10 Travel Safety TipsBy David Strom | Posted 2008-03-31 Email Print
Here’s how to make your wireless connections secure when you’re on the road.
As we snap out of the winter doldrums and begin to travel more, it’s time to think carefully about what happens when we’re on the road. To make your wireless connections more secure when you travel, I’m going to share my top 10 tips and tricks.
To keep your computer and your information safe, be sure to:
1. Use the ‘s’ for sanity (https, that is).
When connecting to Gmail and other Web-based e-mailers, be sure to use secure HTTP protocols. At the very least, that keeps the traffic between you and the wireless hot spot secure. Otherwise, just about anyone can see what you’re sending and receiving.
2. When in roam, use a VPN.
If your company has a virtual private network, use it whenever you connect in a public hot spot, even if you’re just checking the weather. A VPN encrypts your traffic to conceal it from your latte-sipping neighbors. If you don’t have a VPN, there are tons of free ones available. Check out webworkerdaily.com for a few suggestions.
3. Turn off your wireless network adapter when you’re on the plane.
You can save battery life by doing that, and you’ll be better protected, too. While you’re at it, turn off the Bluetooth radios on your laptop for an extra energy—and security—boost.
4. Shut down any Windows file shares and iTunes shares when you travel.
To do this, go to your wireless connection’s “Properties” panel and make sure that “Client for Microsoft Networks” and “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” are both unchecked. You should also turn off your iTunes sharing arrangements to keep from leaking data. At many hotels, I’m able to browse music libraries and shared directories of other guests, which, while amusing for me, is probably not what they intended. This is found in iTunes’ “Preferences,” in the “Sharing” control panel.
5. Protect your USB thumb drives.
Worried about sensitive data being compromised if you lose your USB drive? Many of the U3 drives have some minimal password protection, and there are other models that have small keypads or fingerprint scanners as well.
6. Don’t blithely accept certificates and SSH public keys.
Before you accept certificates and public keys, make sure you understand what you are accepting. Don’t log on to a public hot spot that presents you with an invalid certificate. And make sure you know when to expect the certificate during the log-on process.
7. Lock your laptop.
A friend recently told me about a harrowing experience involving several laptops that were stolen from unlocked offices. To protect your computer, consider locking it up. Kensington makes an inexpensive cable that secures a laptop to a table or desk. And when you travel, be sure to put your laptop in the hotel safe whenever you leave your room.
8. Better yet, encrypt your laptop.
You never know when someone will try to steal your data or break into your hotel room or car and lift the laptop. (The latter happened to me on a business trip.) For data encryption, I like PGP Disk, but there are others that cost next to nothing and provide plenty of protection.
9. When at home, secure your network.
If you don’t mind having all your neighbors share your wireless connection, then you can ignore this tip. But the rest of us should use some kind of encryption on our own wireless hot spot to make sure our private information stays private. Any encryption is better than nothing, but WPA2 is the best of the bunch, assuming your wireless access point and laptop both support these protocols. You may need to upgrade Windows XP—and you need to be running SP2—for WPA2.
10. Finally, use a personal firewall.
This should be standard operating procedure for everyone. The built-in Windows firewalls (both XP and Vista) are weak. Right now, I’m sweet on Kaspersky, but there are dozens that do the job. You certainly don’t want your computer to catch any infections while you’re on the road. At one computer conference I attended a few years ago, dozens of people were infected with the Blaster worm.