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Last Updated: 07-Jan-2014
Information Technology Services
Information Technology Services: IT Security While Traveling

Laptops, cell phones, tablets, USB "thumb" drives, and other devices can conveniently store data outside your University work environment. But portability has a downside: it may lead to unintended data disclosure. Such devices are easily lost and stolen, and theft of mobile computing devices is on the rise.

File and hard drive encryption offer a high level of protection for your sensitive and legally protected data, as does a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you absolutely must take data with you, consider encrypting it. Although encryption carries extra burdens, it is worth the trouble. If you lose your laptop or other mobile device, the encryption will keep the data private.

Encryption & VPNs

Encryption offers protection by scrambling the data so only the owner of the key can read the data.

A VPN scrambles the data as it is being transmitted back and forth between your mobile device and a server. Note that file and hard drive encryption mean that the data is stored on your mobile device, whereas with a VPN, the data is on a remote server. On the whole, it is better to leave the data on a server that is managed by a system administrator and use a VPN than to take the data with you and encrypt it on the device. ITS offers a VPN solution for your use.

Physical Security

Good Habits:

  • Be wary. Don't let your mobile device out of your sight, and don't be showy with your equipment. You may attract the attention of someone with designs on your smart phone. Carrying your laptop in an inconspicuous or plain bag is a good idea.
  • Label your property. Labeling reduces the theft value of the equipment. It is extra work for the thief to remove the labels.
  • Make one last check to make sure that you are only carrying the data you think you are. It's a good idea to look in your My Documents and Temp folders and purge any unneeded files. Additionally, think of the sensitive and legally protected data like a book you check out from the library. When you return to the office, securely delete it from the device.

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Purge It!
Consider whether you have any unnecessary sensitive or legally protected data on your mobile device.
 • Do you have old grade files or employee evaluations that can be deleted?
 • Have you collected Social Security Numbers as identifiers for some applications?
 • Do you collect birthdates along with names?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, consider whether you have a legitimate business need to store this data on your mobile device: If you are not going to a remote site where you need to present the sensitive data, chances are that you don't really need it.

If you do have a legitimate business need for sensitive data on your mobile device, consider some ways you could make this data safer:
 • Could you access it on a server versus storing it on the local hard drive?
 • Could you remove elements of the data that render it harmless if it were to be unintentionally disclosed? (For example, Social Security numbers by themselves pose no threat. However, if coupled with names in a file, they can prove to be injurious.)
 • Could you improve the physical security of the device?
 • Could you encrypt the data?
Report Security Incidents
Report stolen devices (laptops, PDAs, etc) and suspected computer break-ins to ITS immediately. The sooner we know about an incident, the sooner we can respond, potentially limiting any damage.
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