Why you should make your workstation a fortress

The new top-secret salary structure is hot gossip in the office. The chairman's on the rampage, hunting the source of the leak. The bad news is - it was YOU! A colleague saw the documents on your desk. It can happen! David Edwards urges you to take immediate steps to protect the data in your charge

By David Edwards

The continuity and survival of a business depends to a large extent on its information and in the wrong hands those specifications, designs, financial, marketing and advertising plans could be damaging in the extreme.

You might think it is only the corporate secrets of big businesses that are targeted by industrial or commercial spies, but small concerns are equally vulnerable to attack from all quarters. It is estimated that 57,000 small businesses in Britain could face total collapse if they were to lose all their filed and computer-held data.

According to leading US security expert Ralph Witherspoon, whose consultancy company (security-expert.org) has advised some the world's major corporations, whether low or high rise, there is no plan that will totally secure each and every type of office building, but there can be a great deal of internal and external deterrent protection introduced to alleviate the problem.

The Department of Trade and Industry has an initiative entitled Security at Work which aims to promote general awareness about security, to help UK business improve their privacy and counter fraudulent activity. It covers areas such as the protection of information in IT systems and electronic goods tagging, and points people towards techniques that can be used to safeguard products (securityatwork.org.uk).

Naturally your company will have ensured that it has kept information confidential by taking advice on door locks, safes, bank vault storage and high-tech lock cabinets for documents. You also need to think about their sitings and key storage. And have you considered a bulk secure waste disposal contractor for confidential archives?

Investigate also system back-up options, to protect your data from corruption of a system crash. Specialists Iomega have a range of products, from small USB memory sticks to the Rev, which will back up your whole PC, from data to favourite site listings, even to your screen saver (iomega.com). Many low cost tapes, CD and DVD systems exist, but whichever you choose, make sure you back up regularly.

You may be tempted by some of the unusual gadgets around, for those who want every available aid to help them in their move-around work places.

One such gadget is the USB Memory Watch, an amazing piece of equipment that can store 128MB of data - equivalent to about 30 floppy discs - and is great for anyone who needs to backup files or move files between computers. The USB cable is integrated into the strap when not in use. It's simple and effective to use. Just plug the watch into the USB port on your computer, download files onto it and access them when needed. It tells the time, too! (paramountzone.com).

Businesses have a responsibility, not only to protect their own data but that of their clients and customers and misuse of this information can fall foul of the Data Protection Act which provides for the imprisonment of managers and directors. Horror stories abound of financial records, medical details, private telephone numbers, etc, simply being dumped in the nearest wastebin. The only safe way to protect sensitive material is to have full password protection and to dispose of material as soon as it is no longer needed.

Shredding is the quick, easy way to do it. There are many shredders around, from Fellowes and other suppliers. Look out for Rexel's new ranges. Three Personal Office models, all smartly styled for the modern work place and all offering greatly improved sheet capacities and a choice of ribbon or high-security confetti shreds. One version even shreds CDs and plastic credit and debit cards as well as conventional paperwork (acco.co.uk).

Computers and electronic notebooks, of course, are vulnerable to information giveaway with laptop PCs, in particular, having vast tracts of sensitive company material housed in them. Research by Aston Information Security revealed that more than 80% of information about a company now leaves the office unofficially and within that, 18% exits on a laptop quite legitimately. And when it is realised that 15% of laptops are stolen by people planning to misuse the information they contain, the risk can clearly be seen.

So, as far as Notebooks are concerned, Kensington have recently come up with an excellent microsaver with a security T-bar mechanism that is easy to install, and also a motion-detecting sonic lock that can be used around the notebook's handle which emits a piercing alarm when activated. It can also be attached to a laptop (acco.co.uk).

Laptops have revolutionised business on the move but when computing on planes and trains, in coffee shops, cafés and other public places it can be almost impossible to ensure that your secrets do not get into the wrong hands. And if unauthorised people can see sensitive or confidential information on your or your travelling executive's screen you or they could be breaking the law.

A 3M Laptop Privacy Filter is a low cost accessory to help people on the move to comply with the Data Protection Act. Using micro-louvre technology it operates like tiny vertical blinds - restricting the viewing angle so that only the person seated directly in front of the monitor sees the information displayed. Those viewing from either side see a blank, dark screen. 3M also have a range of privacy filters for use in the office. They are available to fit most LCD and CRT desktop monitors. (3m.com/computerfilters)

ID tracking tags, and special keys that boot up a system preventing unauthorised access, are becoming the norm. Check out one of the latest novel and secure solutions for those senior executives whose signature is required to authorise a payment or whatever when he or she is out of the office. Bottomline Technologies i-Point WebSeries uses several security devices plus high-powered encryption software and puts the whole process onto the Web so that the traveling executive can use any connected PC at any time. But, and this is the clever part, the executive carries a hardware token that has to be plugged into the USB port or the computer being used in order to make that machine compatible with the other security devices. Without the token, nothing works (bottomline.co.uk).

Secure carrying cases are also an essential travel component. Dicota have some of the customised and innovative best for notebooks and pocket computers (dicota.com) while Antler have a diverse selection of general and laptop carrying cases with high-tech protective outer skins and triple locking security systems (antler.co.uk). There are even laptop cases that don't look like laptop cases, see for example, the range from luggage experts Samsonite (samsonite.com).

Finally, don't forget insurance cover. On top of existing insurance policies for loss of kit, stand-alone or add-on policy cover can now be obtained to protect against "cyberliability", a generic term coined in the late 1990s for various types of legal liability arising from business use of the Internet and e-mail, including breach of confidence. For example, try specialist brokers Safeonline (safeonline.com) who offer cover for high-tech and Internet risks.

David Edwards has enjoyed a long career in national newspaper and magazine journalism, working for the Daily Mail, The Times, Sunday Mirror, Sunday Express before becoming a freelance writer specialising in business and office subjects

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