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Protecting Your Technology on the Road

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More than 600,000 laptops were reported stolen in the year 2004. We have become so dependent on our portable laptops, cell phones and BlackBerry devices that one can't afford to lose these devices or, worse yet, lose the data they contain. Last year brought about a number of horror stories on the news, like the theft of a U.S. Department of Justice employee whose computer had the names and credit card numbers of 80,000 of its employees, or an MCI employee whose computer had the names and social security numbers of 16,000 of its employees. When you think about the information that is stored on your PC, these stories make you clutch your laptop.

Traveling with your laptop and other portable devices seems to pose the highest risk for theft. Here are simple steps you can take to avoid losing your portable devices.

Keep your belongings with you at all times. We have all been tempted to drop everything in a chair at the airport gate while we get food, use the facilities or talk to the counter agent to get out of the dreaded middle seat. This is the perfect time for a potential thief to move into the next seat and remove your laptop or PDA from your bag. Most other passengers aren't paying attention or they may not even be concerned, because how are they to know that the person digging in your bag isn't traveling with you?

Keep your eyes on your belongings. The security checkpoint is another place at the airport where it is difficult to keep your bags with you. This is especially true if you purchase a last-minute ticket or made a last-minute change to your ticket. The "S" that is stamped all over your ticket invites you and your belongings to a special screening and a full pat-down by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). While one TSA employee has his hands all over you, generally another has his hands on your stuff. Make sure that your laptop and telephone make it back into your bags before you leave the area. Also, the TSA is permitted to open a computer to make sure it is operational. You are allowed to speak up and let them know how to open and turn on the device. It is better to say something than have it damaged while they attempt to open your laptop. Another note: Always try to keep the battery charged in the event they want you to power-up your laptop to insure it is operational.

Another problem in the security line is the number of laptops going through the scanners. All passengers are required to pull their laptops out of your bag to go through the scanners separately. Many laptops look alike. It is very easy to get them mixed up, especially when the TSA personnel are pulling articles out of the line to re-scan. It is a good idea to have something on your laptop that identifies it as yours. I've seen many people who tape business cards to the front, but any type of sticker will work to help you recognize and pick up the correct laptop.

Avoid using a computer bag. I know they are convenient and have all the zippers and pouches to store the peripheral devices such as plugs, connectors and disk drives, but they are also a call to would-be thieves: "I'm a computer—come take me!" Use a non-obvious bag such as a briefcase or padded backpack. The backpack is better for your back and shoulders anyway!

Never keep your passwords or logins in the same bag as your computer. While it is frustrating to be required to have 40 different passwords, don't make it easy for a thief to get client or personal information. It is always recommended that you not write any passwords down, but trying to remember them all isn't realistic. If you must write them down, keep them in your wallet or purse and away from your computer.

Encrypt your data. If your computer contains sensitive data—and nearly everyone would consider items on their laptop to be sensitive—you should encrypt it. If you use Windows XP, the encryption program is already there for you. It, of course, is not a guarantee that a thief won't get to it, but it may slow them down or frustrate them enough to keep them out. Another good suggestion is to always back up your computer. With a backup disk, you can be up and back in business quickly.

Lock it up! One of the most common places to "lose" your laptop or telephone is in your own hotel room. There are too many people that have access to your room. You should never leave your laptop in your hotel room unless you have it locked up in the safe. I know it is a pain to carry it around with you, so if you have to leave it behind, put the "do not disturb" sign on your door. That won't always stop a determined thief, but it does cut down on the number of hotel staff that walk in and out of your room during the day.

Use laptop security. There are devices that you can purchase such as a laptop security cable, which can be used to lock your laptop to a heavy table or other piece of furniture in your hotel room. There are also tracing programs that you can purchase and install on your laptop. These programs can report the exact physical location of your computer as soon as the thief uses the laptop to connect to the Internet. These programs include CyberAngel, zTrace and ComputracePlus.

Many of these tips aren't just for traveling. Technology devices also disappear from offices on a daily basis. It would be nice to think that we know and trust all of the people who we work with, but that isn't always the case. Many office buildings have cleaning and maintenance staff, temporary and new employees float in and out of your offices, and visitors and clients come through on a daily basis. You don't know all of these people, and after one of them has taken off with your laptop, you are most likely never going to see them—or your belongings—again. Most office desks or file cabinets have a drawer or drawers that lock. Use them! The best advice is to pay attention to your surroundings and be vigilant about how you transport and store your technology devices both while traveling and in the office.

Journal Date: 
Saturday, April 1, 2006
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