likelihood that it ever would was admittedly slim, but at least I wasn’t kicking myself that I’d not bothered to install that free tracking software that you know, takes all of 30 seconds to install!

When I got back home later that weekend I dug out my Insurance Paperwork and prepared to make a claim. Thankfully I’d retained all details of my purchases, and in many instances, the original purchase receipts (including such things as the SSD Hard Drive upgrade and Memory Upgrades I’d installed in the laptop) – so I’d be able to make a full claim for the items. I’d also set a diary reminder at the time of my Insurance renewal earlier in the year to make sure the Contents Schedule was up to date – useful if you’re always updating your tech, as I am.

Lesson Number Six – Insure your Tech, and make sure your Insurance Schedule is current

Now for most people, the story would end here with an Insurance Claim and the purchase of a new laptop and the inevitable hope (and prayer) that the confidential data contained on the lost laptop would never fall into the wrong hands.

But a few days later, whilst I was travelling in Utretch in the Netherlands for business, I received an e-mail from a lovely lady named Jo Flood entitled “Are you missing a laptop?”.

The e-mail went on to explain how Jo worked for Hot Courses in London who had run a student event at the Grand Connaught Rooms at the same time as the Autotask Event, and whilst sorting out equipment brought back from the venue, Jo had spotted that they’d acquired an additional laptop!

Powering the laptop up, Jo had spotted my name on the login screen and then Googled it. My blog post about my speaking at the Autotask event had come up as the first search engine hit, and Jo put two-and-two together and got in touch via the contact details on my blog to see if it was indeed my laptop.

Lesson Number Seven – Social Media helps connect the world in the most unexpected ways! Smile

Thanking Jo profusely for taking the time and effort to track me down, my friend Guy Gregory at The Final Step in London heard about my predicament and offered to retrieve the laptop from Jo nearby– going out of his way to organise all the details with Jo directly. A week later, I was re-united with my laptop!

Lesson Number Eight – There are some genuinely helpful and wonderful people in the world

A huge thanks to Jo Flood and Guy Gregory for going out of their way to help me and giving their time to help re-unite me with my laptop, and to Lee Evans, Paul Dadge, Gareth Brown, my friends at Autotask, all the staff at the Grand Connaught Rooms and everyone else who helped me whilst I was panicking about finding my laptop and ensuring I got on stage to deliver my presentation as planned!

Thankfully I got away without losing any possessions or more importantly, confidential data. But I learned a number of really valuable lessons about what it feels like to lose mobile devices and data.

Over the next few days I’m going to blog about what I’ve learned that might help you protect your own data and high value mobile devices. I hope you’ll find my story above thought provoking in terms of how you view your own data and devices, and that the articles I post in the days to come help give you the peace of mind that you’re doing all you can to protect yourself.


Looking at Techair Laptop Bags

I attended a trade show in Manchester recently where dozens of suppliers were showing off their wares. Much of it was same-old same-old but one company surprised me with something I didn’t think I could be surprised by… laptop carry bags.

Techair produce a series of bags which not only look good, but carry more features than you can shake a stick it. For a start they are adjustable internally to allow any make/model/size of laptop to be accomodated. Then they have a special air padding system that protects your laptop from a fall from even waist height. They include a removable organiser, and best of all, a Tracking system. Each bag contains it’s own ID strip which you register against your details. If you forget the laptop and leave it somewhere (and providing the finder is an honest soul) then a ‘phone call later you’ll be identified as the owner as the laptop returned to you!

So many simple ideas, yet very useful. Prices weren’t outrageous too, as the bag I oggled… erm… viewed, was around the £60 mark – not much more than a good quality “normal” laptop bag anyway.


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