Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Protecting Your Data as You Travel

As if travel in general isn't stressful enough! As business travelers we have the additional responsibility of protecting the intellectual property we carry around, whether it belongs our own company or to an employer. When I traveled for Microsoft back in the late 1990s a username and password was sufficient. In the early 2000s, smart card technology was added to our regimen because Windows 2000 supported it. That meant that we had to have a smart card reader to plug into our laptops, and had use our badge with the embedded chip on it to authenticate to our laptops and to the corporate network. Some US companies embraced smart cards; many still resist having some kind of third aspect of authentication before users can log in.

Europeans have been using smart card technology for years. When we first introduced the support in Windows 2000 at the European TechEd conference, it was greeted with comments like "what took you so long?" And "it's about time."

What Do You Take With You?

I was reading an article from Business Travel News this week that drove home the point. Are you taking with you files that aren't necessary? Do you have more data at risk on your laptop than is wise to allow?

Now with the accessibility of cloud storage, it's possible to stow those reports or stash your presentation where others cannot reach it. The level of security varies from provider to provider, so you need to examine carefully what measures they take to protect your data.

Encryption can go a long way towards keeping prying eyes away from one's data. Depending on your cloud provider, you can either encrypt files before they get to the cloud, or have your cloud provider encrypt them afterwards. There are advantages to both approaches; it just depends on your needs.

I'm a big fan of Amazon Web Services' cloud storage they call Simple Storage Service or S3. I used it for years before I worked at AWS, and I like it even more now. Amazon S3 lets you park your data in S3 using their Management Console, to which you can add something called Multi-Factor Authentication, or MFA, for the master account.


You can also implement a user scheme that lets you create groups with specific permissions and assign users to the groups. It's really ideal for business travelers who need access to their data without the company giving master access to everyone. The name for that service is Identity and Access Management, or IAM.


I recently set one of my clients up on Amazon S3 using IAM, and was able to give individual logins and credentials to each employee in their small business. If an employee doesn't work out, for example, their access to the intellectual property stored in S3 can be removed without causing problems for everyone else.

Physical Safety of Your Hardware

Traveling as a business person can be lonely for a lot of reasons, but it is especially frustrating when you need someone to "watch your stuff" for you. I am guilty of allowing a seemingly nice person who's been sitting next to me in the airline lounge watch over my laptop while I run off to the bathroom for "just a minute." I did lock the desktop and close the lid, but being away for just a minute is all it takes for you to lose everything.

The alternative to leaving your laptop behind while others watch over it is to tuck it into your bag and lock your bag to a fixture such as a desk or workstation or heavy chair: I've done that too and been fortunate to return and find everything where I left it.

It's probably best to simply not leave your laptop unattended, even with nice people watching over it. That means planning your trips to the lavatory carefully, perhaps upon arrival and departure when your items are already packed in your rolling laptop bag.

These days you must treat your smartphone with the same care as your passport: never EVER let them out of your sight. Think carefully about what you store on your phone. All you have to consider is the havoc someone can wreak on your life if you forget to log out of your banking app or your LinkedIn account. That ought to give you the shivers!

Got any horror stories or advice to share? Add them in the Comments below, and I'll include them in a future newsletter.
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Travel, Technology, and the Passage of Time

This month's newsletter is going to be uncharacteristically short for an appropriate reason: I have only 1 hour before boarding time. I'm in Chicago O'Hare Airport, on my way home from my father's memorial service. Dad passed away January 8th, and we waited to schedule a service when the greatest number of relatives could join us for the celebration of Dad's life.

Travel Then and Travel Now

The first time I remember meeting my father's mother was when I was about 5 years old. My youngest brother was just a baby, and Grandma Frida was pretty old by then. It was a seemingly unending trip in the car; first navigating our way from Rockford IL through Chicago, then across Indiana where our toll card was punched at each end of the state. Next was the trip across Ohio and my version of "are we there yet?" Followed by the twists and turns on the road to Ashtabula. The trip was 10 hours by car, and we made it all in one long stretch because we couldn't afford to stay overnight in motels.

The trip to see Grandma Victoria and Grandpa Anton was similar, though not as long. We took old Route 20 across Illinois and most of the way across Iowa. It only took 7 hours, but again, we made it all in one day.

All of our family trips were made by car; I didn't get on an airplane for the first time until I was 19 years old. It was spring, and the Wheaton College Choir was going on a bus tour of the mid-Atlantic states, but first we had to fly to Washington DC to get to the bus. I remember being both nervous and excited on that first trip. I didn't want to confess that I was such a travel-late-bloomer, but I also didn't know the correct protocols, and was afraid I might embarrass myself.

I didn't travel very much until I started working for Microsoft. Then within any 10 hour period in the air, I could reach most destinations in Europe or Asia. Tack on another 3 hours and I could reach Australia or New Zealand. Not only did my travel horizons increase, so did my world view. Going to Wheaton College gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world; traveling for business gave me the opportunity to see where they lived.

What does this have to do with my father's passing? What I am contemplating in this newsletter is how quickly the world moves now compared to when I was a kid. It's neither all bad or all good; it's just fast. Things have changed a lot in my lifetime; they have changed even more during Dad's lifetime.

Technology Overcoming Obstacles

Despite being almost 94, Dad had been busy and active right up until the last week of his life. When illness overtook him, he slipped away in just 6 days. He never wanted to linger, so despite our sorrow, we were OK with that. My sister who lived nearby was there, and my youngest brother was able to break away and join her as they kept vigil. My other brother and I connected with my sister and brother via Skype's video conferencing service, so even though we couldn't be together, we had regular updates.

After Dad had gone, my siblings and I met every few days for an hour or two to handle preparations for this past weekend. We got a room block for the relatives, organized the service, arranged for a family dinner afterwards, and even began sorting through the precious heirlooms handed down from previous generations. Using webcams, we could see the photographs we wanted to put into the slide show of Dad's life, and we laughed and cried together in a way that wasn't affordable or even barely possible 10 years ago.

Keeping Families Together via Technology

It's hard enough to stay close to your immediate family when you're a business traveler; staying in touch with your own siblings and parents can be even more challenging. I'm glad that my family is tech-enabled enough to stay in touch via email, Skype, and now on Facebook. I hope you'll encourage your siblings to stay in touch as well. Life is precious, and time flies. Make the most of the opportunities you have to reach out to those closest to your heart.
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Newsletter: Online Backup for Busy Travelers

From time to time, I report on useful technology for business travelers. This month I want to talk about data protection while you're on the road.

For years I've carried a small portable drive for handling my nightly backups. Having your own backup drive may be fast and efficient, but with the wide availability of high-speed Internet connections in even the most modest hotels, it's time to take a serious look at using online backup while you're on the road.

Online Backup Programs You've Heard About

There are two big players in the online backup market whose names you've no doubt heard in the media: Mozy and Carbonite. I've used MozyPro, the business version of their software in the past. I registered 3 computers with them and backed up my files incrementally over time. I was paying nearly $60/month at the time, and when one of my older computers failed, I was able to recover the files I had worked on, which was terrific.

I just reviewed the pricing for MozyPro, and it's about the same as it was when I was using a couple of years ago. For the 83 GB of files I would want to back up nightly, I would be paying $41.50 plus the monthly fee of $4.95 for just one computer. For me the price became prohibitive to use online backup for two computers, so I went back to local backups on an external hard drive.

Carbonite is the other service you've heard about, and several of my clients use it and like it very much. Their website offers an unlimited backup for $54.95/year, but they point out that they only back up certain kinds of files for that fee: email, photos, documents, settings, and music. You can also add videos, files over 4GB in size, and executable files. It is not designed to be what is known as a "drive image" backup or snapshot of your entire machine. Restoring your computer would mean reinstalling all of your software and putting these files back where they belonged.

Carbonite works all the time in the background, backing up when your computer is idle. MozyPro can be set to do the same thing. Both services will require you to keep your computer on all the time, and it may take several days to do the initial backup. I remember mine taking 3 days (60 gigabytes, remember?), but after that backups took just an hour or so because it was incrementally backing up only what had changed.

One issue you encounter with both of these services is the retention policy. Typically files are deleted after 30 days, so neither service is good for long-term storage. Most people only keep a few days' worth of backups anyway, so if you're only interested in offline backups, then these services are fine.

The Amazon S3 Alternatives

Amazon S3 is one of the best "cloud storage" options you've never heard of. "S3" stands for Simple Storage Service, and it's used by programmers and Internet Marketers to make their content available to users.

Why do I mention Amazon S3? Because of the extremely low costs involved. Right now I have about 26 GB of files stored on Amazon S3, and my bill hasn't ever reached $5 per month to store them. Amazon charges not only for the storage but for retrieval requests, but the costs are negligible.

Also Amazon S3 can be used for long-term storage, not just for backups. You don't access Amazon S3 using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program; you must use a special access tool such as Cloudberry Lab's S3 Explorer (Freeware). What is also special about Amazon S3 is that they use alphanumeric security keys in place of a username and password. These keys are long and difficult/impossible to memorize, and less likely to be hacked by prying eyes.

Amazon S3 by itself does not have backup capability, but here are 2 programs you can consider using to handle the backup functions and storing your backups online.

  • Zmanda Cloud Backup for Windows
    Zmanda uses Amazon S3 for its storage, and lets you configure what is configured when using their desktop software. You can have it back up files locally and then schedule back files to be copied to your Amazon S3 account, or you can back up directly to Amazon S3 You pay a monthly licensing fee to use the software, but you are billed directly by Amazon S3 for the storage fees. Zmanda has a nice cost calculator on their website, so you can figure out in advance approximately how much you'll pay per month to run backups.

  • Cloudberry Lab Online Backup
    Cloudberry Lab's Online Backup has many of the same features, but instead of paying a monthly fee for the software, you buy it outright, (US$29.99) then pay annually for maintenance updates (which they say are 20% of the original price, or US$6.00). This backup software backs up directly to Amazon S3, but it offers "differential" backup, so that you're not backing up all the files every cycle. That keeps your Amazon S3 data in/out costs down.

Getting in the Backup Habit

Whether you choose to bring a backup drive or rely on the online backup alternatives described above, the most important thing is to get in the habit of running backups. If you aren't used to having your laptop on all night, this might take some getting used to. Don't worry; modern laptops are built for nearly continuous operation, and they'll hold up as long as they're well-ventilated.

If you choose an online backup service, you can plug in your laptop at the hotel and leave it running all night so that the backups can make it to your service's storage locations. You also save on baggage weight by having one less thing to carry.

Are you using an online backup service? If so, let me know which one and what your experiences have been by commenting on this newsletter.
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