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Enable BIOS Passwords

Though far from convenient, the most powerful form of system security is a boot password in the system's BIOS setup program. When you enable this password, the computer won't boot up until it receives the password, regardless of whether it is booting from the hard disk or from a floppy, and regardless of the operating system installed.

Having a BIOS password isn't foolproof: A determined person can disable the password by opening the system's case and resetting a jumper or disconnecting the battery that powers the CMOS chip that stores the BIOS settings. Many system manufacturers also create default backdoor passwords that may be publicly available. And if someone really wants to see what's on your hard disk, they can just yank it out of the computer.

If you forget your BIOS password, your computer's manufacturer should be able to give you the backdoor password, or at least walk you through removing the forgotten one. It helps if you're the registered owner; if you buy a used system, you may want to notify the manufacturer of the ownership change.

Caution: If you rely on your computer to always be on and available (because it's a server of some kind or functions as a fax machine, for example), setting a BIOS password might lock you out. If the power goes out temporarily, or if Junior wanders by and hits the Reset button, your PC will just sit there waiting for a password, rather than booting back up again. Some modern BIOSs overcome this problem with a boot-to-standby mode that lets the computer boot normally, but locks the keyboard until you enter the password.

Since there are a variety of systems and BIOS types out there, I can't give the exact steps for setting the boot-up password. Check your PC's user manual for instructions on starting and using the BIOS (or CMOS) setup program. On most systems, pressing a particular key or combination of keys during the boot process starts the program. Often, a message displayed during boot-up tells you what these keys are--usually Delete, Esc, or F1. Once in the program, look for a security settings page, then follow the on-screen prompts for entering the password, saving the new settings, and restarting the system.

Set a BIOS Setup Password


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Inside This Article

Lock Down Your PC
 Enable BIOS Passwords
 Set a BIOS Setup Password
 Make Windows 9x Semisecure
 Third-Party Security for Windows 9x
 Secure Windows NT
 Encrypt Your Files and Folders
 Secure the Network
 Don't Forget Mobile Security

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