What we can learn from Jason Chen’s experience

Not too long ago, Jason Chen, a Gizmodo editor, had all the computer related materials in his residence seized by cops acting on a warrant in relation to Apple’s missing iPhone 4G prototype. If you recall, Jason Chen got hold of the pre-release iPhone from a guy who found it in a California bar. So Jason blogged about it (the iPhone), a move that rubbed Apple the wrong way. Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, then claimed that the phone was stolen.

To cut to the chase, a group from California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT), acting on said warrant to seize any computer-related hardware, software and documentation, raided Jason Chen’s residence and confiscated at least eighteen items. Some of the items that the REACT group left with are:

  • 1 Apple MacBook
  • 2 Apple MacBook Pros
  • 1 Dell XPS410 desktop computer
  • 1 IBM Thinkpad
  • 1 iPad 32 GB
  • 1 Western Digital external HD
  • 2 Seagate external HDs (250 GB and 500 GB)
  • 2 USB flash drives

That’s a total of six computers and five external storage devices. That’s way fewer than what I have around me right now, but that’s beside the point. The point I want to get across with this article is the importance of encrypting your hard drives. Did Jason Chen encrypt those hard drives? I don’t know. My guess is that he did not, but that’s just my guess. If the hard drives in those computers, and the external ones were NOT encrypted, then access to Jason’s data is easy pickings. Picture a bunch of guys combing through your files and folders without your authorization. It’s digital rape.

Debating whether the warrant and seizure of Jason’s personal properties were illegal or not is, as far as Jason’s data is concerned, a waste of time. Fact is, a group of people can now access his data, that is, if he did not encrypt the drives. He has to be worried.

What if he had all the drives encrypted? What if he had taken appropriate steps to enhance the physical security posture of his computers and the external drives? He would have no need to worry knowing that nobody can access his data without first compelling him to divulge the passphrases used to encrypt the hard drives.

It’s a didactic experience for all who own and use a computer. Even if you think that you have nothing to hide, always encrypt your hard drives, always. You should try and give your computer the maximum physical security rating – PARANOID. Why? Because you never know when or whether you will be reliving Jason Chen’s experience.

Disk encryption capabilities is one of the most important features I look for on any Linux or BSD distribution that I review. That’s one of the reasons why I like Fedora’s implementation of disk encryption. No distro does it better or simpler. Take advantage of the security technologies built into the Linux/BSD kernels.

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