A laptop belonging to a Secret Service agent was stolen on Thursday reportedly exposing details about Donald Trump, the Trump Tower, and an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, according to ABC News. The devices of the average consumer don’t carry such sensitive diplomatic secrets— but we should all be keeping ours just as secure.
“The U.S. Secret Service can confirm that an employee was the victim of a criminal act in which our Agency issued laptop computer was stolen,” the Secret Service said in a statement.
ABC News reported the laptop was stolen from a female agent’s vehicle in New York City during a break-in. Police are monitoring video evidence and “expect to quickly identify the suspect,” the report said.
Many Americans aren’t taking even the most basic precautions to secure their devices: 28% of smartphone owners don’t use a screen lock code or other security features to secure access, according to a study from Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The majority of Americans — 86% — keep track of passwords just by memorizing them, and 25% say they use insecure passwords because they are easier to remember, the same study found.
Mark Weinstein, a privacy advocate and chief executive officer of social network MeWe, said good password practices are the foundation of keeping devices secure. “The first line of defense of any laptop is just the basics — and you don’t have to be Secret Service to do it,” he said. “Set up your passwords so nobody can get into the computer and encrypt the hard drive.”
Hard drive encryption can be done with the click of a button on most laptops. Mac users can do so by opening “System Preferences” and clicking through to the “Security & Privacy” icon. There, they will find the “FileVault” tab. Simply press “turn on FileVault and your computer will be more secure. Windows uses BitLocker for disk encryption, which is only available in the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7, and the Enterprise and Pro editions of Windows 8 and 8.1, according to The Intercept. Right-click on “C drive” in Windows Explorer to see if BitLocker can be activated.
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These precautions are simple to take and better-secure devices immediately. However, it isn’t a guarantee the device is secure, Weinstein said. As we saw with the case of the iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California, encryption can be broken. The FBI found a way into the device after Apple refused to unlock it. Most Americans supported the FBI: 46% believe that the government should be able to access encrypted communications when investigating crimes, according to the Pew study.
“Almost anything can be hacked,” Weinstein said. “If a physical device is stolen, with enough time and the right hackers, most devices can be cracked.”
People who believe their device has been compromised can sometimes wipe it clean remotely. iPhones, for example, offer customers that option through the “Find My iPhone” feature. In the case of the Secret Service stolen laptop, the hard drive could also be remotely wiped clean, according to ABC. Still, Trump’s administration is reportedly in hot water over the theft.
“It raises the question of how many government employees have access to this type of information,” Weinstein said. “This should be contained to a very small number of people.”