Safe Computing for Business Travelers

By Jonathan Spira on 12 September 2008
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Recently, we looked at the problem of “evil twins,” hot spots that seem legitimate but are operated by a hacker that are increasingly popping up in public and semi-public spaces including hotels, airports, and conference venues.

This month we look at other risks.

Hotels are a prime target for laptop thieves; look at any unoccupied meeting room, replete with laptops, and you’ll understand why.  But the loss of a $2000 laptop may pale in comparison with the loss of data and the fact that your data may fall into the wrong hands.

To minimize exposure in the event of theft, make sure that your laptop has both a power-on password as well as a hard disk password.  Laptops that use fingerprint readers, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p and X300, only require a fingerprint scan to unlock everything but thieves will be stopped from viewing your data, even if they remove the hard disk and install it in another machine.

Thinking of using your hotel room’s TV for surfing or reading e-mail (via your browser)?  Don’t read any sensitive documents there.  The chances are good that the hotel’s backend systems aren’t secure – and that another guest could read along with you.

Using a hotel’s wired Internet service doesn’t necessarily guarantee security.  Common E-mail protocols such as POP3 and IMAP default to plain text user names and passwords.  Many hotels still use hubs rather than Ethernet switches, and the former are sniffable by those in the know.  If you connect through the hotel’s network, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which can be set up for personal or corporate use.

For greater security and peace of mind, consider using a mobile broadband solution (offered by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless in the U.S.).  Data-only plans are available starting at $40 per month and offer greater flexibility plus the chance to pass on the hotel’s $10 or $15 per diem Internet charge.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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