Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tip of the Day: A Refresher on Safeguarding Sensitive Information, Lots of Security Tips

A laptop computer is stolen every 53 seconds. This figure does not include those laptops left in rental cars, at airports, and in hotels. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 97% of stolen laptops are never found.
The reality is that few government agencies and corporations institute effective internal and external safeguards in terms of not only protecting sensitive information, but in protecting all electronic media wherever such media can be found.

High-tech, global companies don't have a stellar record in terms of protecting sensitive information, regardless of where that information is maintained or stored.

If you read my chapter entitled "Economic Espionage" in my 2008 book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, you'll discover that few organizational entities are obsessed in protecting critical information.

As a matter of interest, my complete update of STAYING SAFE ABROAD 2014, due out this summer (2014) as an E-book and in print, will focus heavily on information security, digital protection, government eavesdropping and preventing the compromise of critical-sensitive information, regardless as to whether it is used for governmental or corporate usage.

The situation is even worse abroad. In many cases, the theft of digital media are more serious because very often thieves and criminals are paid to steal laptops from foreign business executives, largely because of the software, corporate intranet data, trade secrets and privileged communications stored on digital instruments, including smartphones.

Many foreign travelers are are far too complacent about laptop security and few organizations discipline their executives for careless mistakes and the lack of best-practices that can prevent data compromise.

A few years ago,  a British couple rented a car upon their arrival in South Africa, parked in front of a luxury resort, and entered the office area to confirm their reservations. When they returned to their car 20 minutes later, they discovered that the car was gone, along with their laptops, smart-phones, return airline tickets and traveler’s checks. Not good!

It is my hope that in this updated piece that you will find helpful guidance in protecting laptops, smart-phones, handling sensitive information, trade secrets, camcorders, digital cameras and useful tips in securing such devices and information:

1. Before you leave home, ensure that all electronic components are covered by your homeowner’s policy or renter’s insurance, particularly of stolen or lost property taken abroad;

2. Here's another great tip: Declare your laptop and all electronic gadgets you take abroad with your customs service so that you're not accused of purchasing them abroad and subsequently charged duty when you re-enter your home nation. Doing so also gives you evidence that you left your home nation with the equipment in the event it is stolen while abroad;

3. Consider having insure as many of your digital devices as possible, as they do have international insurance available for such items. FYI: This also includes foreign study students on international programs;

4. Consider permanently affixing your name, address and phone and cell numbers and email addresses on your laptop, along with a statement that a reward is offered for the item's return, if stolen or lost;

5. This next one is a "biggie." P-L-E-A-S-E don't carry your laptop in an open tote bag as you board the aircraft! I have personally seen too many laptops slide down the passageway, resulting in cracked screens and much, much worse;

6. Always carry your laptop in a padded protective sleeve in a zippered bag or a padded backpack. More on that later;

7. While traveling on airplanes, waiting for flights, or in cafes while working on your laptop, be cautious of people glancing at your screen if you are working on proprietary files. I prefer using 3M privacy filters, which will prevent others from reading your work:

8. Do not believe that a factory password secures your laptop. It does not. The only way to increase the security of your laptop or other digital devices is to purchase software designed specifically to safeguard access to your folders and files;

9. Do not go abroad without a firewall, comprehensive antivirus software, and high-level security on your wireless configuration;

10. Do not use access financial websites to engage in transactions unless your wireless access is fully protected from eavesdroppers;

11. There are people that go to airports, hotels, coffee-shops, etc. every day of the week, solely to hack into unprotected wireless system. Think about it? If you're using a free wireless network, how secure is it? How lucky do you really feel?;

12. One reason to pay for a closed network is that they invariably provide you an enhanced level of data security;

13. P-L-E-A-S-E don't walk into an airport hospitality lounge that you pay an annual fee for and assume thieves are not present. Some criminals actually join an airline club with fraudulent identification for the sole purpose of having access to "lots of free goodies," including other peoples' expensive electronic gadgets. Please think about the possibilities;

14. Most airlines have a policy for passengers not placing laptops, MP3 players or other electronic devices in the seat pocket in front of them. This rule is for largely for safety purposes, but it is also an excellent way to prevent folks from forgetting valuable equipment. Don't succumb to this temptation;

15. If you are loyal to a specific airline for mileage purposes, ask a flight attendant if there is a cable you can purchase specific to the airline that avails to you access to available power;

16. Purchase a backup battery for your laptop to ensure you always have available power on a long flight or en-route to your destination;

17.  Purchase a cable that allows you to connect to the seat power systems on many airlines to which you are loyal;

18.  Use a cable lock on your laptop. Almost 80% of laptops come with a security port that, when used with a cable lock, will secure them to an unmovable object or a bathroom fixture;

19. One of the best sources for cable locks is and other computer security products is:

20. Ensure that your digital devices are dual voltage;

21. Used a padded backpack only to transport your laptop in your travels. For weight management purposes, my suggestion is to use a laptop no larger than 13.3-inches;

22. The following two companies provide an array of options for backpacks:     

23. If you use a laptop that stores proprietary trade secrets, client lists, specifications, proposal templates, I strongly suggest that you consider utilizing an encryption software entitled:

24. If at all possible, avoid leaving your laptop in your hotel room unattended as the intelligence services of many nations routinely duplicate a mirror image of your hard-drive, particularly as they relate to smart-phones, flash-drives, external hard drives, etc.;

25. If at all possible, maintain no work files on your laptop--only applications-- and carry only an external hard-drive with you wherever you go;

26. Assume that all calls made from your hotel guest-room are monitored; such an assumption will force you into never discussing anything substantive on the telephone;

27. Disconnect your guest-room telephone whenever you are not in the room to prevent the instrument from being used as a microphone;

28. Always leave your laptop "on" and operating in your guest-room so that you are aware if and when your adversaries use a "key-logging" program;

29. To save money on smart-phone charges, purchase an unlocked, quad-band GSM smart-phone sufficient for your needs, including email service. 

Now, here's the interesting part: I actually know several ultra-suspicious people that simply drop a smart-phone they've used abroad in a deep body of salt water every time they travel abroad, leaving nothing to chance;

30.  It is suggested that your smart-phone never leave your presence;

31. If you are traveling to a high-risk nation known for monitoring the activities of foreign corporate and governmental executives, not to mentioning keeping them under surveillance, leave your normally-used smart-phone safely at home;

32. Do not place sensitive business documents in the wastebasket in your guest-room and never leave unsecured documents in your guest-room;

33. Never ask a hotel business center to duplicate sensitive business documents, particularly proposals, as you will never know whether an extra copy was duplicated; and

34. Always travel with a few inexpensive flash-drives. If you copy a file to a flash drive at a hotel business center and make changes to the file, always destroy the flash-drives, as most hotel business centers worldwide have contaminated or pirated software.