Jump to content
xisto Community
Sign in to follow this  

Useful Laptop Tips (traveling & Mobile Security)

Recommended Posts

Here are some tips on how to pack your laptop safely and not having to worry about it getting damage while flying in a airplane if you do not have it as a carry-on and don't want it to get crushed under hundreds of other bags. There is a part 2 to this article I will have to wait till it comes out to add it to this topic.


My friend Mary has been known to do some crazy things. Last summer, she won a hat contest by affixing pieces of fried chicken to a straw bonnet and accessorizing it with biscuit earrings. But before boarding a recent flight, Mary did something particularly crazy: She packed her laptop in her checked bag, a canvas duffel that also contained shoes, clothes, and toiletries. "What's the big deal?" Mary asked me. Her notebook, an ultraportable Sony Vaio TX, was enclosed in a padded envelope. Wasn't that enough protection? At this point, I hasten to add that Mary wasn't born yesterday. She's a savvy entrepreneur whose small business has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal. Still, her laptop packing strategy leaves much to be desired. So why shouldn't you pack your notebook in a checked suitcase when you travel by plane? Here are three excellent reasons.


1. Your Notebook Could Be Damaged


You may have taken the utmost care in packing your notebook. However, what happens to your suitcase and its contents once you check it is out of your control.


"Airlines often load bags on top of one another in the cargo hold of your flight," warns the Transportation Security Administration on its Web site. "Your baggage may be loaded with hundreds of other bags, with possibly several on top of yours. Hundreds of pounds of pressure in conjunction with high altitude and the resulting low temperatures" while the plane is in flight "create an ideal environment for damaged laptops," according to the site. "These conditions crack cases and damage screens among other things. For these reasons, we recommend that you keep your laptop in your carry-on bag when traveling."


2. Your Notebook Could Be Stolen


While I'm sure the vast majority of baggage handlers and airport screeners are honest, all you need is one dishonest opportunist who spots your laptop in an X-ray screening.


For instance, on two different trips, I packed low-cost electronic items in my checked baggage--mainly iPod accessories--and found them missing when I unpacked. (Needless to say, I no longer pack any electronics in my checked suitcase.)


Also, keep in mind some thieves are more interested in a laptop's hard drive data than the computer itself. The drive may include information, such as social security numbers, that can be sold or exploited for identity theft. Do you really want to risk having data like that fall into the wrong hands?


3. Your Notebook Could Get Lost


If you've packed a notebook in your checked bag and the airline loses that bag, you're out of luck. Oh, and do you think the airlines will reimburse you for that laptop? They probably won't.


On U.S. domestic flights, there's a $2800 compensation limit per person total (not per bag) for lost or damaged baggage. And so, in theory, if you've packed a $3000 laptop in your checked bag and the bag goes missing in action, you're out at least $200. For international trips, airline liability is capped at $1500 per passenger.


However, many airlines specifically exclude computer equipment from their liability--meaning they don't have to pay you anything if your laptop is lost, stolen, or broken during a flight.


For example, go to Delta's Declaring Baggage Value page and you'll read this policy: "Delta is not responsible or liable for cash, camera equipment, commercial effects, computer software and equipment, electronic equipment, fragile articles, jewelry, lifesaving medication, negotiable papers, irreplaceable business documents, works of art or other similar valuable items contained in checked or unchecked baggage."


Other airlines have similar policies, including American Airlines, Continental Airlines, United, and US Airways.


What Are Your Options?


If you must pack your notebook in a checked suitcase--as some travelers were forced to do last summer, following an alleged terrorist threat--then you'll need to take precautions.


* Back up your data before you begin your trip, and make sure it's password protected at a minimum. Consider removing your laptop's hard drive and packing it (carefully) in your carry-on bag.

* Pack the notebook in a shock-resistant case, such as an Otterbox, or buy a ruggedized notebook.

* Put a TSA-approved lock on your checked bag to reduce the chances that an unscrupulous baggage handler will steal your laptop.

* Look into buying insurance for your notebook from the likes of Safeware.

* Consider using a service that tracks, locates, and recovers stolen laptops, such as LoJack for Laptops ($50 a year).


For more advice, plus info on ruggedized notebooks, read "Protecting Your Laptop, Part 1" and "Protecting Your Laptop, Part 2."

The next set of tips has to with keeping your computer safe when at an office or when your physically not attach to it. From what I scanned through the article itssome pretty basic stuff but we all know how arrogant we become when we think its not going to happen to me if I just leave for 5 minutes or leave it in my car for 10. Most of us know or read articles about government laptops getting stolen especially the ones with sensitive data so hopefully this small little reminder will get you thinking about making sure that laptop of yours is secured.




Please don't take this personally: You, dear reader, are the weakest link. And sometimes you're also a sitting duck.


That notebook you carry around, full of corporate secrets and private customer data? When it comes to security, you're a disaster waiting to happen. Companies spend tons of money protecting data and computers on site. But when you take an unprotected laptop--or other information-containing device--on the road, you're opening the door to all kinds of security mishaps.


Case in point: In March, Fidelity Investments disclosed that one of its notebook PCs had been stolen. The laptop contained the personal information of 196,000 current and former Hewlett-Packard employees, including Social Security numbers.


And here's an ever scarier example to contemplate. In San Francisco, there's been a rash of notebook robberies, many occurring in wireless Internet cafés. The trend took a violent turn in April when a café customer was stabbed in the chest by a thief, who, with an accomplice, made off with the victim's PowerBook. (Luckily, the victim had no serious injuries.) Though San Francisco appears to be at the epicenter of this trend, who's to say similar crimes won't happen in other cities?


So what do you do, short of leaving your laptop in a bank vault? For starters, don't carry data around in your notebook unless it's absolutely necessary. And if you do have to carry sensitive information, encrypt the data and use strong password protection to keep unauthorized users out of your system. I'll tell you more about protecting your data next week; this week, I've got tips for keeping your notebook safe when you're on the go.


1. Never Leave Your Notebook Unattended


In the Fidelity example, an employee stowed the notebook in the back of a rented SUV while their group was having dinner at a restaurant, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Initially, the vehicle was locked. But during dinner, an associate of the employee retrieved an item from the SUV and forgot to lock it again.


What kind of Bozo would do that? You, for instance, or me. Show me someone who isn't careless on occasion and I'll show you a 99-year-old trapeze artist.


To minimize the risks of theft, always make sure your notebook is locked up if it's not with you. For instance, if you're meeting someone at a restaurant, lock it up in the trunk, if your vehicle has one, and make sure it's stored out of sight if you don't. An extra security maneuver would be to stow it before you arrive at your final destination to eliminate the possibility that a thief will see you putting it away. Always double-check to make sure the vehicle is locked--and don't offer others access to your vehicle. It may be a pain to go outside and get whatever is needed, but it's much less painful than dealing with the consequences of another person's carelessness.


At the airport, wait until it's your turn to pass through the metal detector before placing your notebook on the conveyer belt, if possible. This should reduce the amount of time your notebook sits unattended on the other side of the X-ray machine.


2. Lock It Up


Of course, taking your notebook with you isn't always feasible. In those cases, consider leaving it in the most secure place possible. If you'll be staying in a hotel, call ahead and ask if there are in-room safes. At a minimum, find out if there's a hotel safe in which you can secure the notebook when it's not needed.


Granted, a safe isn't a perfect solution. During a visit to New York, I locked my notebook in my hotel room's safe. When I went to retrieve it, the combination no longer worked, and I had to wait several hours before the manager could free my notebook from captivity. Still, the less time your notebook is left unsecured, the better.


3. Bolt It Down


What do you do if you need to leave your notebook in a room that doesn't have a safe? Invest $20 to $60 (or more depending on the device) in a notebook security cable/lock. Many notebooks today have a security slot into which you insert a locking device, attached to a cable. You then wrap the cable around something stationary, just as you would a bicycle lock.


Of course, a determined thief could snip a cable with heavy-duty wire cutters or find another way to get your notebook. But any extra step you force them to take may cause them to target another computer instead. Also, some notebook security products, such as the Targus DefCon 1 Ultra ($50), emit a piercing alarm when the cable is tampered with.


Kensington offers a wide variety of notebook security devices, including the MicroSaver ($45), a 72-inch long cable reinforced with titanium, and the MicroSaver Portable Notebook Combination Lock, with a retractable 48-inch cable and a combination lock.


Lincoln Spector wrote about notebook security products in his April Answer Line. Among those mentioned were Securitykit.com's $20 Notebook Security Kit and PC Guardian's $60 Notebook Guardian.


And in the June Privacy Watch, Andrew Brandt describes some software programs that can automatically wipe your PDA's memory or laptop's hard drive clean, should they fall into the wrong hands.


Next week: tips on protecting your data, in the event your notebook is lost or stolen.

My guess is that your notebook is worth several thousand dollars. I'd also guess that the data stored on it is worth much, much more--and that you'd be entering a world of woe if your notebook were stolen or lost. Last week I offered tips on how to protect and physically secure your notebook when you're out of the office. This week, I've got tips on protecting your data, should fate--or a criminal--separate you and your notebook.


1. Password-Protect Windows

Windows XP gives you the option of requiring a user password to log on. Though certainly far from bulletproof, a relatively complex password provides more protection than none at all.


A complex password includes upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and one or more special characters. For example, suppose your name is Pat. You wouldn't use "Pat" as your password, would you? (You would? My, aren't we feeling lucky?) A better password would be something not easily identified with you.


The more complex your password, the more difficult it is to crack--and, potentially, for you to remember. Don't make your password so complex you can't remember it. Or, if you must store your passwords, keep them somewhere safe. Some software programs for PCs and PDAs give you the ability to manage and secure passwords. One example: DataViz's Passwords Plus ($30), which lets you manage and secure passwords on your notebook as well as your Palm OS PDA.


To create a password for your account in Windows XP, go into Control Panel, then open User Accounts. Select the account you want to protect with a password and click the "Create a password" button.


For more about passwords, read Scott Dunn's June "Windows Tips."


Some laptops now come equipped with biometric fingerprint scanners, as an alternative or enhancement to Windows password-protection. For more on this, see number 3, below.


2. Encrypt Your Data

Another option is to encrypt any files on your notebook that contain sensitive data, such as customer Social Security numbers. (Of course, as I said last week, it's best not to place any sensitive data on a mobile system.)


In essence, encryption scrambles data into code that only an authorized user can access. However, encrypting files, or your entire drive, can be time-consuming, slow system performance, and increase the likelihood you'll lose access to the data.


Windows XP Professional (but not XP Home) includes an option that lets you encrypt files on an NTFS-formatted hard drive. After encrypting a file, you can open it just as you would any file or folder. However, someone who gains unauthorized access to your computer cannot open any encrypted files or folders.


To encrypt a folder in Windows XP Professional, right-click it in Windows Explorer, choose Properties, click Advanced, select the "Encrypt contents to secure data" check box, and click OK twice. In the Confirm Attribute Changes dialog box, do one of the following: To encrypt only the folder, click "Apply changes to this folder only," and click OK; to encrypt the folder contents as well as the folder, click "Apply changes to this folder, subfolders, and files," and click OK.


Some third-party security applications offer stronger, additional encryption tools and features. One example is Folder Lock, a free download that's available from us.


3. Know Your Hardware Security Options

New security tools are appearing on a regular basis, so it's a good idea to keep up. Here are a few examples:


Seagate has developed a hard drive for laptops that automatically encrypts data with a minimal drag on performance. Read "Seagate, Secude Show Encrypted Laptop" for details.


Portable USB flash drives, designed to prevent data loss, are becoming increasingly popular. One example is Research Triangle Software's CryptoStick ($110 for 1GB), which uses the secure Blowfish algorithm to encrypt files. "Privacy Watch" columnist Andrew Brandt found this drive to be among the sturdiest portable USB drives available. Read his November 2005 column for more information.


Also, some notebooks now come equipped with a biometric fingerprint scanner. In essence, the scanner uses fingerprinting to prevent unauthorized access to your files. The Fujitsu LifeBook P7120, for example, offers a fingerprint scanner as an extra-cost option. For more information on biometric fingerprint readers, read Andy's May 2006 "Privacy Watch."

Bottom Line


Before taking your notebook out of the office, always back up your most important files. Think twice about leaving your notebook unattended, even for a moment. Be on guard in airports, hotel lobbies, train stations--anywhere there are others moving about. And, of course, look both ways before crossing the street.





Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks a lot for this mate.I could use some of these things if I went on holiday with a laptop.Once I lost my suitcase, but it was returned a few days later to my house.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am always careful where I put my laptop. I never usually take it anywhere, anyway! I know of a guy who was walking with his laptop, someone bumped into him, it dropped and the screen was smashed... he learnt a valuable lesson.As for taking laptops overseas, I would always keep it on me no matter what.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Guidelines | We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.