Laptops are easily lost or stolen and in order to protect your emails, web passwords, encryption keys, etc., you should really think about encrypting (at least) your home directory.

If you happen to have /home on a separate partition already (/dev/hda5 in this example), then it's a really easy process:

  1. Copy your home directory to a temporary directory on a different partition:

    mkdir /homebackup  
    cp -a /home/* /homebackup
  2. Encrypt your home partition:

    umount /home  
    cryptsetup -h sha256 -c aes-cbc-essiv:sha256 -s 256 luksFormat /dev/hda5  
    cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/hda5 chome  
    mkfs.ext3 -m 0 /dev/mapper/chome
  3. Add this line to /etc/crypttab:

    chome    /dev/hda5    none    luks,timeout=30
  4. Set the home partition to this in /etc/fstab:

    /dev/mapper/chome /home ext3 nodev,nosuid,relatime 0 2
  5. Copy your home data back into the encrypted partition:

    mount /home  
    cp -a /homebackup/* /home  
    rm -rf /homebackup

That's it. Now to fully secure your laptop against theft, you should think about an encrypted backup strategy for your data...