5 Essential Data Security Tips for Business Travelers

By:  Joe Peters

Whether you’re making sales calls or attending conferences, travel is an important aspect of business. On the road, you have more to worry about than working out of the office, such as booking hotels, flights, packing for trips, or staying in touch with colleagues and family.

The digital era also means you have to protect your business and personal data while working remotely. Here are some tips for securing your information and devices while traveling.

1. Stay Current

Security needs change as rapidly as technology changes. Hackers and cyber criminals are very familiar with outdated systems and software.

To reduce your risk, be certain that you’ve installed the latest updates to everything from your operating system to your personal apps. These upgrades are frequently issued for the purpose of fixing security weaknesses or implementing safeguards against the latest malware and hacker tricks.

It could also be critical that you perform full backups of your devices before you depart and protect the backups with strong passwords. If possible, take along devices that are designed for mobile workers and hold minimal amounts of data. Delete all non-essential data from your gadgets before leaving on a trip, especially confidential files, and be sure to scrub the hard drive when you return.

If you do need to carry or transmit sensitive information, use whole-disk encryption software so the data can’t be read by would-be hackers.

2. Keep Your Devices Close

Despite good security practices, data can still be stolen if you lose your mobile device or it’s stolen from your belongings. Depending on your destination and circumstances, your devices might also be damaged or confiscated.

Know where your equipment is at all times. Keep it in sight so you minimize the risks of leaving it behind or having some thief search through your luggage. Buy lightweight devices that are easier to carry around if that makes things easier, but protect your IT equipment at all times.

Even when you’re being frisked by airport security, make sure your IT devices have gone through the scanner so you can keep an eye on them. Don’t put your laptop or tablet into baggage that’s going to the cargo hold. Keep it with you.

That also includes times when you leave your hotel room. Take electronic devices with you. Don’t leave your equipment in easy view on trains or in cabs where they could be snatched away from you.

Ask your IT department about installing remote-wipe utilities in case your mobile device is stolen.

3. Use Caution When You Communicate

Consider buying a cheap disposable phone to make and answer calls on your trip. If you really need a smartphone, buy a more affordable one at your destination or replace your SIM card with a local one.

Either way, keep the phone turned off when not in use and avoid downloading any new files or applications from unsecured sources. Even innocent-seeming downloads may conceal spyware or viruses. Load any travel apps you may need, such as maps, translators, or accessing flight schedules on your travel phone before you leave.

Never share sensitive information, either digitally or spoken. Encourage the other party to wait until after you return to the office before sharing business information. Any calls you need to make should take place over secured channels such as Skype or a Virtual Private Network.

4. Avoid Using Public Networks

Many airports, hotels, restaurants, stores, and other businesses now offer public Wi-Fi access. While this may seem like a free and convenient alternative, avoid using it. This includes any equipment accessing these same networks, which is often provided in business centers or internet cafes.

Public Wi-Fi usually has no security beyond a password which anyone can learn. Hackers monitor these networks looking for the opportunity to intercept conversations or load spyware onto your device. Indeed, any enterprising cybercriminal can create a free Wi-Fi connection of their own and use it to entrap unsuspecting travelers.

If your company isn’t already using one, request that they establish a VPN. This provides a secured connection for you and other mobile employees. Even if you access the VPN from an unsecured public network, your messaging is still encrypted and tunneled through the VPN.

5. Perform Security Checks

If you can, run security scans regularly while on the road or if you think you’re experiencing issues. Back up any new data to a secure cloud storage site and protect it with a strong password.

Upon returning from your trip, ensure that your travel devices are still secured. Run a security scan of your laptop. Have your IT team verify that your mobile devices have not been compromised.

Change all of your passwords. If necessary, use a password organizer to keep track of multiple passwords and accounts. Always use strong passwords that are a combination of upper and lower case letters, numerals, and special characters.

If you purchased a disposable phone or new SIM card just for your trip, throw them out when you return. To be absolutely certain your devices are free of malware, you can always wipe or reformat the hard drive and reinstall your OS and applications.

In conclusion, travel for business is often unavoidable but may expose you to security risks. It’s vital to take all these precautions to protect your devices, communications, and your company network. These precautions should continue even after you’re safely home. Otherwise, problems you never suspected could appear long afterward.

BIO: Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys reading about latest apps and gadgets and binge-watching his favorite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters

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