How can I protect the data on my laptop if my laptop is stolen?

I'm going away for a one-week residential course soon. I'm taking my laptop, and I will have to leave it unattended in my room sometimes. I have bought a Kensington lock, but what I am really worried about is that if someone steals my computer, they can read many of my private files and emails.

At present my three user accounts (all administrator level) don't have passwords. I can put 20-character passwords on them when I go away, no problem. However, from reading previous questions in this area, I gather it is pretty simple to bypass the password protection. Maybe the average computer thief would prefer to do this rather than format my disk and reinstall Windows.

Can you advise me on the best reasonable option for safeguarding my data? I'm not paranoid, so it doesn't have to be the best security there is. Just something that will protect me against the average computer thief so that if the laptop is stolen I just have to worry about the money and inconvenience.

I have Windows XP Home and NTFS.
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Hi zajonc,

You can password protect your sensitives files,aid,110663,00.asp

In your case, encrypting the folders you really care about is probably the best option. Win XP includes EFS (Encrypting File System) which you can use fairly transparently. See:

However, there are risks involved, esp. if you have to recover your data later after a system crash or similar. For this reason, I would read the sections on data recovery carefully before doing it. Even then, you could consider keeping un-encrypted copies of your data on your home computer before traveling. A good backup is needed anyway, because you could lose your data by theft, or a disk crash, at any time.
CodedKSenior Software EngineerCommented:

This is a very good article:

 Protecting your Sensitive Data
 Use the NTFS file system
 Disable the Guest Account
 Rename the Administrator Account
 Consider creating a dummy Administrator account
 Prevent the last logged-in user name from being displayed
 Enable EFS (Encrypting File System)
 Disable the Infrared Port on you laptop
 Backup your data before you leave
 Consider using offline storage for transporting sensitive documents

The list goes on giving good explanations.

Hope i helped :)

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Dmitri FarafontovLinux Systems AdminCommented:
Use a program called Pretty Good Privacy. It will allow you to create a container encrypted disk and store valuable data on it.
Dmitri FarafontovLinux Systems AdminCommented:
Oh and BTW, Windows Home Edition doesnt support EFS :-)
CodedKSenior Software EngineerCommented:
AKAS Hide folders is a very useful protection tool.

This program makes any folder completely invisible to others. Your invisible folders is always hidden, including Safe mode, MS-DOS and even when AKAS Hide Folders is not running.

AKAS Hide Folders is the most safe way to hide your private folders.
Your hidden folders and files can't be deleted, viewed, modified or run.
You may leave your computer unattended without worrying if someone will access your private data.
Dmitri FarafontovLinux Systems AdminCommented:
I have personally tried Hide Folders and believe it to be quite a low solution to the problem. The driver is only loaded in Windows mode and the hidden folders are listed in the registry in plain text. The best solution is to use full suite of Pretty Good Privacy. It will allow the creation of Virtual Hard Disk, which will function just as the normal one before the unmount proccess. NTFS permissions must also be secured, however I am not sure that XP Home will alow high degree of customization. Also make sure you that the main Administrator is secured, and other accounts are disabled. In addition password protect your BIOS and configure it to only boot from hard drive, this will eliminate OS reinstallations.

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Tim HolmanCommented:
I would thoroughly recommend for £25....

zajoncAuthor Commented:
Thanks to everyone who responded. Pretty Good Privacy looks interesting, but I have not enough time to work out how to use it. Also, deslock looked good, but when I tried it out, I couldn't get it to encrypt any of the folders I wanted encrypted (the option wasn't available for them. The option was available for some folders that I didn't want to encrypt!) The deslock documentation was pretty inpenetrable, since it tries to explain how to use the software version and the hardware version at the same time.

I think these are both good ideas but I just don't have the hours needed to work out how to use them. Maybe some time in the future.

Shame Windows XP home doesn't have EFS!

For now, I shall add passwords to my user accounts, encrypt my Microsoft Outlook pst file, and use Winzip with a password to encrypt anything else I care about. I don't think I'll go as far as putting a password on my BIOS, although it would give me great satisfaction to know that anyone stealing my laptop would have the devil of a time trying to get it usable again.

Kind regards,
"I don't think I'll go as far as putting a password on my BIOS, although it would give me great satisfaction to know that anyone stealing my laptop would have the devil of a time trying to get it usable again."

Hmm... the BIOS password can be reset fairly easily in most cases and should not be counted upon as a security measure.
zajoncAuthor Commented:
Thanks, that may be useful to remember!
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