The digital nomad lifestyle gives you mobility and your electronics visibility, requiring you to be more diligent about loss and theft than someone working in an office surrounded by four walls. Your security plan is only as strong as its weakest point, so here’s how to make sure you’re covered physically, digitally, and mentally for the most common threats, no matter where you’re working today.
Let’s Get Physical
Depending on your office style, whether you’re a cafe or beach hammock kind of person, choose your working locations strategically. Walls, especially corners, limit angles for thieves who might be targeting your stuff.
Physical barriers also reduce the area you have to pay attention to, which is critical since the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll be able to notice activity around you when you’re knee-deep into a project.
- Limit what’s in your bag – Don’t bring valuables you won’t need for a working session (e.g. iPad) to limit potential loses.
- Keep out only what’s being actively used – Many mobile phones have found new owners because they’re conveniently sitting next to distracted laptop users.
- Lock your bag zippers – You’ll effectively eliminate quick, opportunistic hands with inexpensive luggage locks.
All of this may seem like common sense – because it is – but a personal security policy keeps your habits consistent, whether you’re a company of one or 5,000. That said, it doesn’t hurt to drop a small GPS tracker in your backpack.
Set Up Automated Warning Systems
Both the free iOS app Best Phone Security and Android Don’t Touch My Droid set off audible alarms when your mobile devices are moved without your permission. Similar free software, Yawcam (Windows) and iAlertu (OS X) will give you a loud head’s up if someone tries to make off with your laptop when your back is briefly turned.
Keep in mind that thieves aren’t the only threat to your data. Although the average spinning disk hard drive will last 3-5 years and solid state drives about 3 times as long, there are no guarantees.
Both Active@ Hard Drive Monitor ($5.99; Windows) and SMARTReporter (free; OS X) give you some advance warning of hard drive failure and automatically backing up your data using Crashplan will make sure your files are as portable as you are.
Recover From Loss
Despite your best efforts, loss is often unavoidable. Luckily, with preparation it’s easiest to minimize losses of your two most valuable commodities — time and information. Recovering lost or stolen gadgets isn’t as feasible but if you’re willing to write off the hardware mentally, there’s a chance you can get them back tangibly.
Start by looking on the bright side – make it easy for someone who finds your lost gadget to get in touch with you.
- Mobile Contact – misHaps ($0.99; Android) and Contact Screen Info (free; iOS) let you add basic contact information to lock screens.
- Find Digital Cameras – $10 for supported devices, cameratrace helps you find lost photographic equipment with a bar code tag, and stolen equipment by tracking uploaded photos.
Then look on the darker side of the force and encrypt your data, which is vulnerable when it’s out of your physical control.
- Hard Drive Encryption – Built into Windows 8.1 by default and easily enabled in modern Mac OS X versions, this makes it very difficult for a thief to pull information directly from your disks.
- Encrypt Sensitive Files – You often lose privacy rights at borders (if the country you’re visiting even has them), legally requiring you to give up passwords to laptops or other devices for inspection. Enabling Truecrypt hidden folders for your personal files or desktop lets you hide files in plain sight.
- Tablets And Mobile Phones – Here’s how to encrypt Android and iOS tablets.
Track And Trace
Although there are a number of such services, the best program to install on all of your devices is Project Prey. Aside from being free (woot!), Project Prey tracks your gadgets, take pictures of the thieves, and lets you remotely wipe your phone/tablet/laptop to keep your data out of scummy hands.
Additionally, Prey can capture logins, passwords, and other identifying information crooks enter into your phone, tablet, or laptop, often giving you enough leverage to them track down.
Savvy thieves may try to wipe your device to prevent programs like Project Prey from tracking them. Although your options are limited on tablets and mobile phones, you can add protection to your laptop by setting a BIOS/firmware password. (Here’s how on Windows and Mac.)
Your best protection from theft is often by being the least tempting target around. Don’t advertise how expensive your backpack is by charging your devices at cafes, or even revealing that you’re carrying them by having conspicuous USB cables plugged into everything.
But remember, whether you’re trying to protect yourself from thieves or hardware failures, no security plan provides absolute protection. Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst so your assets are covered — and recovered if need be — in no time.
Do you have any security stories or advice from the road? Let us know in the comments!
This post is part of Digital Nomad Month on Too Many Adapters.