Carry a PC in Your Pocket

Do Right by Your Data

Whether you carry your work files with you on your flash drive or store them online, you'll still need to take some precautions to protect those files, your privacy, and your computers from harm, whether accidental or malicious. Here are some steps to consider.

Scan for safety. Since using your USB drive on an unknown computer exposes the drive to additional risks, be sure to install antispyware and antivirus software as part of your set of portable applications. As an additional precaution, scan the flash drive itself from your regular computer the next time you return home to make sure it didn't pick up any bugs.

Use common sense. Because a host computer like one in a hotel business center or an Internet cafe may have keyloggers that record your passwords, portable computing can never be 100 percent safe. But you can limit the risk by avoiding credit-card transactions when using your portable system on another machine. And it goes without saying that you should avoid online banking in these situations.

Shred it; don't sweat it. If you're working on sensitive documents, you should keep them encrypted while stored on your flash drive. For example, the open-source program TrueCrypt or the freeware archiving program IZarc2Go both offer encryption features that run on a flash drive.

Ensure the security of your sensitive data by using a utility such as CyberShredder to wipe out PC-side copies of your work.
In most cases, you'll have to copy documents out of the encrypted folder or container before working on them, and then copy them back when you're done. For added security, use a shredding application to destroy the work copies (after you've put a copy back in the encrypted folder of course). CyberShredder and UltraShredder are two free portable utilities that do the job.

Back up your portable, too. Because these devices are small and easily misplaced, backing up your portable USB "computer" is arguably even more important than the backups you do for your main system. The applications are much smaller, so backing up is faster, and the resulting files take less room on your backup drive. All of the suites mentioned above include backup utilities.

Of course, you don't really need such a utility; you can always just use Explorer to drag and drop the contents of your flash drive to a backup disk. The important thing is to do it regularly.

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