PCWorld Exclusive: Laplink's PC Lock Secures Notebook PCs

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While Windows' user data encryption is fine for most users, laptop owners might want a bit more control over the security of their data. After all, laptop theft is on the rise worldwide. Laplink's PC Lock utility (free today, $15 the rest of this week, $30 with a 30-day trial thereafter) is a relatively inexpensive way to secure data. Like Windows, it encrypts files, but it adds a number of features and may be administrated via the company's Web portal.

Outside of this password screen, you'll never know that PC Lock is working once you install it.
PC Lock sits in the background and encrypts folders and files with strong 256-bit AES encryption. At default settings, it encrypts only certain folders and file types. For instance, files in your user folders are encrypted, but those in your public folders are not. Word processing, spreadsheet, and database documents are encrypted by default, but not jpegs. However, you can encrypt any type of file by adding its extension to the list found at the Web portal. One minor caveat: Currently, you can remove a folder from the encryption list, but not add one. As I keep many of my data files apart from the user folder, the program would not be of any real use to me as stands.

Logging on to PC Lock's portal requires a password and answers to two security questions. In addition to defining what's encrypted, you may reset passwords and create new values for failed login attempts at the site. For instance, after 5 failed attempts the user will be warned and after 9 failed attempts and local access is disabled, etc. If you lose, or someone steals your laptop, you may simply log on the Web portal and choose whether to disable access or have the files deleted the next time your laptop connects to the Internet.

Which brings us to PC Lock's only possible security weakness. If the laptop never connects to the Internet, there is a slight possibility that the encryption could be broken. Very slight indeed, as 256-bit AES encryption is very strong. However, to guard against this you may set a time limit for the number of days the laptop can be out of contact with the server before file access is disabled.

I did have one or two installation issues with PC Lock. I had a minor problem with the laptop that I installed PC Lock on. After installing it wouldn't accept the password I'd defined until I rebooted. I never got the software to function properly in a VirtualBox VM. Laplink says they test the software using VMWare and it works fine. As the program has little practical value for VMs, that's hardly important.

All in all, PC Lock seems as if it's well thought-out and once the minor issues have been addressed, it should be perfect for its intended role--a cheap alternative for users without hardware encryption on their laptops.

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