Hi Jane, thanks so much for submitting your question!
Travelling with a laptop opens doors to a range of potential security problems, both physical and software based. Despite this, there are many things you can do to protect your data from getting into the wrong hands!
Here are some simple things you can do to help keep your laptop secure when you’re on the go.
Whether you’re on a busy train, or waiting for your flight at the airport lounge, keeping your laptop safe starts with physically protecting it:
Lock it up
Perhaps the most obvious piece of advice, is to make it hard for a thief to walk off with your laptop. First, be sure that your laptop bag is always on your person, or that you use a padlock to keep the zipper securely closed.
Secondly, invest in a Kensington lock. A Kensington lock is a security device that attaches a cable from a computer to a stationary object such as table. Similar to a bicycle lock that attaches a bicycle securely to a railing, this security device deters potential thefts in public areas.
Most notebooks have a Kensington slot, or K-slot, somewhere on the device. One end of the security cable has a lock that attaches to this K-slot with either a keyed lock or a combination padlock. The other end of the cable can be looped around a heavy object such as a desk or table, to keep the notebook in place.
While a Kensington lock may not be ideal for use on a train or tram, if you often find yourself working at cafes, libraries or airports, it’s definitely worth the $20 investment!
Keep your USB sticks secure
If you carry a USB memory stick to make backups of your work or store other data, it’s important to make sure that it is as secure as the data on your laptop.
You can do this the same way that you can encrypt a computer hard drive – using Microsoft’s BitLocker To Go. Once encrypted the memory stick can only be accessed after supplying a password.
An alternative is to use a USB drive with encryption hardware and other security features built in. Companies like IronKey manufacture secure USB drives which self-destruct if the wrong password is supplied 10 times in a row, making it impossible for a thief to access the data it holds.
Speaking of USBs, while you would have to be very unlucky to fall victim, some hackers access data through inserting a USB stick into a laptop to install malicious software.
To prevent hackers from installing malicious software or stealing your data via your USB ports, you could purchase some port covers and tape over them so that your USB ports are inaccessible. Keep in mind, taping your ports- even temporarily, will inhibit you from accessing your USB ports. Therefore, if you use your USB ports often, this could be more of an inconvenience than anything.
Keep tabs on your laptop’s location via software
Whether you’ve accidentally left your laptop on the bus, or someone has stolen it from your hands, there are a number of apps available to help you locate your lost or stolen laptop if it does go missing.
Both Apple and Windows also have their own in-built location tracking software so that you can find your laptop’s location with ease.
If you misplace your Mac, iCloud Find My Mac helps you locate it. Before your Mac goes missing, make sure you set up Find My Mac and know how to locate your Mac using another iOS device.
Once you have connected Find My Mac, you will be able to pinpoint the location of your Mac, sound an alarm, lock it or erase its data completely, all from a remote location.
If you are running Windows 10, the handy feature ‘Find my Device’ can help you pinpoint the position of your laptop or tablet via an on-screen map. By default, Find my Device will be switched off – to turn it on go into Start> Settings>Update and Security > Find my Device. The missing device will then emit a sound and display a message to alert you or someone else as to the exact location.
Unfortunately for PC users, the feature only shows you where your device is, and does not enable you to lock or wipe your device. Luckily, Lojack for Laptops can locate your missing device lock it against unauthorized users and permanently erase files, all from your remote location.
Now that you’ve protected your laptop from being physically tampered with or stolen, here are some ways you can prevent your data from getting into the wrong hands.
Use a password
It almost goes without saying! Passwords are your first line of defence and should be used at all times. While it may be easier to remember, avoid using an easily guessed password such as “password”, “123456”, “abc123”, “qwerty” or “google”. In addition to using strong passwords, ensure that your computer settings are changed so that you have to enter your password every time you turn your laptop on and when it comes out of hibernation, sleep or screensaver mode.
Encrypt your hard drive
If your laptop is stolen there is usually nothing to stop the thief from removing your hard drive and attaching it to another computer. Unfortunately this bypasses any account password protection.
The best way to prevent a data breach is to encrypt your laptop’s hard drives. Encrypted drives can only be accessed after the encryption key is supplied – usually in the form of a PIN, a password or by inserting a USB stick containing the key.
Windows 10, similar to previous versions, includes BitLocker Drive Encryption, a feature that allows you to use encryption on your PC’s hard drive and on removable drives to prevent prying eyes from snooping into your sensitive data.
If you’re using a Mac, FileVault full-disk encryption (FileVault 2) helps prevent unauthorized access to the information on your start up disk.
Use a virtual private network (VPN)
Publicly accessible networks, such as those offered in airports, conference centers and hotel rooms, present a particular security risk to laptop users. This is because hackers can connect to the same networks and eavesdrop on emails or copy passwords as they pass over the network.
The best way to protect your data from interception by other network users is to encrypt it while it is in transit between your computer and your office network, using a company VPN.
If you don’t have access to a company VPN, you can use one from a service provider such as IPVanish or VyprVPN. This ensures your data is encrypted and protected from other users of the public local network.
If you have implemented some of the solutions above, your data is likely to remain secure and out of harm’s way. In the event that your laptop does go missing or get stolen though, will you be able to confidently recover your data?
In order to avoid losing important company files and documents, get in the habit of uploading documents to the cloud.
Thanks to cloud backup solutions, you won’t lose your data- even if your laptop goes missing or is stolen!
All in all, it’s important to practice safe tech habits wherever you are. Always keep an eye on your laptop when you’re out and about and implement processes to prevent data from getting into the wrong hands.
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