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Citizen Staff


DAY 2 of a two-day series

Computer theft not just hacking – whole PCs sometimes taken



Computer security for most people means thwarting hackers from tapping into computer systems.

But few people realize that even the most difficult-to-break password is irrelevant if your entire computer is stolen, law enforcement officials say.

Commercially available software offers the best protection in those cases, especially for laptop users, says Kenneth Hancock, a special agent supervisor in the FBI’s Phoenix office.

“It is very difficult to make it impossible for someone to get data from a machine … once they have the computer in their possession,” said Scott Greene, a Tucson-based computer-forensics expert and CEO of Great Scott Enterprises Inc., a computer-consulting firm.

“Just like security at home: Someone with enough time and effort will break in,” he said.

Hackers by far are still the No. 1 threat to personal information. Of all reports of unauthorized access to personal computers, the total due to physical theft has dropped from 70 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2004, according to a joint FBI and Computer Security Institute report released last month.

However, with more and more people using laptops and in essence carrying their personal information with them, that percentage could rise again, Hancock said.

“Obviously, people should try to protect their valuable information by using difficult passwords and changing them on a regular basis,” he said. “This can prevent some people from accessing your information. But (thieves) who know what they’re doing can figure out most passwords.”

Perhaps the most important of the basics to prevent unwanted access is to back up personal information somewhere away from the computer.

“It does no good to back up your vital data, then leave it next to your computer where someone can steal it as well,” said Steve Peters, president of the Tucson-based Community Information and Telecommunications Alliance.

The alliance also runs the Arizona Cyber Security Alliance, which works to help Arizonans understand the rising security threats and develop strategies to reduce personal, customer and business risks.

For more information on computer security, visit the alliance’s Web site: www.azsecurity.org, or Great Scott Enterprises: www.great-scott.com.


• Use passwords and change them often.

• When using Web sites that ask for passwords, do not allow your computer to “remember” the password for you.

• If you use Internet Explorer, delete the cache in your Web browser and erase the history. This will make it difficult for someone to review where you have been on the Internet and therefore make it more difficult to get into your financial data.

• Buy encryption software, which makes data difficult to get into, but requires you to type a password each time you need access data.

• Remember to back up your data and store them in a safe place, preferably away from your computer, especially if the backups are not encrypted, which is usually the case.

More secure operating systems

• Windows 2000 or Windows XP, which does not prevent an authorized person from accessing information, but does make it more difficult to get at data if the owner uses passwords.

• Macintosh operating systems are slightly more secure than others.

Source: Scott Greene, CEO of Great Scott Enterprises Inc.

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