Laptop and Mobile Device Travel Security
Devices such as Cell Phones, Laptops, Netbooks and PDAs are mobile in nature and easily lost or stolen. This puts the information stored on them at an increased risk of being compromised. These devices are a primary target for thieves, who steal them for resale or to obtain the information stored on them. If your mobile device is lost or stolen, your personal information or sensitive business information could be exposed.
The average business laptop is thought to contain information worth over $500,000! Therefore, as the custodian of these devices, you are the first line of defence when it comes to ensuring they are appropriately protected. Follow these useful steps when travelling, to help physically protect your laptop and other mobile devices, and to safeguard the information stored on them.
There are some preparatory security steps you can take before even setting foot on the road with laptops or other mobile devices.
Encryption, Encryption, Encryption…
- It can’t be stated enough. Ensure all sensitive personal or business information stored on laptops or mobile devices is encrypted to prevent information compromise if lost or stolen.
- Encrypt the whole device (full disk encryption) or simply encrypt the sensitive files or folders (file encryption). TrueCrypt (http://truecrypt.org) is an excellent free, open source encryption solution that is fairly easy to use.
- Ensure there is up to date antivirus and firewall software installed and running, and perform a full scan to ensure no viruses are detected.
- Obtain and install the latest security patches and updates for all software installed on your laptop, to ensure protection from known software vulnerabilities.
Backup and Sanitize
- Ensure all critical information stored on laptops or mobile devices is backed up before travelling; guaranteeing information recovery in the event of device loss, theft or hardware failure.
- Only store information that is needed. It is unlikely that you will need to store many years’ worth of sensitive company or personal information, so don’t.
- Note down serial numbers, makes and models of all devices and leave these behind to help determine ownership and expedite recovery in the event of loss or theft.
Lock it Up
- Obtain a cable lock to physically secure laptops when travelling and to deter thieves. A cable lock fits into the Universal Security Slot (USS) on the laptop.
- Use the lock if you must leave a laptop unattended. This includes your office, as laptops are frequently stolen within office environments.
- When locking laptops, ensure they are attached to something physically secure. It is no good attaching them to a table leg which can be lifted up and the lock (and laptop) removed.
Bag and No Tag
- Avoid putting laptops in a bag that screams ‘laptop inside’, as this is a homing beacon for thieves.
- Bags should not display visible markings or labelling, such as business cards or company logos, as this provides clues to the value of the contents or information inside.
- Do not leave written down usernames or passwords, or your business VPN access token, in the same bag as your laptop, as this could provide unauthorised access to information.
- Ensure all zippers and pockets are closed, and consider using small padlocks or cable ties to secure them. This will help ensure no one can take anything out, or put anything in, without you noticing.
- Consider marking laptops or other mobile devices with some form of permanent marking to clearly identify them as your devices. This is useful when claiming your laptop from an airport x-ray scanner and helps prevent anyone from ‘mistakenly’ picking it up.
- Do not mark with company names, business cards or other personally identifiable information. However, a telephone number may be useful for recovery purposes in the event of loss.
When travelling you need to be especially careful to secure laptops and other mobile devices, as there are plenty of opportunities that thieves know and exploit. As a rule, know where your devices are at all times and do not let them out of your sight when on the move.
- Never check laptops or mobile devices with your luggage, as they will likely get damaged and may be stolen. Always ensure they remain in your carry-on baggage.
- While at the airport, keep an eye on your devices. Avoid putting your laptop bag on the floor and, if you do, hold it between or rest it against your legs to remain sub-consciously aware of it at all times.
- When on a plane, avoid placing laptops or mobile devices in the overhead bin, where there is the potential for them to be damaged or stolen, especially when the aircraft is full. Instead, keep them under the seat in front of you.
- At security checkpoints, such as airport x-ray scanners, it is extremely important to keep an eye on your laptop and mobile devices at all times. This is the one time when you are forcibly separated from your belongings, presenting an opportune moment for thieves.
- Do not walk through the body screener until you have seen your laptop and mobile devices go into the x-ray machine, as this will prevent theft before they go through.
- Try to wait for the person in front of you to go through the body screener before you allow your devices to go through the x-ray machine, as this will prevent them sitting around when they come out.
- If you are selected for searching, request to pick up your belongings first – do not leave them sitting out, as you will be distracted by the search.
Information Search Requests
- Some countries, such as the US, have laws that allow for searching of information held on mobile devices. If you wish to proceed on your journey, you will likely have to comply with requests, which may include a simple on the spot information search or a seizure of devices.
- If the device is encrypted and the agent requests your password, type the password in rather than give it to them.
- If your device is seized, ask to see the agent’s ID and note down the name and number. Always request a receipt and report the seizure to your business or the device owner as soon as possible.
- When working in crowded places; avoid working on sensitive information or sit with your back to a wall and/or use a laptop privacy screen. This will prevent ‘shoulder surfing’, ensuring no one can view sensitive information displayed on screen.
- Avoid conducting sensitive phone calls in crowded public areas where everyone will be able to hear your conversation.
- Look out for your devices in distracting situations, such as checking out of a hotel or buying a coffee with your credit card. Try not to lose contact with your laptop bag during these times and never leave your laptop or mobile devices unattended, even for a short while.
- Never leave your laptop or other mobile devices in full view on the seat of a car, as this makes them a tempting target for thieves.
- Always lock them out of sight, in the trunk or boot. For extra security, you may also wish to cable lock laptops to the inside of the car.
- If you are leaving your laptop or mobile devices in your car, place them in the trunk or boot before reaching your destination, so that no one sees you doing it when you park.
- Do not leave your laptop or mobile devices unsecured in your hotel room, as hotel rooms are not safe places at all – you are not the only person with a key!
- If you must leave them unattended in your room, always store them inside the room safe. If there is no room safe, lock your laptop out of sight using a cable lock.
- Never leave laptops or other mobile devices with hotel personnel or the concierge.