Last week, the United States and the United Kingdom issued airline security policies that shook the business travel community: electronic devices larger than a smart phone would no longer be allowed in carry-on luggage.
The US enacted its new security protocol for direct flights into the country from key airports in:
Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UK, in turn, issued restrictions for all inbound flights from:
Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia
Common countries impacted by both bans include Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Qatar and the UAE are exempt from the UK ban, but included in the US ban. And where the US is concerned with airports in Morocco and Kuwait, the UK has focused its attention on Lebanon and Tunisia.
With little warning about the new limitations, airports and travelers alike were left scrambling to comply. Business travelers in particular were, and will continue to be, hit the hardest. Several impacted airlines have addressed productivity concerns by allowing travelers to hold onto devices as long as possible and check electronics at the gate. Qatar Airways recently announced its ‘laptop loan service,’ beginning in April. Despite the willingness of effected airlines to work around new restrictions and provide solutions for flyers, the inability to keep devices on-hand goes beyond inconvenience and lost productivity: it means significant security concerns and corporate policy conflicts.
To protect the safety of corporate devices and the information they store, business travelers have long been encouraged to keep their electronics on hand. Some companies will even go as far as prohibiting electronic devices in checked luggage entirely. So what options do corporate travelers have for protecting data and complying with corporate policy in the wake of these changes?
Best Practices for All Business Travelers:
Whether you can pack your company electronics in checked luggage or not, these security tips will help prevent your sensitive data from being compromised while on the wing:
- Par Down your Devices: When you’re traveling, take only the essentials. On the devices you do bring, store as little sensitive information on each as possible: download only the files you’ll need access and enable only the services (email, Skype, etc.) you’ll need during the trip.
- Back Up your Data: Devices can be replaced, but if your device is stolen or damaged, any data saved solely on that device is gone for good. Be sure to back up your data, either on a company-provided and secure USB or by using a cloud-based service, like DropBox (or SugarSync). Before using a cloud-based service, verify with your IT department that the program complies with corporate policy and security standards.
- Password Protect and Encrypt your Devices: A strong password (at least eight characters long, utilizes both letters [capital and lowercase] and symbols, and is not a recognizable word) is the first line defense against unpermitted access to your sensitive information. Make sure your laptop and all other large devices require password access, and that your phone requires a PIN in order to be unlocked.
A savvy hacker, with the right tools and a little time, will be able to bypass your password and PIN. Encrypting your devices provides a second layer of security: even if they gain access to your device, your data remains shielded. Before embarking, verify that the location you’re traveling to allows device encryption (the practice is illegal in certain countries). If you’re travelling to an area where encryption is permissible, contact your IT professionals to ensure your devices are properly secured.
NOTE: Data encryption is standard on newer Apple devices when you activate a PIN; for older/non-Apple devices, head to Settings > Security to activate encryption.
- Additional Mobile Security: While travelers will be allowed to keep average-sized smart phones in their carry-ons, larger models may be included in the new bans. If you’re concerned your phone exceeds acceptable dimensions and you’re a fan of Bluetooth, make sure you disable Bluetooth for paired devices. If enabled, the savvy hacker can access data across linked devices.
- Power Down your Devices: Encryption tools can only provide complete coverage if your device is fully powered down. Before packing your devices, ensure that they’re completely shut off and not just in sleep mode.
Corporate Policy Prohibits Electronics in Checked Luggage – What Now?
Securing sensitive data is one thing, but getting your devices home is an entirely different beast. Business travelers who are permitted to pack electronics in checked luggage can pad their devices, bubble-wrap their suitcases, and PRAY they survive unceremonious handling and transportation. But what about those whose hands are tied by company policy prohibiting electronics in checked luggage?
- Take an Alternate Route: Most corporate travel policies require travelers to fly the most direct route, but the ban has forced companies to choose between this cost-saving measure and the security of corporate devices. To no surprise, many are choosing a longer route home in order to keep devices on hand.
At Atlas Travel, our agents are actively communicating ban impacts to travelers and suggesting itinerary changes to avoid effected counties. If your corporation is in the process of re-evaluating its travel policies, consult with a supervisor for permission to circumvent direct route requirements. If granted permission, our agents will re-route your reservations based on the next shortest route.
- Use a Mailing Service: For companies that can’t afford the compounding cost of extending business travelers’ flight plans, utilizing a mailing service could be the right option. Both UPS and FedEx offer solutions for shipping electronics, and many airports across the globe provide post offices in the facility. Travelers can still fly the most direct route, and their equipment can be insured while making it home safely. Bonus: by bypassing bringing your electronics to the airport, you also bypass the security concerns!
- Bring an Older Devices and a New USB: If your company is willing to be flexible on its checked electronics policy, older hardware could provide a compromise. Discuss traveling with an outdated (and replaceable) laptop and a secured USB drive. Before heading home, save all your data to the secured USB and wipe the laptop clean. This way your sensitive information remains safely in your possession, and if the laptop gets damaged on the journey home, it’s no real loss.
With a potentially indefinite electronics ban in sight, one thing is certain: no matter how smooth the flight, business travelers are in for a bumpy ride.