Keeping Your Work Private When You Travel

Business Class lounge woman waiting before flight © Hero Images Inc. / Alamy / Hemis.fr

Protecting Your Data

It’s important to remember that logging onto free public Wi-Fi at the airport (or anywhere else) is not completely secure. The best defense is to use a VPN (virtual private network), which allows you to access the internet through a remote server and encrypts your online activity. Your company may have a VPN, or you can set up a personal private network using a free encryption service.

One drawback of VPN is that it can slow down your connection speed. To avoid this, another option is to purchase a worldwide data-only SIM card (if your device has a SIM card slot). This gives you 3G/4G internet access through a mobile network (for data only, no voice calls or SMS) without having to access public Wi-Fi.

There are also 3G/4G USB modems and mobile Wi-Fi devices (Mi-Fi), which also offer a fast, secure mobile internet connection. Solutions that link to a mobile network require paying the service provider for data usage or prepaying for a specified amount of data, and they won’t work inflight unless the aircraft is equipped with 3G or 4G service.

Extra tip: if you’re planning to use your phone a lot during a long flight, slip a keychain size micro-USB charger into your carry-on. It takes up no space and gives the extra battery life needed for emergency calls or emails.

To keep the data on your devices safe, there are a variety of options. If you have sensitive work material on flash drives, there is software that allows you to encrypt and password protect it. Alternatively, you can get a password-protected USB Drive, which has a keypad that requires a combination to unlock it. When it’s plugged into a USB port, the computer won’t recognize it until the pin is entered.

Biometric authentication such as fingerprint scanning is touted as being more hack-proof than passwords or pin codes and is becoming more widely available.

Avoiding Visual Hacking

While passwords and encryption technology can protect your data from hackers, these tools can’t stop someone from shoulder surfing to look at, or even photograph, your screen when you’re in a public place. It only takes a few seconds for someone to glean confidential information from a computer screen.

This low-tech method of obtaining information is called visual hacking, and it’s on the rise. One simple solution is to place a ‘black out’ privacy filter over your laptop screen. This restricts the viewing angle so the screen is visible only to the person directly in front of it.

Another possibility is to put up a privacy divider to shield your screen from other passengers when you’re working on the plane or waiting at the gate. However, someone can still stand and look at your screen (and even take a picture) without your knowing.

So when you have to review private documents the best option is to use your smartphone (or a small tablet) and turn it away from travelers around you. Indeed, shielding the screen takes a little longer but is far safer.

Likewise, if you want to be sure that no one is watching you through your webcam, you can simply stick a Post-it onto it or invest in a webcam blocker.

While a webcam is only a security liability if a hacker manages to take over your computer, it’s simple enough to avoid the risk by slipping a cover over it. This can be taken off for video conferencing, but blocks the camera when you’re not using it.

With your sensitive information kept private, you can now get down to work!

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