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Five PC 'security guards' for a truly secure network

By Clain Anderson, IBM
May 20, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - For an IT manager, an executive losing his notebook PC is like a banker misplacing the vault keys -- potentially catastrophic for the business. An unprotected PC is like an open door. Anyone can walk in and take or destroy what they find.
So how can IT managers protect their companies? The most effective way to approach security is by building an infrastructure consisting of multilayered "security guards" throughout the network. Companies should use up-to-date systems, such as firewalls and intrusion-detection systems, to protect the core aspects of their network, but they should build in security guards at the network periphery, on their PCs. Here are five security guards for truly protecting your network:
1. Securing notebook computers
Handcuffing a notebook PC to the owner isn't a realistic way to ensure that the data on it stays confidential. Instead, a notebook should be set up to require specific user identity and password verification before it becomes usable. It also needs to include technology that allows data to be encrypted and decrypted by the authorized user only.
An example of this type of security guard for notebooks is an embedded security chip. Unlike software-only protection, this hardware- and software-based solution provides a higher level of security that lets you "lock" your data. The integrated security chip provides a secure repository for storing sensitive keys, identity information and confidential data. Even if a user's laptop is stolen or lost, an unauthorized user cannot crack the encrypted data.
Where notebooks should be 'handcuffed' is the environment in which they are used. An unsecured notebook can easily be carried off while the owner is distracted. To prevent this, notebooks can be physically locked with cable locks if they are going to be left at anytime, including in the users' homes.
2. Password policies
Without a strict password policy, users will default to using simple passwords such as spouse's names or other easily remembered -- and guessed -- words. Passwords should be a combination of numbers and letters that form words that aren't related to the user, and they should be changed regularly.

Many companies allow users who have resigned to leave before their passwords have been disabled, while keeping new employees waiting for their access details. Tasks such as distributing and eliminating passwords are inherent to a secure infrastructure. Mismanagement of passwords can lead to severe security breaches.
If passwords prove to be too complicated to manage, companies should consider other means of user identification, such as fingerprint readers. Using a password management tool that can replace multiple passwords with a single password,



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