Laptop Disk Encryption: Why FDE Beats Device Tracking When Things Hit The Fan.

Why encrypt a device, like a laptop, when you can track it? (not his real name but a nom de web), who’s traveling across the world and working out of his backpack, can attest to why: sometimes, tracking doesn’t work as advertised.  There’s a couple of reasons for this.  Whereas, disk encryption like AlertBoot works all the time – as long as you’ve made the decision to install it, that is.

The Irony (and the Creepy)

In a post titled “How I went from 100 to 0 things (or how I was robbed of all my stuff),” makes the following ironic observation: during the nine months that he traveled all over the world, he’s never had something stolen from him.  It took one week for his stuff to be stolen once he returned home to Holland.

The entry – horrific and insightful – shows what he had to do with the ramifications of a home burglary.  To make a long story short: as a person whose life is intricately tied to the digital realm, it took him a while to ensure that his personal information would not become public information.

Among the many insights he had (such as 12 hours to reset passwords at all the online accounts he had), this is of note for this blog:

I had Apple iCloud’s “Find My Device” and Prey enabled on both my iPhone and MacBook in case they were stolen, but to no avail. Thieves aren’t born yesterday. They know they shouldn’t connect to WiFi, thereby making it impossible for your device to alert iCloud or Prey of its location. Not a single report came in. They’re good services, but if the thieves are smart the odds you’re getting anything back are slim. []

I agree, they’re good services.  But, at the end of the day, they require that the computer be connected to the internet in one way or another.  The problem with such a strategy is that thieves are becoming ever-aware of these services and purposefully ensure that devices do not connect to the net.

Methods to prevent devices from appearing on the internet may involve taking out the battery, shutting down the device, or placing them in a Faraday cage – also known as layers of aluminum foil (my personal experiments show that three layers is more than good enough).  Also, booting up a device where there are no Wi-Fi spots, such as in the middle of nowhere, or in a basement.

What About Encryption?

Encryption, on the other hand, is ideal in such situations.  No, it will not help you recover the device.  Encryption is not magic.  However, it will prevent someone from accessing the contents of your laptop and other digital devices.

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