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Protect Your Computer When You Travel

November 20, 2009

A previous post, Computer Security Around the World, highlighted the dangers to be aware of when working on your computer away from the home or office. The next posts talk about some of the things you can do to protect yourself from those dangers.


First let’s consider what you can do on your own portable computer. In the next post we’ll look at what to do when you’re using an unknown computer, such as at an Internet cafe, hotel business center or airline club.


Protect Your Computer


Two key pieces of software are an absolute requirement for any computer connecting the Internet from outside the corporate firewall: A personal firewall and antivirus.


A personal firewall is software on your computer that controls what connections the computer will accept, and sometimes what connections the computer may initiate. Newer operating systems ship with a some firewall capability. The standard Windows firewall provides good protection on incoming connections. Third-party products provide added features. Most also monitor connections your computer initiates. This is helpful both as protection against your own carelessness and as an added protection if your computer is running unwanted or unsafe software which might try to send out information you didn’t intend to share.


Antivirus software does just what it says, check files before they’re read or executed to ensure they don’t contain a computer virus that will infect your computer.


Often firewall and antivirus are combined in a security suite along with software to prevent phishing attacks and monitor for unsafe websites. Some also include SPAM filtering or other protection for your e-mail.


If your software allows configuration, be sure to tell it that you will be using an untrusted network. That will turn off features that are only appropriate on a secure local area network, such as file sharing.


Here’s a typical example:

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You should also think about physical security.


Make sure your computer needs a password to log in. That provides protection if the computer is lost or stolen. Remember that if somebody can log in to your computer as you not only can they read all your files but they can access any service for which you’ve let the browser or the program store your password!


For added security some computers let you set a BIOS password without which the computer won’t start up at all. Be very careful using this feature as a lost or corrupted password can make the computer inoperable.


Keep your computer away from extremes of humidity and temperature. When the computer has been transported in extreme conditions let it adjust to room temperature before starting it up. Also avoid operating the computer in very dusty conditions. More powerful portable computers tend to have cooling fans which will suck in the dust.


If you anticipate extreme conditions you can buy a specially hardened computer, such as a Panasonic Toughbook, or consider a netbook style machine with no fan and fewer moving parts. For travel with lots of hard bumps look for a machine that locks the disk drive if the computer drops. For added protection you might choose a solid state drive rather than a conventional disk drive.


Happy travels.



David Schaffer

There Must Be A Better Way


Prepared for Firelytics

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