Travel Smart: Protect Your Data on the Road

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

Last week, we discussed ways to keep your computer or smart phone safe while traveling. Now, let’s talk about protecting your data.

If you’re using a computer or a smart phone, it is imperative that you have a password to protect your data. I have lost my smart phone twice — and recovered it once. In some cases your office can wipe it clean remotely but if you have stored things on your smart phone, anyone who finds it will be able to view it. A password can minimize that.

Your laptop should be password-protected for the same reasons. You can even get a device and software to locate where your computer is if it is stolen — LoJack for computers.

If you carry sensitive data, you might want to encrypt your files — it’s not hard to do — or put it on a separate USB drive (as long as it is password-protected in case you lose it.)

If you’re using a public computer at an Internet cafe, remember to remove the Web address for your e-mail. Of course, your e-mail should have a password, but everything you transmit is viewable to others.

If you are using the hotel wireless or a hotspot, be aware that others can see and steal your data. For some data thieves, it’s a game, and in some cases a competitor may just not be as honest as your company. Using a computer in a hot spot leaves you wide open to data theft (the same with using a computer in an Internet cafe).

When using those hotspots, like those in coffee shops, that nicely dressed man at the table next to you sipping his coffee and intently working on his notebook may be intently working on seeing what he can pick up on your notebook by hooking into the same frequency. Paying a bill by credit card? He now has your number, expiration date and security code. Writing a proposal for a customer? He just might sell it to a competitor.

Ideally, you will use a VPN — a virtual private network — that enables you to connect with your office server and reduces the risk that others can see it by using encryption.

In your hotel, be sure you are using legitimate connections. Here is a trap I fell into: Once I checked into a hotel and looked for the wireless network. The name of the network I found was “hotel.” I connected and then had an uncomfortable feeling. I called the hotel desk and discovered that they did not offer wireless. There were no other hotels around. Someone in an adjacent building set up a wireless network to get access to people’s data. Always check to make sure your hotel offers wireless and then find out what it is called.

Using a computer is like walking through a neighborhood. Be street smart.

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