If you have certain files you like to have access to in a place other than your laptop, then you may need to get access to those files while you are on the road. My ‘for instance’ here is if you have a remote desktop on your home network that’s attached to a network access server. You might get better fail-safe data redundancy this way and it may be quite appealing. Don’t make the mistake of opening up your firewall to get access though. Use a VPN service instead.
Whether you are using a wireless router that can support VPN connections, or you have a full-blown firewall in place, using an IPSec VPN, or using the OpenVPN client is definitely the better and far more secure option. Just be sure to have a strong passphrase and use a client-side certificate in order to access the VPN. You can also do some pretty cool things with a service like DynDNS if you are connecting to a home network that gets its IP address from an external DHCP server. This is obviously a more complex topic, so do your research to learn more.
“Going Virtual for the ‘Real’ Work”
This topic is far more relevant to security professionals and other IT folks, but the basic power of virtualization should NOT be overlooked, especially on a laptop. Granted, you need enough memory (at least 8gigs realistically) in order to fully leverage this option, but it’s worth it. I use VMPlayer in order to run a number of virtual systems on my laptop, especially when I am involved in penetration testing or forensic discovery work.
Yes, you have the option of dual-booting or running your laptop with alternate, non-persistent OS images, but I prefer to continue running my Windows system, and use things like Kali Linux (which used to be BackTrack) to do my testing on. It’s also nice to pit different virtual machines against one another so you can do training or perform validation testing. If you want to get REALLY crazy, you can even start nesting virtual systems (like running ESXI on VMPlayer with VMotion to move and test copies of production systems).
Of course, you can’t forget the basics. Things like setting automatic updates on your operating system, keeping your applications up to date (especially applications from Adobe), scanning downloads for malicious code and validating them using hash values, only installing the software you actually need, and so on and so forth. At this point though, we’ve gone WAY beyond the basics of laptop security and are now deep in the realm of good systems management.
Other Security Measures You Can Do
There are, of course, other steps that you can take and other things you can do, but this list covers most of the basics, and most of the more advanced situations you might encounter. I’ll also clearly state that none of these steps is entirely foolproof, or 100% effective. In fact, there’s a way around pretty much every single one of these controls if the person who gets a hold of your laptop is particularly knowledgeable. The goal however is to create layers of security that dissuade, deter, and even misdirect would-be villains – hopefully, long enough for you to recover your lost or stolen property. If not though, these steps will at least make it more difficult for less-gifted thieves to derive much of a benefit from your stolen system.
In the end, the exact steps you take, the tools you use, and the features you set up, are going to be uniquely suited to your own personal needs and preferences. This article is just the tip of the iceberg and there are other stuff that you can do to increase security when dealing with remote access to your computer.