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Advice: Securing a laptop?
Old 08-02-2016, 09:07 AM   #1
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Advice: Securing a laptop?

In September, I'm headed to Europe for 3 weeks during which I will be spending 5 days in St. Petersburg, RU.

When I travel, I bring my laptop along to check email, keep up with the latest news, do any number of random Google searches, and for Skyping.

With all the issues I've heard about Russian hackers, especially back during the Sochi Olympics, I'm wondering what to do, if anything, about securing my laptop.....or am I being overly cautious to even be thinking about this?

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Old 08-02-2016, 09:14 AM   #2
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Does your laptop offer an option for encrypting its disk? If so make sure to use a strong password and type it in out of sight of prying eyes and cams.

You might also consider using a VPN to encrypt your internet traffic.

And certainly don't access your banking/investment accounts while out and about.
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Old 08-02-2016, 09:15 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by omni550 View Post
or am I being overly cautious to even be thinking about this?
It never hurts to use good practices - anywhere.
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Old 08-02-2016, 09:27 AM   #4
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Along with the suggestions of encryption and VPN, make an image of your computer's hard drive and keep the image at home. That way, if your laptop does get compromised, then at least you have a good image you can restore to when you get back.
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Old 08-02-2016, 09:28 AM   #5
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Mpeirce offers good advice.

Even if you laptop doesn't automatically encrypt your data, you could use an older version of the free software TrueCrypt.

I would also run a port-check such as the GRC one to see which of your ports are open. The only trick with this is that you would want to run it with your laptop directly connected to the internet and not behind a NAT router (you want to check the ports on the laptop - not the router).

I would also completely backup the laptop with a tool such as Acronis TrueImage before I left in case you were to loose access to the laptop for whatever reason.
If you make a full "bare-metal" backup you could restore the laptop upon your return.


You could also remove any sensitive information from the laptop before you leave.


What are your biggest concerns?
- Getting a virus implanted while you are traveling (ie Ransomware)? (see full-metal backup/restore above)

- Eavesdropping on your Web browsing (see VPN above)

- Disclosure of sensitive files?

- Deletion of important files?

- Someone impersonating you?


On my most recent trip I actually left my laptop at home (gasp!) and took only an Android Tablet - worked better than I thought it would.

-gauss
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Old 08-02-2016, 09:58 AM   #6
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This will not be practical for most people, but nevertheless is what I do in a hotel situation -
remove the hard drive and take it with me when I am out and about.
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Old 08-02-2016, 10:01 AM   #7
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I like the idea of making an image backup and restoring it when you get home. Yes, you'll lose files you created in the meantime, but you could save those. You won't necessarily know if your computer got compromised.

Disk encryption is great but no protection against hacking/malware. It does protect your data in case of theft.

Don't connect to "free WiFi" networks. Use a travel router that has a firewall. Definitely run a good software firewall (my preference is Norton.) Pay VERY close attention to web pages you browse to.

Russia is probably not as bad in this regard as China is. St. Petersburg is fabulous - make sure you spend some time at The Peterhof outside of the city.
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Old 08-02-2016, 10:15 AM   #8
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I have a Chromebook which keeps all its data in the cloud instead of on the laptop itself.

Am I correct in thinking that this might be a safer option? As long as access to the Chromebook is well passworded, I'm thinking this might be a better approach.

No?
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Old 08-02-2016, 10:19 AM   #9
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I have an Asus Eee PC notebook that is strictly a travel computer.
If I lost it, it is stolen or hacked, no big deal nothing important on it.
I would never bring my main laptop when out and about.
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Old 08-02-2016, 10:22 AM   #10
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Thanks, y'all are offering good advice and cautions.

Being a lazy sort, I do have an Android tablet which, although not as fully functional as a laptop, might avoid many of these concerns. Plus it'll save on packing space and reduce the weight I'll have to carry by 3-4 pounds.

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Old 08-02-2016, 11:24 AM   #11
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I would echo the advice given above regarding making a system image backup, using Acronis TrueImage ($) or something like DriveImage XML (free). If you do nothing else before your trip, be sure to do this. Then, turn on encryption for all the folders where you keep sensitive data, or use a whole-disk encryption tool like VeraCrypt (free). And don't ever connect to free, open WiFi hotspots, especially in public places. Only use secure, limited-access WiFi, or better yet don't use WiFi at all and pay for an international cellular data plan. My two cents...
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Old 08-02-2016, 01:26 PM   #12
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I have an Asus Eee PC notebook that is strictly a travel computer.
If I lost it, it is stolen or hacked, no big deal nothing important on it.
+1 I do travel with my laptop, but the situations are rather benign and well controlled. If that wasn't the case, I would get a cheap notebook (or a cheap tablet with a cheap keyboard) for email and web surfing when traveling. You'll probably find a good use for it when you get home.
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Old 08-02-2016, 01:30 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by omni550 View Post
Thanks, y'all are offering good advice and cautions.

Being a lazy sort, I do have an Android tablet which, although not as fully functional as a laptop, might avoid many of these concerns. Plus it'll save on packing space and reduce the weight I'll have to carry by 3-4 pounds.

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This x1000. I do have a laptop, but it's pretty much be regulated to school exam use ONLY. The rest of the time, it sits in my downstairs office doing nothing.

A tablet is the best way to go. Easy to deal with security wise, getting through TSA (and other worldly organizations) and you can limit what's on there. The stuff you want to do seems like can be done on a tablet with ease. And with Bluetooth keyboards, well, it's about the same as HAVING a laptop, just 4 pounds lighter!
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Old 08-02-2016, 01:36 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by omni550 View Post
When I travel, I bring my laptop along to check email, keep up with the latest news, do any number of random Google searches, and for Skyping.
Pondering this a bit more... Have you considered skipping the laptop altogether?

I've always used a laptop when traveling (and recently picked up a new super light/thin MacBook for this), but on our last trip I tried getting by with just my iPhone.

It worked surprisingly well. It is a larger phone (iPhone 6S+), but it worked great for everything you mentioned.

It's also very secure. iPhones storage is encrypted and quire difficult to get into. It also makes it easy to use a vpn for internet access.
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Old 08-02-2016, 02:24 PM   #15
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I have used a phone when traveling, and for email it was fine. Plus you can set it up before you go.
I did use a new gmail account, so even if stolen, it does not get emails from my bank.

I also have a small laptop for travel, it's not the one used for banking etc. I put older version of truecrypt on it, to store the files encyrpted.
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Old 08-02-2016, 05:02 PM   #16
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Used the Nexus 10 android tablet in Vienna. That tablet has served us well since 2014 trip to AUS/NZ.

Have no passwords or secret data on the tablet. We used hotel wifi.

I carried a few passwords and essential data on my person throughout the trip, in case I needed to contact an institution.

You could use the hotel safe when going out. I think we had a smaller one in the room, but did not use.
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