Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Traveling with a laptop brings with it certain risks, mostly centered around loss. We'll look at the risks and steps you can take.
How can I protect my laptop at airport security, and really what is the problem with the measures the laptop goes through?
I'm not sure what problems you might be referring to. Airport security, while it certainly has its annoyances and issues, rarely causes problems related to laptops.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared, though.
Having just gone through this with my recent international travel I've put some thought into it.
Actual airport security has never caused me a problem with my laptop. The x-ray machines don't harm it at all. I simply make sure that the laptop is out of my backpack in a tray by itself, as most security screeners request.
The one thing you probably want to keep in mind is that some heightened security levels might require that you be able to turn your laptop on to demonstrate that it is, indeed, a working laptop. That simply means you'll want to make sure your battery's charged, which you probably already do.
The biggest laptop-related risk at airport security is apparently simply forgetting it and leaving it behind. It amazes me but every so often you hear some statistic of hundreds if not thousands of laptops being left behind at airport security lines. Personally I don't get it - I'd forget my shoes before I left my laptop behind.
About the only other thing that could in some cases be impacted by airport or perhaps international security in general is encryption. I'll speak to that in a moment.
The vast majority of the risk to your laptop associated with traveling has nothing to do with airport security at all. More mundane scenarios are a much greater risk: theft or loss at other points of your travels are the most common.
That raises two very important points:
Backup: make sure you understand the ramifications of potentially losing your laptop when you travel. If that would imply catastrophic data loss, then you'd better prepare yourself. That normally means having a clear understanding of what has been backed up before you leave, and what needs to be backed up during your travels. I wrote about my own personal experiences during my recent overseas trip in this recent article: How did you backup while on your trip?
Encrypt: it's bad enough to have your laptop stolen and whatever is on it taken away, but it gets worse. Remember one of my maxims: "if it's not physically secure, it's not secure". And a stolen laptop is the greatest example. A knowledgeable thief will easily be able to gain access to whatever is on your machine that's not appropriately encrypted. That's why I'm such a strong believer in using tools like TrueCrypt to make encryption something that, quite honestly, I think very little about once things are set up. More in this article: How can I keep data on my laptop secure?
Sadly, that brings us back to the risks of traveling and security and their relationship to encryption.
It's unclear exactly when it's allowed, legal or appropriate, but some countries have occasionally forced travelers entering their land to provide the password so that encrypted data can be examined. Since this is rather time consuming my assumption is that it's done only when there's a perceived reason or need, but nonetheless it bears being aware of. Not all countries have the same laws and what's legal to have on your computer in one country may not be in another. If that's discovered on entry - particularly if encryption makes it look like you have something to hide - I would assume that your trip might not proceed as planned.
The good news is that most of us really don't have anything to hide, and aren't very likely to be approached in this manner. Encryption remains an important part of simple, basic security when you're on the road.
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