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Summer Daze? Relax, But Keep Your Data Secure
June 6, 2011
Monique Yeaton
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In the summer, many of us take time off. But being away from MIT doesn’t always mean that we're offline. Some of us will still check our MIT email or try to get some work done. While summer can feel more relaxed, don’t ease off on securing important data when you work from home or from a distance.

While Telecommuting
Whether you’re working from home sporadically or for an extended period, there are risks associated with off-campus computing. IS&T recommends the following measures to help secure data on your home computer or work laptop:

  • Unsecured Internet access, whether wired or wireless, can expose sensitive information to professional hackers. Use an encrypted wireless network – one that has a password to log on. If that’s not an option, use MIT’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access or transmit MIT files.
  • Don’t use a personal email account (such as Hotmail or Gmail) to send MIT-related email; instead, use your MIT email account, which keeps copies of emails on MIT’s mail server.
  • Give other people in your home separate user accounts if they need to log on to the computer you use for work.
  • If you are using a laptop purchased for work, keep it in a secure location (not in the back seat of your car) and be sure to encrypt its hard drive.

While Traveling
Every week in the U.S. about 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen in airports around the country. And that’s just at airports! Smartphones carry similar security risks because they can store data. An estimated 8 million smartphones are lost or stolen in this country each year.

Given these numbers, be prepared! To keep your data secure when traveling:

  • Back up your data onto a secure drive or server before traveling.
  • Leave nonessential data at work and remove it entirely from your laptop or smart phone. Make sure the data is wiped by overwriting it, not just deleting it or putting it in the trash; free wiping programs are available online, or you can buy them at most office supply stores.
  • Encrypt sensitive data you need to take with you; there are many products that can do this on a flash drive, laptop, or smart phone, including some built into your device’s operating system. IS&T provides PGP Desktop, a hard drive encryption tool, free to MIT staff.
  • When using a mobile phone or laptop while traveling, share or backup files through a service such as Dropbox, MobileMe, or similar cloud storage options, to minimize the possibility of data loss. Avoid sending sensitive data by email.


Learn More
For tips and guidance on protecting MIT’s data, visit the Information Protection @ MIT web site. The IT Security web site also has tips and related security information: