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Travel safely with your tech: How to prevent theft, loss and snooping on the road

Chris Hoffman | Dec. 19, 2014
When you travel, a whole fleet of electronics come with you. Smartphone and laptop are a given, but there's a good chance you're also toting a tablet, and maybe a cellular hotspot or dedicated GPS.

Windows tablets also lack built-in tracking like Android tablets and iPads have, so you'll need to install a third-party utility on these devices as well. 

Encrypt all your data

Don't be the next person who misplaces a laptop with customer credit card numbers or personal employee information on it. Encryption ensures someone can't go straight to your storage to snoop through your stuff if your device is stolen. Android, iOS, Chrome OS, Linux, and Mac OS X all offer integrated full-disk encryption features that are easy to enable or enabled by default.

Windows is still the laggard here. If you have a modern laptop or tablet that came with Windows 8.1, its data may be encrypted with "device encryption." But this works only if you've logged in with a Microsoft account — not a local user account.

If you have an older device, you'll need to upgrade to the Professional edition of Windows 7 or 8 and enable BitLocker encryption. You could also use a third-party full-disk encryption solution, such as TrueCrypt. Even in its defunct state, some security experts consider TrueCrypt 7.1a safe to use, and other encryption tools are available as well.

Have backups in another location

Proper backups are crucial, although this tip may be overlooked and underappreciated. Backups can help you recover your precious data if your device is stolen, broken, or otherwise lost while you're travelling.

You could go to the cloud with an online backup service like CrashPlan or BackBlaze. You could also back up to an external hard drive. For maximum security, store backups in both places and have backups in multiple locations. PCWorld's guide to backing up your PC for free can help if you need it.

But, whatever you do, don't just back up to an external hard drive that you bring with you and keep in your laptop bag. If you lose that laptop bag, you'll lose all your backups. Take it from someone who once lost all his stuff because he didn't do proper backups: You really need to get serious about backups before disaster strikes!

Keep an eye on your stuff

Let's rewind a bit. Staying secure on the road isn't just about software features — you also need to stay alert and keep an eye on your stuff in the physical world.

Keep your smartphone in your front pocket, not your back one. Don't just leave your smartphone sitting on a table in a coffee shop or restaurant when you go to the restroom, either. Yes, I've seen people do this, and I'm always amazed their phones are still there when they return.

The same goes for laptops. Please don't leave them sitting on a table in a coffee shop — logged in — while you step away. I've seen this, too. It boggles the mind! Keep either your eyes or a hand on your devices at all times.


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