How to Reduce the Security Risks of Business Travel

42-20049033LRMany small business owners spend time on the road working in airport lounges or hotel rooms. Or, if they’re not on the road, they may be doing business in co-working spaces and coffee shops.

No doubt, we are living in an increasingly mobile society—one where we can work anywhere from smartphones and laptops. And while this kind of freedom has a lot of upside, there’s some real risk in the form of maintaining the security of information, such as personal data, credit card numbers and client accounts. Here are five easy tips to help keep your information safe.

Keep it private. I know I’m not the only person who has heard every detail of a client meeting or medical exam result in an airport lounge or coffee shop. Or listened to someone read their entire credit card with the expiration date. People seem to think that there is a cloak of silence around them when they’re in a public place. Please note: There is not.

So, the next time you’re tempted to have a conversation that should be held behind closed doors, do just that. Wait until you’re alone in your hotel room or are in a private office to share the intimate details.

Also, personal space on airplanes and elsewhere seems to be shrinking. And there are nosey people (like me) who might be tempted to take a quick look at whatever you’re working on during a long, boring flight. If you’re going to be working on something that is confidential, do yourself a favor and buy a privacy screen for your laptop. Someone may still be able to look if they really try, but it will discourage the nosey neighbor who might casually glance your way. This also helps with protecting your credit card information as you type it in when you buy Wi-Fi access (or any other remote shopping you may be doing).

Update and protect your passwords. We all know that we should update our passwords periodically. But we get lazy. Or we’re afraid we won’t remember them. Or maybe we do update them but then use the same password for everything. That’s just as dangerous.

You may have heard about the LinkedIn data breach in 2012. Well, in 2016 apparently many folks still haven’t changed their passwords and, according to USA Today, millions of LinkedIn users were told to change their password to protect against the four-year-old breach.

Since many of us are traveling with multiple devices. Passcodes are a good idea for all devices, helping to protect you from mischievous friends, hackers, and those who could have access to your device when you travel.

Some devices have a feature that will wipe the data off the device if the wrong password is input too many times. There also are ways that you can enable remote wiping of data by sending a message or specific code to the device. If you have access to especially sensitive data, you might want to see if you can enable this feature for your device. Or if you’re the type of person who frequently accidentally leaves items behind in planes, taxis or hotel rooms, this is an additional travel safeguard.

Stay private on public networks. Here’s some sobering news: It’s actually pretty easy for someone to get access to and “see” what data you are transferring over a public network. Random browsing may be okay in that coffee shop or on an airplane, but definitely don’t access bank accounts and other financial programs, as hackers may be able to gain access to your account and password.

I make it a personal policy not to access any accounts or apps that I deem sensitive when on a Wi-Fi network. You might want to consider whether a VPN (virtual private network) is something that makes sense for you. A VPN sets up an encrypted point-to-point connection, which is significantly more secure. However, you will want to carefully evaluate the provider to ensure that they are not in the business of selling your browsing data to a third party. In general, if something is free, you are the product.

Also, make sure that your settings on your phone and laptop don’t automatically connect to any public Wi-Fi. That’s just asking for trouble. Take the extra time to specifically connect to the coffee shop, hotel, or airport network.

Use two-factor authentication. This is something worth doing at home and when traveling. While it isn’t foolproof, two-factor authentication is something you should consider adding to your critical apps, including cloud storage, PayPal or other payment processor, and social media platforms. This is a simple check of a box in most security settings these days.

What that means is that when you try to log in, you will need to do something else as well. Maybe enter a code that you receive via text. This is an easy tactic, and is the most common for individuals and small businesses.

If someone gets access to your account and password, they probably don’t have your phone as well, so would not receive the code in the text message that needs to be part of your login, and thus not be able to get into your account.

Turn Your laptop or tablet off. You should get into the habit of turning your laptop or tablet fully off when you’re not using it. Hackers can try to get in when it’s “sleeping.” Don’t assume Wi-Fi anywhere is safe.

As you can see, much of this is common sense. But, common sense may help save you from a data breach—and some huge headaches.

Ajeet Khurana
Ajeet Khurana
Ajeet Khurana wears many hats: author, angel investor, mentor, TEDx speaker, steering committee of the NASSCOM Start-Up Warehouse, Director of Founder Institute, Venture Partner with the seed initiative of a top Venture Capital firm, and former CEO of IIT Bombay’s business incubator, among others. Before all this, he was entrepreneurial twice in the field of education and web publishing. As a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, he taught e-commerce back in 1993, when the term "e-commerce" had not yet been coined. An undergrad in computer engineering from the University of Mumbai, and an MBA from the University of Texas, Ajeet is presently an active name in the startup ecosystem. From starting two ventures as a solopreneur, to helping a large number of startups with their go-to-market, he has never shied from getting his hands dirty. At the same time he has helped dozens of startups raise investment. He truly believes that small business owners are driving change in the world, and need to be facilitated as much as possible. Innumerable small businesses have gained from his attitude, vast professional networks, financial acumen and digital mindset.

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