Laptops, cell phones, Blackberrys, PDAs, USB "thumb" drives, and other devices can conveniently store data outside your University work environment. But portability has a downside: it may lead to unintended data disclosure. Such devices are easily lost and stolen, and theft of mobile computing devices is on the rise.
File and hard drive encryption offer a high level of protection for your sensitive and legally protected data, as does a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you absolutely must take data with you, consider encrypting it. Although encryption carries extra burdens, it is worth the trouble. If you lose your laptop or other mobile device, the encryption will keep the data private.
Encryption offers protection by scrambling the data so only the owner of the key can read the data.
A VPN scrambles the data as it is being transmitted back and forth between your mobile device and a server. Note that file and hard drive encryption mean that the data is stored on your mobile device, whereas with a VPN, the data is on a remote server. On the whole, it is better to leave the data on a server that is managed by a system administrator and use a VPN than to take the data with you and encrypt it on the device. ITS offers a VPN solution for your use.
- Be wary. Don't let your mobile device out of your sight, and don't be showy with your equipment. You may attract the attention of someone with designs on your PDA or Blackberry. Carrying your laptop in an inconspicuous or plain bag is a good idea.
- Label your property. Labeling reduces the theft value of the equipment. It is extra work for the thief to remove the labels.
- Make one last check to make sure that you are only carrying the data you think you are. It's a good idea to look in your My Documents and Temp folders and purge any unneeded files. Additionally, think of the sensitive and legally protected data like a book you check out from the library. When you return to the office, securely delete it from the device.