Going "North" / "South" / Somewhere Else? Traveling?
This time of year many people are thinking about heading "back home" or taking a trip. This leads to interesting computer considerations. How can personal information be kept safe while traveling? What is the easiest way to move files? What about address books and calendars: how can they be up to date on all computers?
Some people travel with their primary computer, thus keeping access to all files, addresses, calendar information, settings, and familiar computer environment. This brings attention to the security implications of traveling with one small box that contains all of your personal information. Unlike the 90's, there is nobody today who cares to steal a computer for the value of the computer hardware. The hardware value is negligible relative to the value of the information. As any bank representative will tell you, it takes much less information than you may realize to start the process of identity theft. You may already have firewalls installed at your home that protect your computer while it is physically there, but what about in another home or while it's connected to a public network such as at an airport, coffee house, etc.? Computers that are connected to public networks and/or unprotected Internet connections are primary targets for theft of personal information. Protection, however, is simple. Set up one house or office with a "VPN Firewall" and then your information will be safe regardless of where you are. The way it works is simple: your computer connects to your private firewall from anywhere in the world. Once that connection is made, you are protected from surrounding computers just as if you were carrying that firewall with you. These small VPN firewalls protect your computer when it is in your possession, but what happens if your computer is lost or stolen? Passwords do not protect personal information. There is only one thing that keeps information private if a computer falls into the wrong hands: encryption. By using WDE (whole disk encryption) your files cannot be interpreted by any other party, even if someone physically has your computer. When your computer turns on, it prompts for the decryption key. If that key is not entered, no data can be interpreted.
Some find it easier to have separate computers in various locations. This obviously leads to the task of keeping files up to date across these computers. There are some handy options. "Cloud computing" services are providing residential and small business users with options that were previously only available to large organizations. One of the most convenient of these options is a "virtual file server"; you have your own file storage place, accessible to all of your computers, all the time, without having to own or maintain any equipment. These services can be less than $3 / month and they are really easy to use, working just like another folder on your computer. You work on files, save them and manage them in the same manner you do now. The only consideration is to be sensible with the information you save on your virtual file server; these are run by third-party companies so potentially your data could be available to any employee of that company. The best practice is to use your virtual file server for non-sensitive information or encrypt files before they are saved on the server.
Calendars, address books, e-mail folders, task lists, etc. can also be handled by cloud computing services. Exchange accounts are becoming increasingly popular as they provide a low cost way to conveniently have all of this information instantly accessible to any computer you use, including PDAs. If you add an address, that address will be available on the next computer you use. If an e-mail is moved into a certain folder, that sorting will be realized by all computers. Anyone who uses multiple computers along with currently using, or wishing to use, a calendar, address book, etc. will find an Exchange account to be incredibly convenient and very inexpensive.
2010 provides many options to ease the convenience of traveling while providing protection from the growing threats of data / identity theft. With the decreasing prices of internet services such as DSL, Cable, FiOS, Satellite, etc., people find they can easily add cloud computing services such as Exchange and virtual file servers without adjusting their annual Internet budgets.