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Originally published Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 7:00 AM

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How to avoid being hacked abroad

Tips for keeping your laptop, mobile devices safe when traveling

The Associated Press and The Seattle Times

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Business travelers, and vacationers, need to protect their laptops and mobile devices from corporate spying or, more simply, viruses or malware. Some suggestions:

Don’t take your work laptop. That’s the best advice and a precaution used by major companies and agencies of the federal government, said Anup Ghosh, chief financial officer of Invincea, a software-security company in Fairfax, Va.

Instead, some employers issue traveling laptops that are clean of proprietary corporate or government information and are scrubbed clean after the employee returns from the trip.

Network safety. Business travelers and vacationers need to be aware of the risk, once in-country, of connecting to public networks. Wireless networks in hotels and coffee shops, for instance, are often compromised and malicious codes can be downloaded into your machine, Ghosh said.

Even if you leave home with a clean laptop and it’s wiped clean after the trip, someone can still capture what you’re typing in emails or your credentials when you’re entering them during the trip.

Not much can be done about that — it’s just a risk you should take into account so you are careful to avoid activities such as logging into your bank to do financial transactions, he said.

Guard your equipment. Don’t think you can just keep your eye on your laptop. Data can be captured while the laptop is in customs or if you step away from your hotel room briefly.

“It takes five minutes or less to capture information from the laptop,” Ghosh said. Lock your laptop in a hotel safe. Use an encrypted drive.

Get a traveling phone. Instead of taking your company or personal phone, consider getting a pay-per-use phone for traveling or a world phone (you can get a SIM card for the countries in which you’re traveling).

For corporate travelers with sensitive information who take their own phones, it could be prudent to reimage phones upon returning.

Also use a screen password on your mobile device so if you lose it, no one can pick it up and easily read your email or other data.

Computer maintenance: Travel aside, your company should also routinely take steps to limit the types of applications that can run on their systems, regularly update computer programs, and tightly control the number of people who have broad access privileges to the company networks, said Alan Paller, director of research at SANS Institute, a computer-security organization.

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