On the go? How to protect your devices and data

Take these steps before and after you hit the road to stop criminals

by Rieva Lesonsky

Whether you or your employees are traveling across country on business or simply driving across town to make a few sales calls, anytime you use computers, mobile phones, or tablets outside the office, you could be putting your company’s sensitive business data at risk. Follow these tips to protect your devices and data when you’re on the road.

Before you go

Before heading out on a business trip, make sure your laptop and any mobile devices have the latest software updates installed so you don’t have to download updates on the road. Your devices should also have updated anti-virus protection, operating system security patches, and firewalls.

If a device is set up to connect to Wi-Fi networks automatically, disable this feature—it can make you vulnerable if the device connects to an unsecured network.

Back up your data so that, if the worst happens and the device is lost or stolen, you won’t lose access to your data. If you already use secure, cloud-based backup services, you should be protected.

If you haven’t already put passwords on your mobile devices, now’s the time to do so. Even if you do have passwords enabled, it’s a good idea to change your passwords before going on a business trip, as well as when you return. Make sure the password meets your company’s standards for complexity.

On the road

Physically protecting your laptop or mobile device is key. Many data breaches happen when devices are lost or stolen. Never put electronic devices in checked airline baggage and keep an eye on them when you’re going through airport security.

During the stress of travel, it’s easy to misplace a device or leave it in a vulnerable place, such as the backseat of a car. Your hotel room may be left open while cleaning staff is working, providing a tempting setting for passing thieves. Don’t try to hide your devices in the room; either take them with you, or stash them in the hotel safe. When you’re on the go, keep devices on your person—don’t let them out of your sight.

Disable any connections you don’t need, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. In fact, it’s a good idea to put your devices in airplane mode unless you are actively using them; hackers frequently target public spaces such as airports, train stations, and hotel lobbies.

Be careful what you connect to. For instance, don’t insert unknown USB devices into your computer, or charge your computer by plugging it into a hotel docking station or public computer. These may contain malicious software that could download to your device when you connect. Instead, charge your phone or tablet via a wall socket charging port or a USB port in your own laptop.

One of the biggest risks for business travelers—or a salesperson stopping off for a latte—is connecting to public networks. When you connect to a public network, you’re vulnerable to hackers. If you must use a public network, choose one that requires a password. Also look at the network name carefully—hackers will often create a “rogue” network with almost the same name as a real one (like StarbuckGuest) to trick you into joining it. When on a public network, don’t access any sensitive information or input sensitive data such as credit card numbers or account passwords.

It’s far better to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If your business allows employees to work remotely, you should already have a VPN set up. VPNs pass data through a private network which helps keep it safe from prying eyes.

Never use a public computer. I know, you might be desperate—but you could expose yourself to keyloggers, hackers who target public computers and capture your keystrokes. That means when you enter usernames, passwords, or credit card numbers, they can capture the information. It’s OK to use a public computer to do something like look up directions, but never use it for anything involving sensitive information, making purchases, accessing your business’s cloud storage, or sending and receiving emails.

Take control

Some business travelers or salespeople prefer to use their own devices rather than company-issued ones. To protect your business from this BYOD (bring your own device) approach, establish requirements for using personal devices for business purposes. Require that employees install the latest operating system updates, approved anti-virus software, and encryption software. You can also have employees install mobile device management (MDM) software, which enables you to manage the device remotely. For example, if it’s lost or stolen, you can lock down the device and/or remotely wipe the data.

Of course, setting requirements doesn’t mean employees will comply with them. Protect yourself by improving your network security. For instance, you can set up your network so two-step authentication is required to access it remotely. You can also use biometric technology, such as fingerprint identification, instead of passwords; this option offers greater security and is faster than inputting passwords. Finally, restrict information to sensitive data—such as customers’ financial information or healthcare data—to only those employees who actually need to access it.

By taking these steps, you’ll keep your business’s information safe from thieves.