5 Tips to keep your Data Safe when Traveling

Posted on June 2, 2012 by Nikhil P Naik

In 1942, scholar Franz Steiner was traveling to London on the Oxford train. He carried a suitcase that contained his doctorate on the Sociology of Slavery that he had been working on for three years. He set the suitcase down somewhere, and it was either lost or stolen. Steiner had no notes and had to re-write his entire doctorate again from scratch. He managed to reproduce his thesis and resubmit it in 1949, but never recovered from the shock. Shortly afterwards he had a heart attack and, severely weakened, died three years later. (Taboo, Truth, and Religion, Selected Writings of Franz Baermann Steiner, Edited by Jeremy Adler and Richard Fardon, 1999)

Storing Data SafelyThe consequences of lost data for Steiner were dire, but his experience is not unique. Although in Steiner’s time data reproduction was a complex manual process, without the ease of research afforded by the Internet, loss of electronic data can be equally devastating. Electronic data is also susceptible to travel loss even if it remains physically secure: system damage, magnetic or electrostatic erasure, and data corruption can all occur when traveling.

Travel security restrictions are sometimes imposed on carry-on luggage, meaning travelers may be physically separated from their laptops – and we’ve heard various lost luggage horror stories. Theft is also a common travel risk, and if you are dealing with sensitive or proprietary information, taking it on the road makes the data particularly vulnerable. Losing classified data in your possession can have more than a financial impact – It could cost you your job.

Don’t assume travel data loss will never happen to you: it can and it might. Think of your data as the most valuable thing you are carrying when traveling, and protect it accordingly. Even if you only have a suitcase full of Dell or HP product manuals for a upcoming computer expo, if it’s important to you, take care of it. Here are five ways:

  • Back up all your data before leaving home. Back it up again. Then check the back-up data to verify it. One of the easiest data protection methods is to back it up to a flash USB drive, or transfer it to a portable device such as your iPad or Blackberry, so you can keep it with you at all times. Back-up is your single most important data protection method.
  • If you use a laptop case, do not advertise the contents. Laptop theft is common when traveling. Storing the laptop in a different type of bag can provide a bit more protection. Whatever type of case you use, keep your laptop in your physical control at all times. Don’t hand it to the bellhop or the taxi driver or set it down while standing at the registration desk. When you are at the airport, don’t put your bag down to go through x-ray until the person in front of you has cleared the metal detector. A common scam is to have someone hold up the security line, while their partner on the other side walks off with the bags of people stuck on the other side of the metal detector.
  • Travel reliance on mobile data and Wi-Fi connections increases susceptibility to being hacked. Set complex passwords and encryption to protect your data. Disable file and print sharing. If you are carrying highly sensitive confidential data, use remote data protection to erase sensitive data should your laptop go missing. Store your data in the “cloud” [Google Drive, Dropbox] and access it remotely once you arrive rather than transporting it.
  • Physical damage. Any travel method you use – plane, train, car, boat – will place your data in jeopardy from physical damage. A laptop can be dropped in transit or smashed, particularly if you are forced to check it in baggage. When going through security, most countries require removal of the laptop from its case. Protect your laptop by placing it in a separate bin, or a special checkpoint laptop bag, and keep it in your sight at all times. Computer hard drives, DVDs and CDs can be damaged by moisture, by extreme heat or cold, and by unexpected magnetic field exposure or electrostatic discharge. Take steps to protect against physical damage.
  • Develop a relationship with a reputable data recovery company. Talk to them and learn what data they can recover after loss and in what circumstances. If your data is damaged, you can then take immediate steps to resolve the situation. Even if you think all is lost, it may not be.

Deb Johnson is a database administrator and a freelance writer with 20 years experience. She also cooks, collects the latest gadgets, and enjoys looking for deals online.

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About Nikhil P Naik

Nikhil Naik has a Master's Degree in Information Systems, and is currently working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. He also loves playing cricket, listening to music, and traveling. Twitter Handle - @buzz_nikhil.

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