This is part of an ongoing series of longer articles I am posting on Sundays.
In this digital age, it is easy to overlook the critical element of physical security. Put simply, it is often far more efficient to steal or gain access to a physical object like a laptop or flash drive than to break into a computer system. And despite the sanitary and controlled environments many mobile employees often travel in, risks to personal safety are real. Therefore, it is sensible to consider the physical security needs of the road warrior.
Protecting Your Data
Road warriors love gadgets, but so do thieves. According to a 2008 Ponemon Institute study for Dell, over 12,000 laptop computers are lost in US airports each week, and 70% of these are never reclaimed. Other studies have shown similar losses at public places like restaurants, hotels, and parking lots. Thumb drives, portable hard drives, and smart phones share the top of the most-stolen list with laptop computers.
Because these are often crimes of opportunity, the simplest protective measure is to keep these devices under ones personal control at all times. Never ask a stranger to watch your bag, and do not leave computers or peripherals unattended in conference rooms or hotels.
Special care is needed when passing through airport security: Never put your laptop or other valuable items through the scanner first, since you may be delayed while passing through the metal detector. Instead, place them in the middle or rear of your items so they will remain inside the x-ray machine until you emerge on the other side to retrieve them.
Most hotel rooms have safes available, and these should be used whenever you must leave your laptop or other valuables behind. Although they are not foolproof, they are much more secure than car trunks, cable locks, or bell desks. If a safe is not available or is too small, use a Kensington-type lock to secure your laptop computer to a bulky and sturdy object like a desk. These will not stop a determined thief, but should be enough to discourage a snatcher.
Many of us wrongly assume we are safe in the familiar surroundings of offices, hotels, airports, and restaurants. The rolling suitcase, airline ticket, and laptop bag marks us as targets even in these environments, and serve as enticing evidence of loot to be had.
One of the best ways of protecting one’s safety when traveling is always to be aware and prepared. Get directions ahead of time instead of asking, staring at your PDA or GPS, or driving around. Consider whether your surroundings put you at risk: Select hotels in safer neighborhoods or where access is more controlled. Avoid public transportation when toting cumbersome bags, even if you would happily take the bus or subway alone. Spending a bit more money is preferable to losing your valuables or coming to harm.
When you are away from the office or hotel, dress like a local and watch out for too-friendly strangers. Most people are helpful to others, but avoid those who ask prying questions of offer extravagant services. Con-men often prey on travelers, waiting near hotels, airports, and offices. For example, never take an un-licensed limousine or taxi since these nearly always end up being more costly or risky than desired.
Business travel can be enjoyable, but one must always be careful to avoid becoming a victim!