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6 Laptop Security Tips for Frequent Fliers

6 Laptop Security Tips for Frequent Fliers

How IT can keep its laptop users safe from security and privacy risks during business trips.  

Potential laptop theft. Unsecured in-flight Wi-Fi. Long TSA lines. It’s enough to turn road warriors into road worriers.

As the summer travel season approaches, here are some tips and best practices for IT to share with their laptop-toting users—to keep data safe, nerves calm, and productivity high.

1. Backup before you go

Make sure the laptop’s data is securely backed up before heading to the airport. If the laptop isn’t your main computer and you sync files between it and another PC, make sure the files you’ll need are on the laptop.

Most flights today have Wi-Fi, and you could grab files you need in the air from cloud services. But it’s better to have files stored locally, in case Wi-Fi isn’t available.

2. Get to the airport early

Recent headlines tell the story: “Long lines predicted at airport security checkpoints this summer because of TSA cutbacks” (LA Times). “More airports calling out TSA for long lines” (USA Today). “Beefed up airport security could roil summer travel lines” (Politico).

Good rule of thumb: Arrive at large airports at least two hours before a domestic flight and three or more before an international trip. Is this overkill? Maybe. But it gives you time to read or work without getting stressed out.

Also, even if you only travel a few times a year, it’s worth investing in Global Entry or TSA Precheck, to zip through those long TSA lines. (Global Entry includes TSA Precheck). Clear is another option.

3. Place your laptop on the airport scanner conveyor belt last

When approaching a checkpoint scanner, put your laptop on the conveyor belt last to minimize the time you and your laptop are apart. This strategy may help prevent someone else from intentionally or inadvertently grabbing your laptop, while you’re still on the other side of the pass-through X-ray screener.

4. Add a Bluetooth tracker to your bag

Bluetooth trackers and their associated apps can help you locate a missing item, whether it’s a set of keys or a laptop bag, within Bluetooth signal range (usually about 100 feet). Products like Tile also help you find something lost beyond Bluetooth range by leveraging their user communities.

LugLoc, which uses Bluetooth and cellular networks, also helps track checked suitcases and other bags. And some newer ‘smart’ suitcases, such as Bluesmart, feature built-in tracking and other tech features.

5. Use airport and hotel Wi-Fi networks cautiously

Airports have been known to have phony Wi-Fi hot spots set up by phishers and other crooks. When using any public Wi-Fi network, including those at hotels, VPN connections are recommended.

6. Be cautious using in-flight Wi-Fi

Over the past year or so, there have been reports in the media questioning the security of Gogo inflight Wi-Fi. By far the predominant airline Wi-Fi provider, Gogo networks are like any public wireless network—wide open. And when you’re using a public network on a long flight with lots of other people, anything can happen.

Case in point: USA Today tech columnist Steven Petrow recently wrote about being hacked during an American Airlines flight. After the flight, a passenger told Petrow he’d read the writer’s email messages.

Last year, Google engineer Adrienne Porter reported that, when accessing Google sites, she was being served SSL certificates from Gogo instead of from Google. “Undermining the SSL/TLS protocols meant to encrypt data transmitted to and from a site is called a man-in-the-middle attack, and Gogo carries these out on its own users,” Slate reported. “The measures could give the company access to lots of user financial data because of the phony certificates.”

Gogo responded that it was doing this as a way to limit or block video streaming, to help ensure available bandwidth for all users.

Bottom line: In-flight Wi-Fi is hugely convenient (if expensive and at times slow). But users should be aware of the security and privacy risks, which VPN connections can help reduce.

Underwritten by HP and Microsoft

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