Be a PC Crime Fighter: Keep Your Hardware Safe

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Block the Boot

Stop intruders before Windows loads by enabling the startup password in your PC Setup program. Before you set a CMOS password for the first time, check your system's manual or the vendor's Web site for the password-reset procedure. Then enter the setup program by pressing the indicated key as your PC starts (but before Windows loads), and look for a password option.

A boot password is an effective way to keep the casual snooper out of your desktop PC or laptop. Still, unless you've locked your case, a determined interloper could reset the password by adjusting a jumper on the motherboard.

Keep your guard up: A CMOS password protects the computer when it's turned off, but isn't very handy if you want to step away from your PC while it's running. Many screen savers offer password protection, but for an added level of security, use a USB security token such as the $130 SecuriKey Professional from Griffin Technologies). When you remove the key from its USB port, your PC automatically locks until the key is replaced. Do-it-yourselfers can save some money by turning an ordinary USB key drive into a security token with the $5 TokenKey utility from (DefendGate).

Got Crypto? The best way to keep your sensitive data unseen is to encrypt it. (Click here for our roundup of encryption programs.) Hardware-based encryption products such as Kensington's $70 PCKey add another level of protection by combining software encryption with a USB token key. I also like Addonics's Saturn Cipher hard-drive enclosures, which incorporate a chip that seamlessly encrypts an entire hard drive with almost no setup or maintenance. The enclosures cost from $59 to $139. Each unit comes with two hardware keys that you use to access the drive. But remember, if you lose those keys, you lose the data. Check here to read about new self-encrypting notebook drives coming soon from Hitachi and Seagate (scroll down the page to "Auto-Encryption").

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