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Security :: Using Hardware to Boost Software Security

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The best way to protect personally identifiable or other confidential information stored on a computer is to encrypt it. However, encryption can negatively impact computer performance and make some applications harder to use, so it is sometimes necessary to use encryption less and instead add an element of hardware configuration into the mix to keep systems running at an optimal level.

Here are some of the ways hardware configurations may be combined with software tools to create a balance between security and usability. 

Laptop Computers

Laptop computers used to collect or process personally identifiable or other confidential information need to be protected to the highest level possible.

  1. Set the laptop up to boot only from the hard drive.
  2. Use strong passwords
  3. Encrypt all personally-identifiable or other confidential information, either by using file- or folder-based encryption rather than whole-disk encryption, or place all personally-identifiable information on a USB drive and encrypt that entire drive. Never store the laptop and USB drive in the same location or carry both in the same piece of luggage.

Desktop Computers

The following standards and guidelines apply:

  1. Set the system up to boot only from the hard drive.
  2. Use strong passwords
  3. The same encryption approaches can be used to protect personally identifiable or other confidential information on desktop computers as described for laptop computers above. Another alternative is to store the information on a secured server rather than on the desktop. The server should be firewalled to block all ports except those required to support the specific applications being used.
  4. If confidential information must be stored on the desktop, the computer should be physically secured to the extent practical. Simply locking the office door may not be sufficient, because a number of individuals on campus may need access, and therefore keys, to all offices in order to do their jobs. Alternatives might include enclosing the system in a security cradle that prevents the removal of the hard drive or installing chassis intrusion detectors to determine if a drive has been removed and reinstalled.


Sensitive information stored on servers should be encrypted. However, it is not practical from a performance standpoint to encrypt large amounts of personally identifiable and other confidential information on a server, so the following standards and guidelines apply:

  1. Servers that store personally identifiable or other confidential information should be placed behind firewalls that block all ports except those necessary to the applications using the confidential information. Planned firewall implementations should be reviewed with Telecommunications & Network Services to ensure essential network diagnostics and management are not disrupted.
  2. All communications between the secured server and the workstations should be encrypted using SFTP and SSH in place of FTP and Telnet, and encryption should be set to “high” when using Remote Desktop Protocol.
  3. Applications that do not require access to confidential information should be moved to a different server.

Additional questions about information security procedures on campus and the protection of personally-identifiable information should be referred to the campus Information Security Office at (707) 826-3815 or

Related Topics

Data Protection