Thin Client Solutions to Laptop Theft

Howard Wright and others have asked me about the possibility of alternative solutions to storing confidential data on laptop hard drives. It’s a good question. We can’t eliminate losses and thefts so it makes sense to explore innovative ways of securing the data, especially if they offer other business benefits, such as lower costs or greater agility.

Of course the preferred solution is encryption of hard drives. That’s now mandatory. But you shouldn’t attempt it until you have a bulletproof key management system in place. And you can’t install a PKI overnight. It requires planning, specialist advice, new policies and operational processes. So how about the use of thin client devices, perhaps supplemented by USB devices? It could be a quick practical fix.

There are quite a few thin client laptops emerging. Major vendors such as HP have introduced new models, and there are outlets such as Thin Client that specialize in the sale of thin client devices. With limited storage options, they don’t meet every need but are ideal for mobile devices predominantly used in wireless equipped locations. USB devices can be used to store data and applications to enable off-line working but then you’re back to the original problem of encrypting data or losing data on stolen or lost devices.

Well not quite. USB devices hold less data than hard drives (though they’re getter bigger) and they’re much smaller, presenting a different risk profile. They’re likely to be carried around a lot more and they’re easier to mislay. But they’ll attract less theft and are unlikely to be left behind in vulnerable locations such as hotel rooms, unattended offices and car boots. They’re also less likely to be reported missing. So you might suffer unreported business damage but at least you won’t attract any embarrassing publicity.

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We have developed an alternative solution which bypasses the need in the short term for hard disk encryption. It focuses on the laptop, which has left the control of its owner, understanding that it is in effect lost, and therefore will take drastic but effective action to ensure that its data cannot be accessed. We have coupled this capability with a physical authentication protocol which means that only the owner of the laptop can access the laptop. We are demonstrating this capability at the HMGCC technology fair and at other conferences and exhibitions throughout 2008. It is an outsatnding, innovative and cost-effective solution, and one which we are only too happy to discuss further with interested parties.
There is another option available today. Use a thin client device to access the real desktop located within the corporate firewall. Such a solution is viable with inexpensive internet access available through mobile broadband. Security of data can be further enhanced - particularly in terms of backups and business continuity - by virtualising the desktop in the data centre. Decisive Solutions is reseller of the MobiKEY which delivers secure mobile access to users at a thin client, laptop, home computer or internet cafe. I use it daily, working anywhere - doing everything I can do on my desktop computer - using my MobiKEY and an inexpensive Asus Eee running a cut down installation of XP. We would be delighted to demonstrate the MobiKEY solution and offer a 30 day trial to prove how easy it is to use and how well it works.