Passport? Check. Exchanged currency? Check. Carry-on bag efficiently packed? Done! Data secured? Ummm…
While the Internet has made it a lot easier to attend virtual meetings with global offices or communicate with off-shore vendors, there are still instances when you’ll be required to travel for business. And if you’re like most business travellers, your laptop and smartphone will always be close at hand.
We’ve put together a checklist of things you need to do to protect your data while you’re travelling for business.
- Backup before you leave. If you’re like most of us, you keep “everything” on your laptop. So if haven’t backed up your data in a while, be sure to do so before you leave on your trip. Your business automatically backs up server files? That’s great – but keep in mind that the files you have on your desktop may not be included. Either upload them to the server before you go or store them on an external drive and lock it up in your desk drawer.
- Make sure your laptop has a virtual private network (VPN) installed. A VPN creates a secure connection between your local computer and a remote computer (i.e. your company’s network) via the Internet. Any information that’s sent while you’re using a VPN connection is encrypted so that even if information is intercepted by an outsider, it can’t be read.
- Ensure sensitive information is protected with adequate encryption. Many enterprises will not provide employees with a laptop without full disk encryption today. This ensures that, if the laptop is stolen, the thief only gets to have the hardware and not the data stored on it. If you don’t have full disk encryption, you can still use commercial and open source tools to encrypt just the files or folders that are most sensitive to you, your company and your clients.
- Ensure anti-virus and firewall software is installed and up-to-date. This applies to both your laptop computer as well as your smartphone. There are a number of good mobile security and anti-virus apps available for mobile devices. Where possible, ensure you have enabled your local firewall in the operating system on your computer. This is another layer of defence to resist attackers connecting to your computer.
- Never leave your laptop or mobile device unattended. Not even if you’re setting it down “just for a second”. Thousands of laptops and mobile devices are lost or stolen at airports alone each year – don’t let yours be one of them. If you’re staying at a hotel and you’re heading out for dinner, store your laptop out of sight in your hotel room (even better if you can fit it in your room safe).
- Use password protection during inactivity time-outs. Whether you’re working on a PC, Mac or Linux computer, you can set a screen saver password which locks your computer whenever you’re using the screen saver (it should be the same password you use to log on to the operating system). Be sure to enable password protection on your mobile devices as well.
- Make sure your passwords are extra strong. While you should already be using strong passwords, the fact that you’re travelling is a good reason to update them. A strong password should be at least eight characters long, shouldn’t contain your name or company name (in fact, avoid using any complete words in your password altogether). Make sure it’s completely different from your previous password. And finally, use a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. If you have a 4-digit password for your mobile phone, don’t use easy combinations like 1234 or 1111.
- Don’t use public Internet connections to do your online banking or shopping. While it might be tempting to take advantage of a coffee shop’s or airport’s free Wi-Fi to catch up on your online banking or make a quick purchase these internet Access Points are not always trustworthy and may not even be provided by a legitimate business.
- Switch off your wireless connection when not in use. Your computer will seek out Wi-Fi access points and broadcast all the ones it knows and try to associate with them. Don’t make it easier for anyone around you to gather that information. Prevent illicit access to your mobile devices by disabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when they’re not in use. Put your phone on airplane mode to disable connectivity altogether.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Situational awareness is always important for your own safety when travelling. Watch out for that ‘shoulder surfer’ trying to see your smartphone PIN or password. Don’t reveal your company or personal information on your screen if possible by using a privacy screen. Avoid carrying your laptop in dangerous areas or where others aren’t already doing the same. Don’t stand out as a target!
- Research the destination before you go. Should you even be bringing those high tech valuables with you? Consider looking for a means to send the data ahead securely so that it’s at your destination when you arrive without risking losing it along the way.