In a mobile computer equipped with Wi-Fi, you can (and should) password protect operating systems such as Windows XP. This makes it a great deal more difficult (although not always impossible) to boot up your computer without knowing the password.
You can also set a password in the BIOS of most computers. This provides a better level of security than an operating system password, but it is also far from absolute.
For technical information about the security level provided by BIOS passwords, and what is involved in cracking them, see http://www.heise.de/ctenglish/98/08/194/. The article also tells how the author used BIOS password protection as a disciplinary measure with his 10-year-old daughter ("We used to give them a slap on the wrist, now we lock them out of their computer!") and how easy it was for his daughter to circumvent the measure.
To set a BIOS password, you must enter the BIOS screens for your computer. This is done during the boot-up process when you've turned the computer on, generally by pressing a key (such as the Delete key) or key combination while the computer is booting up.
I've already mentioned that you should take care to pick a password that can't be easily guessed by someone who knows a little about you. In addition, proper password management requires some other steps, including
The long and short of this is that as an individual with a Wi-Fiequipped mobile computer, you should certainly password protect it before you take it on the road. (Don't forget the password!) But for an organization, real costs are involved in password protection. These include implementing password management procedures, as well as dealing with the inevitable user who loses his password.
In other words, even a seemingly easy security solution such as password protection has its costs (at least for an organization). So with any security mechanism, it's worth toting up the value of the data that needs to be protected and seeing if the trouble is worth it.
If you set a BIOS password, make sure that you don't lose it. Despite the various back doors described in the Web reference that I mentioned previously, retrieving a lost BIOS password can be very difficult (and impossible in some cases).
Creating a Password in Windows XP
You can easily password protect your mobile computer. To do so, open the User Accounts applet from the Windows Control panel.
In User Accounts, click your logon name. Next, click Create a Password. The Create a Password for Your Account pane of the User Accounts window, shown in Figure 17.1, will open.
Figure 17.1. It's easy to create a password for your user account.
Enter and confirm your password. You can also provide a password hint if you'd like. (This will appear on the Windows Welcome screen when your computer boots up.)
Click Create Password to accept the new password.