Ask Leo! #606 – Laptop Security, Data Backup, Privacy?, and more…


How Can I Keep Data on My Laptop Secure?

I travel a lot, and have sensitive data on the laptop I take with me that I need as part of my job. But I'm in fear of losing the laptop and that this data will fall into the wrong hands. What do you suggest?

I know how you feel. I also have sensitive information on my laptop that I would prefer not to fall into the wrong hands. I can handle losing the laptop, but thinking about the data in the wrong hands … well … that would be bad.

I've used a couple of different solutions over the years. They both share one thing in common: encryption.

Continue Reading: How Can I Keep Data on My Laptop Secure?

What Should I Back Up?

I purchased backup software and even after reading the online documentation, I don't understand what files I should be choosing to back up. And will I burn these to a disc or put them on my hard drive? I have the PC's installation files so I know I don't really need these, but I am so confused.

Good for you for even getting this far. So many people don't bother to back up at all and end up regretting it later when the inevitable disaster happens.

There are several answers to both of your questions. Which to choose depends on what you have, your level of expertise, and how much effort you want to put into understanding and configuring your backup.

As always, there are tradeoffs.

Continue Reading: What Should I Back Up?

Privacy? What Privacy?

Privacy is a huge topic. So huge I can't really tell you exactly what steps to take, what settings to change, what apps to avoid, or what services to choose.

Not only are there infinite options, but the options keep changing.

On top of that, there are about as many opinions on the topic as there are internet users. That makes anything I say just one more voice in the crowd …

… not that that's going to stop me. ðŸ'‚

Continue Reading: Privacy? What Privacy?


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Glossary Term


VSS is an acronym for Volume Snapshot Service. Also known by other names, including Shadow Copy, VSS is a service in Microsoft Windows designed to allow back-up software to take backup copies of files, even though they may be in use and otherwise locked.

Traditionally, a file being used by a running program is locked so other programs cannot access the file at the same time. This most often applies to files that could be written to, since having the file change could cause other programs to get confused were they allowed to simultaneously attempt to access it.

Unfortunately, this type of locking prevents a traditional backup program from being able to back up the file.

To grossly oversimplify, VSS creates a snapshot of the file(s) in question at a point in time – a "shadow copy" – that can be safely backed up, even though the original file might continue to be locked, written to, or otherwise modified.

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Privacy? What Privacy?

Ray Smith writes:

"I've said it over and over: you and I just aren't that interesting as individuals." - Hmmm. In some ways we aren't; in some ways we are. A comment I made in relation to another post.....

To take this a little further, I'll add that most people have little understanding about the extent to which they're tracked. You've got companies collecting social data and aggregating it with financial information, purchase history records obtained via customer loyalty programs as well as numerous other data points/sources (Google: data brokers). You've got companies tracking you across the various devices you use, irrespective of your cookie/privacy/telemetry settings (Google: probabilistic cross-device tracking). You've got companies tracking you in a whole bunch of other ways - some overt, some covert. And all of this happens in what is very much a legal grey area with little legislative control or oversight. You've got no idea which companies track you, no idea what data they hold about you, no control what they do with that data and no ability to correct inaccuracies.

Currently, this tracking is predominantly used for the purpose of serving up targeted advertising, which probably isn't too much of a problem in many peoples' eyes (mine included). However, it can be used for other purposes too. Online retailers already use demographics/profiles in order to adjust prices on a per-customer basis (the price you see may not be the same as the price that I see). Target used purchase history - of things like calcium, magnesium, unscented moisturizers and charcoal-flavored ice cream - to work out which customers were pregnant (Google: Target pregnancy). How much longer before picking up a friend's anti-cancer meds - and putting it on your CVS loyalty card - starts affecting your life insurance premiums? There have even been instances of data brokers selling information to criminals who subsequently used it to fraudulently withdraw millions of dollars from peoples' bank accounts (Google: FTC vs LeapLab).

As I said, privacy is something we need to start paying more attention to.

I'll add too that it's not all doom and gloom. Data collection/big data has the potential to be enormously beneficial. Never before have we had access to so much data about people on such a massive scale, and that data can certainly be put to good use. For example, aggregating the data from fitness tracking devices - such as Fitbits - with social and socioeconomic data pulled from other sources could provide us with an unprecedented level of insight into how a wide range of issues affect our health and wellness.

The bottom line is that pretty much every aspect of our lives is recorded in a database somewhere: where we shop, what we buy, how much we exercise, what our heart rates are, how many flights of stairs we climb in a day, how much money we have, how much we owe, who we're friends with, what we read, what we search for, etc., etc., etc. And all of that data is subject to nebulous privacy policy policies - that companies can change without notice - and is subject to be sold, traded and aggregated, either in anonymized or non-anonymized form. We need to start thinking about how we want that data to be used, who we want to be able to access it and put a proper legislative framework in place to ensure that it isn't misused.

As Spider-Man once said, 'With big data comes big responsibility' (okay, maybe that's not exactly what he said, but it's nonetheless true).

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Posted: June 28, 2016 in: 2016
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