A stolen laptop puts your cloud at risk
A stolen laptop puts your cloud at risk

It is possible to steal all the data you have saved on the Internet from a stolen hard drive. To do this, hackers would need to steal the disk, the disk image, Windows credentials, Wi-Fi information, registry and browser history, and then use that to access cloud data.

That may sound like a lot of steps. But once a thief physically has possession of your PC, the only item on that list that's potentially hard to crack is your Windows credentials (your user name and password) -- and even that can be quite easy to access on older computers.

On pre-Windows 7 machines, system passwords can be guessed by "brute force" applications that automatically test every combination. That's because Microsoft did hackers a favor by limiting the number of possibilities.

Older Windows versions store your password by breaking it up smaller chunks. Brute force programs can go to work on multiple chunks at once, cracking even very long passwords fairly quickly.

"If you are using XP, our ability to recover your password is about 100%. That's just how it is," Elie Bursztein, a researcher in the Stanford University Security Lab, said at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference last week.

Last updated August 09 2011: 6:59 PM ET
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