PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am


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After all that recent nonsense about compromising photographs having been taken off a computer, there must be an effective way to protect data on a machine. Some computers have fingerprint readers that work when the machine starts up but are there other easy-to-use options?

Ricky, Quarry Bay

DQ: Your reference to fingerprints should give you a hint about where to look. There are plenty of USB flash drives that can only be accessed via a fingerprint. These are relatively simple to use and require little in the way of installation. They tend to work mainly on Windows-based personal computers, not on Macs or Linux machines. Some fingerprint devices are examined at

It is possible to encrypt folders and files but that requires you to remember another password, which, presumably, is something you want to avoid. Another possibility is Ironkey (, which provides military-grade hardware encryption on a USB flash drive. Available in 1-, 2- and 4-gigabyte capacities, the Ironkey USB drives are effective. Instead of creating a password file on your computer or using the same password for everything, the Ironkey drive can be used to store and remember your passwords. If you make 10 incorrect guesses at the password, it will destroy all the data stored within. The drive works only with Windows XP and Vista.

I am interested in buying a tough notebook computer, preferably something the British Army's Special Air Service Regiment might use. I want something I can go trekking with and not have to worry about breaking if it is dropped. Which machines can I consider and how much would they cost?

Name and address supplied

DQ: Tough means different things to different people. There are a few personal computers advertised as 'tough'. Some no doubt fit the description but I would be reluctant to test them. Have a look at so-called 'ruggedised' laptops in online magazine Rugged PC Review ( and the websites of computer makers Dell, Panasonic, General Dynamics Itronix ( and Getac (

The products from Dell and Panasonic will appeal to the general notebook computer user who wants some extra strength and protection. But at General Dynamics Itronix and Getac you are entering serious territory. Prices for General Dynamics Itronix notebooks start at about US$4,500. Getac simply advises 'ring us' - code that means if you must ask how much the computer costs, you probably cannot afford it.

I imagine those computers all perform well but I advise you to take a long look at their specifications. Most of these devices intentionally run a bit behind the state-of-the-art laptops. Their manufacturers prefer to use components that have been well tested, so you are unlikely to get the latest technology. Still, if you think you are going to bang a laptop about, these devices are suitable.