A CMO's guide to staying secure on a business trip

Business leaders need to expand their knowledge, and this involves a lot of travel. How can you secure your intellectual properties while on the go?

Smart apps to smooth business travel
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Executives spend a lot of time on the road (or in the air). And while the speed and convenience of business travel has greatly improved over the years, the challenges associated with information security are only increasing. Your ability to protect your data and devices while traveling matters more than you’ll ever know.

Are you doing enough to protect yourself and your company?

How to stay secure on your next trip

As various cyber attacks have been publicized in the media over the past few years, the emphasis on the need for better security has increased. By 2020, global companies are expected to spend more than $101 billion on cybersecurity software, hardware and related services. That’s an anticipated 38 percent jump from the $73.7 billion that was spent in 2016.

“Today’s security climate is such that enterprises fear becoming victims of the next major cyber attack or cyber extortion,” says Sean Pike, IDC's vice president of security products. “As a result, security has become heavily scrutinized by boards of directors demanding that security budgets are used wisely and solutions operate at peak efficiency.”

Cyber criminals are savvy, though. They know that businesses are actively strengthening their security systems and have to be clever with how they infiltrate these organizations. When you travel, you might as well be walking around with a bull’s-eye on your back. Hackers and criminals know that you’re out of your element and more likely to fall victim to their traps.

It’s not that people are stalking you or watching your every move. That’s probably not the case. Instead, the situations you commonly find yourself in when traveling carry much greater risk than when you’re sitting in your office at home.

Here are some tips for staying secure:

1. Notify people that you’re traveling

The first thing you should do is notify people that you’ll be traveling. This doesn’t mean posting it to social media (not a good idea). It means calling, texting or emailing the people who need to know. This usually includes family members, friends, co-workers, bosses and clients.

The point of notifying people is to help them help you. First off, it lets them know that they probably shouldn’t be sending you certain files and/or information. Secondly, it tells them to be on the lookout for any strange behavior (such as emails requesting confidential information).

2. Temporarily change passwords

Before you leave, it’s smart to temporarily change your passwords on accounts you’ll be using. This not only diminishes the chances of one of your accounts being hacked, but it also ensures a hacker doesn’t then have access to one of your main passwords that you use for other accounts back home.

Upon returning from your travels, it’s a good idea to treat any password you used on the trip like it’s compromised. In other words, change the password again. This may seem like overkill, but it’s a safe practice.

3. Use a VPN

Every time you use a public internet connection, your data can be intercepted by others on the network. It’s actually fairly easy for a sophisticated hacker to tap into your devices using one of these public networks. And considering that you’ll be using hotel, airport, conference center and coffee shop networks during the course of your travels, it’s not a good idea to leave yourself exposed.

The best solution is to invest in a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts all data coming and going from your computer when you use a public network. This maximizes your safety and helps you conduct business with confidence.

4. Practice safe web browsing

Even if you have a VPN, you still need to practice safe and responsible web browsing. This means only connecting to known Wi-Fi networks, never clicking on links that you aren’t familiar with, and turning off your Wi-Fi when your devices aren’t in use.

As a matter of fact, these are responsible habits you should already be practicing at home. You can prevent yourself from getting in a lot of trouble by remaining vigilant at all times.

5. Update all software prior to leaving

“Be sure to complete virus definition and patch update activities before your departure. Always assume your devices will be compromised upon arrival,” Security Intelligence notes. “To avoid a compromise, review and harden the software build of all your equipment prior to your trip. This may include disabling unnecessary features such as the microphone, camera and Bluetooth capabilities.”

It’s smart to stay on top of updates and patches at all times. You’re unlikely to remember to do it the night before leaving on a 10-day business trip. Be prepared in advance and never let software or apps get behind.

6. Never leave devices unattended

Whatever you do, never leave one of your devices unattended while traveling. Don’t set your briefcase down in a terminal and walk away. Don’t leave your laptop in a conference room. Don’t even leave your phone in the rental car when you go to dinner.

If a device isn’t on you, then you must consider the possibility that it will be stolen or compromised. It’s much harder for this to happen if you have it in your possession at all times. With that being said, only travel with devices you actually need on the trip.

7. Understand how to handle classified info

As a rule of thumb, try not to handle or share classified information or secure data while on a business trip. Sometimes it’s necessary, though. In these situations, make sure you know how to best handle classified information so that it isn’t compromised.

It may be “old school,” but one of the best things you can do is carry sensitive information on a USB drive and only plug it into your own computer when presenting to other people. Upon returning home, you can destroy and dispose of the drive.

Keep your guard up

When you watch the news or scroll through your social media feed, it’s easy to assume that your greatest travel risks have to do with war, terrorism or political unrest. But the truth of the matter is that business professionals face a much greater risk of having information, data, and devices compromised by hackers and other criminals.

As you travel — domestically or internationally — be sure to keep your guard up and be aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t look, feel, or seem right, it probably isn’t. Rely on the tips and techniques discussed in this article and you’ll be much better prepared to face the challenges that today’s interconnected business world throws at you.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

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