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Implementing Security for Mobile Computers
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ware tokens installed inside the laptop s case. The agent contacts the tracking service periodically with information about where the computer is located, on the Internet or physically. If the computer is reported stolen, the tracking service can wait for the device to contact it. When contacted by the agent running on the device, the tracking service can retrieve the information about the location of the device. You can then give this information to law enforcement officials to attempt to track the stolen computer. Obviously, not all laptops need this degree of protection. This type of protection is very expensive. You might want to consider hardware tracking services on laptops that you know could hold information that, if compromised, might result in the loss of human life. For example, such hardware tracking services might be more appropriate for laptops that are used by government agencies, law enforcement agencies, or mission-critical assets, such as offline root Certification Authorities (CAs). One other type of hardware protection for computers that you should consider is to remove removable media drives from the laptop. One of the most common methods of breaking into a computers that have been stolen or otherwise taken control of psychically is to boot the computer by using a bootable floppy disk or CD. Windows is not immune to this type of attack. Although this is by no means a foolproof security measure, by removing these drives, you make compromising the laptop computer much more difficult and time-consuming. If you remove the floppy disk and CD-ROM drives from a computer, you should also disable the use of USB ports in the BIOS. Otherwise, the attacker might be able to attach a USB floppy or CD-ROM drive to the computer and use it as a boot device.
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One way that you can protect information contained on a laptop and protect account information stored on the laptop from being used to attack your organization s network if the computer is stolen is to prevent the operating system from loading. You can do this by using BIOS passwords or the Windows System Key feature (Syskey). Although different BIOS versions have different names for passwords, most BIOS versions on laptop computers have two types of passwords that you can install: boot passwords and setup passwords. Both password types are configured in the BIOS. A boot password prevents the BIOS from transferring control to the operating system installed on the hard drive or any other type of media, including bootable floppy disks and CDs, without entering the password. A boot password does not prevent a user or attacker from entering the BIOS configuration; however, in newer BIOS versions, you must enter the existing password to change the boot password. BIOS setup passwords prevent a user or attacker from entering the BIOS configuration and changing information stored in the BIOS, such as the boot password or the order of precedence for boot devices. There are only two ways to reset the BIOS setup password and boot password: by entering the existing password, or by clearing the CMOS. To clear the CMOS memory on a laptop, you must disassemble the laptop and remove the CMOS battery, which completely clears the
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BIOS settings. Although BIOS passwords will not completely prevent an attacker from booting the computer, under most conditions, these passwords will buy network administrators enough time to disable the user s user account and any other accounts that need to be disabled. The use of BIOS passwords also may give the user enough time to have accounts that protect important information disabled or have their password changed for persistently stored credentials on the laptop. You can also use the Windows System Key utility to prevent the operating system from being loaded by unauthorized people. To do so, set System Key to use Mode 2 or Mode 3 (explained in the following list). You can configure System Key by typing syskey at the command prompt. Only members of the Administrators group can initialize or change the system key level. The system key is the master key used to protect the password database encryption key. System keys have three modes:
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Mode 1 Uses a machine-generated random key as the system key and stores the key on the local system. Because the key is stored on the operating system, it allows for unattended system restart. By default, System Key Mode 1 is enabled during installation on all computers running Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Windows 2000, and Windows XP. Mode 2 Uses a machine-generated random key and stores the key on a floppy disk. The floppy disk with the system key is required for the system to start before the system is available for users to log on. The operating system will not load unless the floppy disk is in the floppy drive. When System Key is enabled in Mode 2, the operating system will never be able to be loaded if the floppy disk is damaged or lost, unless you have previously created a copy of the disk. Mode 3 Uses a password chosen by the administrator to derive the system key. The operating system will prompt for the system key password when the system begins the initial startup sequence, before the system is available for users to log on. The system key password is not stored anywhere on the system; instead, an MD5 hash of the password is used as the master key to protect the password encryption key. If the password is forgotten, the operating system will be rendered unbootable.
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Setting the System Key to Mode 2 or Mode 3 can greatly increase the security of the operating system and the password-based keys it contains, such as the contents of the Security Accounts Manager (SAM) database and Local Security Authority (LSA) secrets. Caution
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Because there is no way to recover from a damaged or lost floppy disk or a forgotten System Key password, you should implement System Key Mode 2 or Mode 3 with great caution. Develop a secure method of archiving system keys if you decide to implement System Key Mode 2 or Mode 3 on your network. Because there are no methods of centrally managing system keys, this task can be more difficult than it first appears.
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