Privacy and Cybersecurity Blog

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09 November 2017

Privacy and Cybersecurity 101: How to Encrypt Your Laptop


Last week we told you about the $2.5 million laptop.  What if we told you that fine could have been avoided with one, simple step?  That’s right there would have been no data breach and no $2.5 million fine if the stolen laptop had been encrypted. In this post, we’ll discuss encryption basics, including how to encrypt your laptop.

What is Encryption?

In simple terms, encryption is the method by which all the data on your laptop is turned from a plain text, readable form into an unintelligible format.  Depending on the encryption program you are using, your log-in or password serves as the “key” to unencrypt all the data on your laptop.  Once your laptop is on and you’ve entered your password, the encryption is invisible to you. Your programs and files will work just like they would without encryption.  You can also choose to just encrypt certain files or folders that contain PHI or other sensitive information.

Why Should I Encrypt my Laptop?

Without encryption anyone who gets physical access to your computer can very easily steal all of your files.  It doesn’t matter if you have a good password because a thief can either simply remove the hard drive or boot to a new operating system and quickly and cheaply access all of your files.

If you’re a covered entity under HIPAA and your unencrypted computer is stolen, you will have all the reporting obligations (and potential fines) that go along with a data breach.  In contrast, the theft of an encrypted laptop, while certainly inconvenient, is not a data breach under HIPAA. Even if you are not required to comply with HIPAA, a data breach will likely require you to contact customers, change passwords and bank accounts and may lead to significant bad press (just ask Equifax).  In other words, encrypting your laptop will save you time and money and give you peace of mind.

How do I Encrypt my Laptop?

The good news is that encrypting a laptop is quick and easy.  You do not need to be an IT expert. If your laptop does not come with encryption software, you can purchase encryption software to keep your files secure. For Windows 10 computers with BitLocker, follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to your Control Panel
  2. Click System and Security
  3. Click BitLocker Drive Encryption
  4. Under BitLocker Drive Encryption, click Turn on BitLocker

For Mac users, follow these steps:

  1. Got to Apple menu, System Preferences
  2. Click on Security & Privacy
  3. Click the FileVault tab
  4. Click the Lock button, then enter an administrator name and password
  5. Click Turn On FileVault

For business users, you may not have the necessary permissions to properly encrypt your data and will need to work with your IT department or system administrator to evaluate encryption options. There are no cost option, like BitLocker for Windows, FileVault for Macs and many Anti-Virus vendors offer proprietary solutions as part of their security suite. Talk to your system administrator about what type of Data at Rest Encryption your company has available.

Encryption is an important part of any cybersecurity plan, but it should only be part of a broader, more comprehensive plan. A comprehensive cybersecurity plan will include physical safeguards (locked server room) and training as well as insurance coverage. In future blog posts, we will explore the role of cyber insurance as part of your comprehensive cybersecurity plan and provide you with tips on how to purchase the right insurance plan for you and your business.