The Security Conundrum: Travelling with a Laptop (11/7/2007)

We've all seen it; the highly focused worker whips out their laptop once the plane is airborne and busily bangs away at the keyboard until it's time to land. I used to be one of them, but I don't do that anymore.

Yes, I take a laptop along, but it's quite different from my previous practice. You see, there's several problems inherent in working on the road, and two things stand out in today's environment. The first is the ubiquity of cameras on cell phones and in virtually every public place. A two megapixel camera can take a useful image of your laptop screen from quite a distance over your shoulder. The second is theft. We've all read the horror stories.

So now my customers agree that when I travel for them, they're paying a reduced rated for "transit time," in which I'm not getting any work done at all. Once I'm in my hotel room, I'll work full rate on whatever project needs it that night, but there is no longer any expectation that I'll be snatching useful moments of time out of the trip itinerary. When I ask them whether they want their documents visible over my shoulder to hundreds of public cameras, the answer is unequivocally "No." Then they immediately realize it's not appropriate to expect me to work for others while travelling either. Hence the new transit rate. The transit rate also helps to encourage clients to use video conferencing more often (or at all).

I also use a cheap, lightweight laptop that's just powerful enough to handle PowerPoint. I use VPN and Remote Desktop to connect to my big honking workstation at the office. Nothing of interest is on the hard disk except a bunch of decoy documents and videos to keep the thieves entertained. If I absolutely have to carry actual files along in case I lose connectivity, they're on a flash drive in my pocket, encrypted.

If my laptop is ever stolen, I can confidently tell my customers there's no problem because their data was never on it. I've got better peace of mind now because my traveling problems will never be bigger than filling out an insurance claim form. Of course, this model was not possible until broadband got pushed out to virtually every location that I could ever need. Thank you WWW.

Information security is finally more important than squeezing every last bit of productivity out of our work force. It's about time.