Travel Smart: Keep Your Computer Protected

Seasoned traveler Nick Topitzes of PC/Nametag compares Madison to the cities he visits - and reports back on his findings.

We live in the connected world of smart phones, cell phones and computers. The umbilical cord of electronics keeps us connected to our office, customers, family and friends. It’s great to be able to pull up customer information when traveling, or info that the customer might need for us to secure a sale.

Most of us get dozens (sometimes hundreds) of e-mails a day, many of which require our attention, enable us to make decisions that will help us on the road, or help people back in the office continue with work based on our input or decisions.

Look at the luggage bins on any aircraft today, or the check in line at a hotel — you will see most business travelers a laptop. People are paying bills, planning budgets, looking at medical info — data that you certainly don’t want to share with strangers. But you might be. Data theives will get it by stealing your notebook (or smart phone) or stealing your data wirelessly.

Here are some hints to protect your computer on the road.

  • Keep your computer with you as often as possible. That means keeping your eyes on your briefcase. Do not check your computer with your luggage — even if it is locked. (I can show you how to can get past a zippered lock in 10 seconds. And cutting a lock does happen.) Some people think that they are going to carry on their bags, just to discover that the overhead bins are full or that the bags won’t fit in the luggage bin, under their seat. When this happens, the airline wants you to gate check your bag. Do not leave your computer in the bag. Take it out and carry it on. Most airline personnel are very honest and trustworthy — especially in Madison — but in some cities you will be taking a chance.

  • Do not check your bag at the hotel with your computer in the bag. You must carry it with you if your room is not ready or if you are checking out, but not leaving the hotel yet. Sometimes the hotel security department will hold it for you but they, too, often recommend that you do not leave it in a checked bag. Too many bell stand personnel go in and out, run errands, etc. leaving bags exposed, and sometimes bags are mistakenly mixed.
  • Use the room safe, if your hotel has one. Some safes are small, but if you juggle your computer around, you can often get it into the safe. Make sure the safe says "locked" and always pull the door to make sure. Your maid may be totally honest, but when the door is open while housekeeping attends to the restroom, a thief can sneak in and snatch your notebook in a matter of seconds.
  • Bring a travel lock. If the hotel doesn’t have a safe (I check the website before I go), take a little travel lock that fits into the side of the computer and then wrap the travel lock’s cable around a piece of furniture. Chances are that the thief doesn’t want to make noise breaking a furniture or be spotted moving a chair down the hall. If there isn’t a way to lock it to furniture, I’ll see if I can lock the notebook to the closet pole. Anything to slow a thief down.

Remember that a thief knows all the hotel hiding spaces — under the mattress, under the bed, in a drawer, etc. Your job is to make it hard to sneak in and out in 10 seconds.

Also be extra careful when going through the TSA lines. First rule: don’t forget your computer. Second, be careful that you don’t grab the wrong computer or that someone doesn’t grab yours. Labeling your computer or engraving it is a smart thing to do.

Next week, I’ll discuss tips on protecting your data.

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