1) KEEP IT ON YOU: The best way to ensure your data doesn’t get stolen is to keep it on you at all times. Don’t leave your laptop or other sensitive information in your hotel room and resist the urge to ask the person next to you to keep an eye on your belongings when in a café or restaurant. With today’s increasingly prevalent threats of identity theft and active corporate espionage, don’t make it easy to become a victim.
2) USE YOUR OWN: It’s tempting, especially while traveling, to pop into an Internet café to send e-mails and conduct business. However, it’s always safer to use your own computer in the privacy of your hotel room. Public wi-fi spots are frequented by any number of amateur and/or professional snoops, including foreign spies and identity hackers who can potentially tap into everything you are doing online.
3) ENCRYPT IT: The practice of scrambling data on your hard drive is standard among intelligence professionals and it’s just as important for the business professional. The added layer of security encryption requires a password, or sometimes a series of them, to open programs or documents and there are many free encryption programs you can download from the Internet. It will help give you peace of mind, and a taste of the life of a secret agent.
4) USE A PRIVACY FILTER: Remarkably simple and practically undetectable once installed, Privacy Filters, like those from 3M, help protect the data on your computer screen from prying eyes by making the screen visible to persons only directly in front of it.
5) LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!: When you hunker down in a coffee shop or other public locale to check e-mail or attend to other business, sit with your back to the wall so that other patrons are not afforded a bird’s eye view of your screen. Of course, it’s also a good idea to make sure there is no window behind you!
6) NO HABLO INGLES: When working in a foreign country, assume those around you can understand what you’re discussing. Increasingly, English is the international language in which business (and espionage!) are conducted. As a CIA spy, I routinely pretended not to understand what foreigners around me were saying, even when I was fluent in their language.
7) BE CAREFUL WITH CELL PHONES AND PDAs: The popularity of innovative and convenient features on today’s mobile devices means that more and more people are conducting business – discussing mergers, making offers, “sealing the deal” – over the phone and in public. It’s best to keep cell phone conversations to a minimum, especially in settings where virtually anyone could be listening, such as elevators, trains, airplanes, restaurants, hotel lobbies and airport lounges.
8) PACK YOUR BAGS IN A PARTICULAR WAY: You want to take on the persnickety persona of Felix Unger when you pack to travel. I learned this trick from my father, who designed nuclear submarines during the height of the Cold War. Arrange your belongings – in the suitcase, at the hotel and in your rental car – in such a way that it will be immediately obvious if someone else has tampered with them.
9) DON’T CARRY CACHE: No matter what browser you’re using to surf the Internet, it takes only a few seconds to reset it or empty the cache (usually located in the “Preferences” or “Options” menu). Resetting or emptying your cache will make it harder for any unauthorized persons to view your site history, or to use prompts to discover passwords and personal information in case your laptop does get stolen.
10) SHRED IT: As a CIA case officer who traveled in alias and did not want to leave any discernible paper trail, I routinely shredded (by hand if necessary) all bills, ticket stubs and bank statements on the spot, and then distributed the scraps in various trash bins. This is an easy way to foil the average identity theft.