Keeping Your Computer and Its Contents Safe
IT'S hard not to experience anxiety when you're traveling with a laptop. A computer can certainly make life easier for travelers keeping an online travel journal, serial e-mailers and those who want to keep up with their jobs. But there are, as every laptop-toting traveler knows, numerous risks: accidental drops during security screenings, theft from a hotel room, loss in a taxi or restaurant or hardware failure from too many jolts.
"Laptops are great because you can take your entire office with you wherever you go, but you need to recognize that your entire office might be lost, stolen or damaged beyond use," said Ann Westerheim, president of Ekaru, a technology services company.
Perhaps the most important safety measure, Ms. Westerheim said, is protecting the information on your computer, so that if it is damaged, lost or stolen, the data remain safe. Travelers now have many backup devices to choose from.
Beside storing your files and data on a removable CD or DVD disk, there is a variety of other portable storage devices. Particularly convenient are flash drives: small key-chain-size plastic devices that weigh only an ounce or so and plug into a computer's U.S.B. port (the port typically used for connecting printers and other peripherals). You can copy your e-mail files, documents, pictures or data files to the U.S.B. flash drive and can then keep the files with you or keep them in the hotel safe.
Lexar makes a U.S.B. memory device, JumpDrive Secure, with one gigabyte of storage, large enough for lots of documents, photos and e-mail ($75.99 at Amazon.com), that includes software that allows only users with a password to download data.
For additional security, there are flash drives with biometric capabilities, like a fingerprint reader that allows access only with a matching fingerprint. For example, ACP makes a U.S.B. memory drive (Security Key Fingerprint Mini Flash Drive, $200.99 at www.compusa.com) with one gigabyte of storage. Other U.S.B. flash drives, like the Relay 512MB ($49.98 from Staples) simply provide portable storage without any additional security capabilities.
Alternatively, you might even want to consider storing or backing up your data files on the memory cards that slip into comparably equipped digital cameras or cellular phones. For example, my Nokia 6230 phone from Cingular accepts standard MultiMedia Cards (SanDisk 256MB MMC Card, $39.99 at www.sandisk.com) that I can remove from the phone and slide into a computer to copy and store files, while my digital camera accepts Memory Stick styles of memory cards. This solution is good for travelers who simply want backup.
Of course, you want to protect the laptop itself, too. A variety of traditional security-oriented devices like cables (just like bicycle locks) for attaching your laptop to something immovable (for example, the Kensington MicroSaver, $44.99 at www.kensington.com), or small motion-detecting alarms that are placed in the bag with the laptop (Targus PA400U Defcon 1, $49.99 at www.targus.com), help guard against theft.
But there is a range of other, more basic approaches for reducing the risk and stress of taking your computer with you.
There is your hotel, for instance. Before booking a room, security-conscious laptop owners should ask what size of room safe the hotel offers or if the front desk is willing to store a laptop in the office safe.
"We all know hotel safes aren't perfect, but they do protect from most thieves," said Brian Beeler, president of NoteBookReview.com, a Web site that reviews notebook PC's. "While the average safe isn't very large, most are large enough to secure 12-inch notebooks and under. Larger machines, especially with wide screens, simply won't fit, reducing your physical security options."
A few hotels have started offering larger safes. For example, the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., recently installed a specially designed laptop safe in every room that not only fits newer, widescreen laptops but also includes power outlets so guests can charge their computers (and other devices) while keeping them secure. Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Fla., also offers extra-large in-room safes with electric outlets.
"You can also insure your notebook by adding it on to your homeowner's or renter's policy," Mr. Beeler said. "It's often more affordable than the accidental damage policies that computer stores sell."
In some cases, your existing homeowner's insurance policy will cover theft of laptops, with your standard deductible, if it's not being used for business purposes. Safeware (www.safeware.com) offers insurance for notebook computers and includes coverage for accidental damage, theft, vandalism and other problems. The premium for a three-month-old computer that cost $1,500 with no deductible was $90, based on a recent Web-generated quote.
If you don't want to travel with a computer but need access to data, files or e-mail while on the road and have the use of a hotel business center or other Internet source, you can arrange to have your computer at home run a remote access program that's included in Windows XP or through a service like GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com), which enables users to gain access remotely to their PC's from any Internet-connected computer. To use a service like GoToMyPC, you register the computer you want to make available on the site, download the remote access host software and install it. To access that computer remotely, you then use a Web-enabled PC to log in to your home PC. You are now able to work as if you were at home. Personal plans for GoToMyPC start at $19.95 a month or $179.40 a year.
And lowest tech of all, travelers can take a simple and inexpensive precaution recommended by Robert L. Siciliano, a personal security and identify theft expert and president of SafeTravelSecurity.com. "I have all my contact information and a picture of me taped to the back of my computer," Mr. Siciliano said. "That way if I leave it somewhere, people can easily identify me and call or page me to retrieve it."
By DAVID A. KELLY
The New York Times