7 security tips for business travellers

In this global and increasingly fast-paced business world, travelling for work is a way of life for many. Making the most out of your time on the road is often a top priority, but the trick is making sure this doesn't come at the expense of security.

Checking your email while waiting to board your plane, fine-tuning a business proposal during the flight, and browsing online in a hotel café are popular ways to spend time during business travel – and crooks know this. Fortunately, there are tools you can use and steps you can take to help keep your information and hardware safe. Read on for our top tips on travelling safely…

1. Use security software

Yes, this is a very obvious point to make – but you must have security software on board. That means at the very least a basic antivirus suite, and you should always ensure that all your programs, browsers and so forth are patched up to the latest version.

2. Keep it simple

Take only what you need on your next trip. When setting up your mobile office, determine the hardware, software and programs you need before you leave. Tailor your hardware and software to your own personal needs and work patterns, while also ensuring that a minimal amount of information can fall into the wrong hands.

I always carry my laptop with me. If you can’t keep your notebook with you at all times, I’d advise not taking it at all. In this case, I'd make sure that my destination location or hotel provides a business centre that will allow me to stay in touch while I'm away. I've also got a smaller pull-out section of my briefcase in which I keep my computer, so that in the event that I'm on a commuter flight with limited storage, I can leave my briefcase plane-side while still carrying on a smaller case with my laptop.

3. Protect yourself

Back up your data. In case your laptop, tablet or smartphone is stolen or misplaced, put essential files on a flash or external drive (or other medium) before you leave. Another (old fashioned) option is to use paper to save important information. Printing out your list of important contacts is a great way to back up your electronic device.

If you want to foil nosy neighbours, use a privacy screen filter, such as those made by 3M, which make it impossible to view a laptop screen from an angle.

4. Beware the hotspot

Wireless hotspots should be used with caution, as there's an ever-increasing amount of security risk when it comes to using them these days. Software programs called packet sniffers can allow people to look at wireless transactions in the vicinity and capture the information being transmitted between the laptop and wireless access point. These programs are typically used to capture passwords, credit card numbers and bank account information, and hackers can find and download them for free on the Internet. While checking emails via the airport hotspot may not be that risky, remember to wait until you're in a more secure place to enter financial information.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) to connect to your office can make using public hotspots safer because your information is encrypted as it travels. This makes the information appear as gibberish to anyone trying to intercept it. A VPN provides additional data protection on common Internet-based transactions through virtually any terminal or network. If your company does not offer a VPN for employees working away from the office, there are services you can subscribe to for a minimal monthly fee, and indeed some don’t cost anything – see our article on free VPN clients.

For more on this topic, see our top security tips for using your laptop with public Wi-Fi hotspots.

5. Hotel access

If someone else makes your travel arrangements for you, make sure that complimentary in-room access and/or 24-hour business centre access is one of the criteria for where you stay. I make my own travel plans, and the online travel service that I use does a good job of telling me whether the hotels I'm considering offer business services and/or in-room access, and if there is a fee.

6. Beware of public computers

Just as you need to protect your privacy on your own hardware, take extra precautions if you use a public computer. Remove all traces of your work by deleting any documents you have viewed, clear the browser cache and the history file, and empty the computer's recycle bin before you walk away. There is also a risk that a password-capturing program may have been loaded onto the computer – so really it’s best to avoid using public computers for any business dealings, particularly anything that’s remotely sensitive.

7. Common sense is priceless

In addition to the variety of security enhancing tools you can employ to keep your information safe, common sense is an important attribute not to be overlooked. This can go a long way in protecting your privacy. Be aware of your surroundings and tone down your volume when you're discussing business – or personal – matters on your mobile phone. Additionally, it's wise to take simple measures to protect your hardware, such as using a cable lock to secure your laptop in your hotel room – and be sure to lock your computer bag in the boot rather than leaving it inside the car. Taping your business card to the laptop helps ensure your computer can be easily returned to you, should it be lost and not stolen.