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How to Secure Your Laptop in Public Spaces

woman looking at another woman's laptop computer

When your business can be anywhere, your business is suddenly everywhere.

Business is no longer relegated to the walls of your office building or home office. People do business on their laptops and mobile devices in public all over the world. While this is incredibly dangerous, there is a right way and a wrong way to do so safely. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to secure your laptop in public places.  

Password Protect, Password Protect, Password Protect

If your laptop doesn't require a password to access it, you’re essentially asking for trouble. Forgetful and clumsy creatures by nature, misplacing laptops in cafes, airports, or Ubers is par for the course. If you misplace an unprotected laptop, you should be freaking out.  If your laptop doesn’t require a password to use it, stop reading this article right now and do that. We’ll wait… ...ok, you’re back? Good — you were stressing us both out. 

Never ever leave your laptop unattended.

Working in a coffee shop is a great escape from the office. However, slamming lattes has the side effect of sending you to the bathroom. If this is the case, guess where your laptop should be while you’re in el baño? Yep, with you. Though it sounds gross, you should never leave your laptop computer unattended in public for any reason. There is absolutely no excuse for doing so.

Just don’t let anyone use your business laptop. 

Let’s say that you’re out and about and a fellow traveler asks if they can check their email on your laptop. You obviously should politely decline their request. But what if a family member asks to use your laptop? If you have sensitive business details on the laptop, you can also decline their offer. While they’re likely not going to steal sensitive data, they may not be as unscrupulous as you would be about their use. This reckless usage can make your computer and thus your company data vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. 

Take virtual precautions against lingering security threats. 

Jumping from flight to flight, Uber to Uber, and hotel room to hotel room, you may be exhausted and just want to check your business email. That “free wifi” icon can be so tempting, but don’t let your own exhaustion weaken your cyber defenses. 

  • Use a VPN. Free wifi is never to be trusted as secure. It’s laughably easy to steal data from devices connected to an unsecured wireless connection. For this reason, you should only use one of these if you have a VPN (virtual private network). Even if you have one of these, still be cautious about what data you choose to access.
  • Use a personal internet connection. Personal internet connectivity via a portable wireless device such as a “MiFi” box or a secure tethered mobile device is always preferable to an unsecured internet connection. 

Keep your laptop screen out of sight. 

If you’re using your laptop in a public place, try to find a place where onlookers cannot see your laptop screen. Finding a nice nook in the back of a cafe with your back to a wall is best. If you’re using your laptop on a plane, train, or bus, be mindful of not only those sitting beside you but also those behind you or those walking in the aisle. Even just a glance at your fingers as you enter a password can open your laptop to unnecessary threats. 

Back up your laptop data. 

In a past job, I remember a fire drill that forced everyone out of the building. I came down the stairs with my laptop under my arm. The CEO of that company, however, had nothing. “It’s all in the cloud,” he said when asked about his lack of a laptop.  One of the biggest headaches of a lost laptop is lost work or information on the computer. Make sure that you are securely backing up your work as you go. Even if your computer is completely secure, lost data is lost data. 

Remain Aware of Your Surroundings

Even upon taking all of these precautions, you are your own biggest enemy in regard to guarding the security of your laptop. Make a habit of periodically scanning your environment for anyone seated a little too close behind you, wandering eyes, or anything remotely suspicious. If you even suspect that someone nearby has taken an interest in your laptop use, pack up shop, and find another location. It's just not worth it. 

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