On the Road Again - Traveling with Your Laptop
by Mary Beth Jerry,
Director of Non-credit Computer and Technology Programs, Westchester Community
College, Valhalla, NY
Reprinted with permission from TechXpertise, the technical newsletter of the
Business Council of Westchester
FBI statistics claim that laptop
theft is second only to identity theft in frequency. An estimated 2 million
laptops are reported stolen and that doesn't include the thousands that are lost
or left behind in airports, motels and conference centers. If you are traveling
with your laptop for business or vacation this summer, here are some suggestions
for keeping both your computer and your important data safe.
Before you go, do a reality check
- do you really need to take the computer? It may be safest to leave it home if
you only need occasional access that could be done on your phone, at a coffee shop, public
library or some other facility at your destination.
If you must take it, then
consider these steps as preparation:
your anti-virus protection, firewall, critical software updates and patches
are all up to date.
full backup of your system and data. Leave a copy home and carry a copy with
you on your person - don't put it in your checked luggage.
are important or sensitive data files that you will not need while you are
away, consider removing them from your laptop (after making sure that you
have a backup copy from which to restore them after you return home). Your
data can't be stolen if it isn't with you.
can, keep your data files on a removable device like a USB drive rather than
on your laptop hard drive. Keep the USB drive on your person at all times.
If your laptop should disappear, at least your data will be safe.
If you are
technically savvy, you may want to consider removing your hard drive and
carrying it separately from the computer. If the computer is stolen, your
software and files won't go with it.
Be sure to
make a record of your laptop model and serial number and leave a copy at
home and put one in your wallet. If you are traveling out of the US you may
want to take along a copy of your sales receipt from the time of purchase to
prove ownership. Otherwise there could be a question at Customs as to
whether you purchased the computer while you were traveling and, therefore,
owe Duty tax.
name and/or some other kind of identifying information onto the case to make
it more difficult to resell if stolen.
your laptop with the manufacturer. If an unauthorized person ever contacts
the manufacturer for service, the registration information may bring their
ownership into question.
strong BIOS password that must be entered for the computer to boot up. The
procedure to set a power on password varies among computer types so refer to
your hardware manual or contact the manufacturer's support desk or other
computer consultant. A strong password is at least 7 characters long and
contains both upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special symbols.
Don't forget your password! If you write it down be sure you don't keep it
with the laptop. Check with the hardware manufacturer to see what their
policy is for resetting a forgotten password. It should involve returning
the computer to the manufacturer to have it reset so that the system is only
returned to the registered owner.
also want to save your documents specifying a password that must be entered
before they can be opened (in MS Office applications, look in
Tools/Options/Security tab). There are also third party encryption software
programs that can be used to protect your data files.
your battery is fully charged if you are traveling by air. You may
be required to boot up the computer at the boarding security station and a
fully charged battery will speed the process.
carry your computer in a typical case that announces "computer inside".
want to purchase a security cable to lock down the computer to a table or
other fixed object while you are using it in public or leaving it in your
hotel room (although putting in the room safe may be a better idea). Many
laptops have a Universal Security Slot to accommodate the use of security
cases it may be worth investing in asset tracking software and monitoring.
Briefly, if the laptop is stolen and used to access the Internet, the
software provides a way for the monitoring company to track its location.
trip is underway keep these things in mind:
keep your laptop with you and in sight. Don't put it in your checked luggage
or on a luggage cart. Don't put it down and walk away, even for a moment.
want to ask airport security to do a hand inspection of your laptop rather
than sending it down the conveyor belt through the x-ray machine. The x-rays
won't damage your disk or data, but if you are delayed in picking up your
hand luggage from the conveyor, someone else could be picking up your
you don't carry anything that will set off the metal detector. While the
security staff are distracted by checking out the situation, you and they
may not notice someone else picking up your laptop as it rolls down the
If you are
using your computer while sitting in a waiting area, hotel lobby, in flight,
etc., be aware that others near you could be looking over your shoulder at
your screen. You don't want your sensitive information to become casual
reading for someone else - you never know if they work for your competitors!
spent locked in a hot car (or a cold one in winter) can damage your laptop
and storage devices.
leave your laptop unsecured in your hotel room when you are out. Use your
security cable or lock it in the room safe. While the hotel staff may be
trustworthy, there's no reason to take chances should someone gain
unauthorized access to your room.
if your trip includes a visit to the beach, resist the temptation to take
along your laptop for a little "surfing" of a different kind. Sand and
seawater can do wicked things to your system. So just spread out your
blanket, slather on the sunscreen and relax (you deserve it)!
Have a great trip!