If you’re going to travel around the world and work, then your data is going to be valuable to you. Now, it’s entirely possible to go through life without losing your devices, having them stolen or having them fail but it is also unlikely.
A digital nomad who has mastered basic data security can sleep more easily. They know that no matter what happens to their devices, they can get back to work without too much more than a bit of financial inconvenience.
Always Use A Login Password For Your Devices
Now, this can be a thumbprint, an eye scan or a plain old password but your first line of defense for your data is making sure that people can’t just open the device and copy it or worse, delete it.
If you struggle with remembering passwords, it can help to let somebody back home have your main device password (so they can remind you if needed) but don’t write it down and keep it on you.
Never make your device password the same password as you use to access online services or websites.
That way if somebody does manage to work your password out – they still have no access to most of your data.
Consider Physical Precautions First
Before you start carrying your devices around all over the place, the best form of defense is often a basic level of common sense:
- Don’t carry anything more than you need. Apart from when you’re moving from one location to another – you do not need to carry every electronic item you own, every time that you leave the house. The only exception to this is if you live in an insecure address in a place with high burglary rates, then carry everything, everywhere.
- Don’t advertise what you have. You only need your phone when you’re actually using it. Otherwise, it will do better in a pocket or bag than on the table in front of you. It’s hard to snatch things that people can’t see.
- Use a secure backpack and don’t be afraid to lock the zips while traveling. Cheap travel locks are fine for this. We also like to make sure our daypack has a rain cover – so that our devices stay dry in a storm.
- Always keep a close eye on your bags. It can help to wrap the handles around your legs if they go under a table. Lock the zippers if you can’t see the bag directly, you’d be amazed at how a clever thief can go through a bag in an awkward place.
If you don’t lose your data, then you keep your headaches to a minimum.
Secure Your Passwords
If you want your passwords to be unavailable to someone who steals your devices, then it’s a good idea to lock them down.
I use 1password for this. It’s a free service that lets you place all your passwords in an encrypted vault. This means you can use long, complex passwords (which are impossible to guess or to hack) for every site that you use, and you don’t need to remember any of them.
You do, however, have to remember your 1password login which should not be, under any circumstances, the same as the login that you use for the device itself.
Even if somebody does steal your device, the odds of them being able to guess their way into your 1password account is very low. That means the majority of applications and data you have will be inaccessible to them.
Add Alarm Systems To Your Devices
There are a lot of options for putting software on your devices that try to warn you when a device is being moved without your permission. Now, you can’t guarantee that they’ll get your attention if the worst happens, but it can’t hurt, right?
You may also want to add early warning systems to your hard drives as hard drive failure is a very common cause of data loss (I lost 2TB of quality Anime last year to this). They aren’t perfect but it’s better than nothing.
Back-Up Your Data Every Single Day
We recommend a two-tier backup strategy for your data. Firstly, you ought to make a backup on a hard-drive that you keep at home and don’t carry around with you.
On that drive, you ought to back up all your data on a weekly basis and your most important data on a daily basis.
In addition, we’d recommend that you use a cloud service such as:
To back up your data online at least every other day. A cloud backup means that even if you lose all your devices and your backup drive – you can restore your machine and get working as soon as you have a new machine.
The cost of online storage has dropped considerably over the years and it’s easy to get a 1-year contract for 1 TB of storage for less than $20 if you need to save money (ASUS has been trying to bully me into buying 1TB from them for $17 for about 2 years, ever since I registered the laptop I bought from them).
Adobe users will have 1TB of storage included with Creative Cloud or Lightroom or Photoshop subscriptions.
If you combine 1password with a cloud backup – your data should feel very secure. The ability to get working quickly after a disaster can be a really helpful way to get back into the swing of things and stop dwelling on what went wrong.
Track Stolen Gear
You can use a ton of different services to track your gear if it gets stolen. These include:
Now, just because you can find something – it doesn’t mean that you always should. In some less-developed parts of the world, confronting a thief may just get you killed – losing your life is worse than losing a laptop.
Talk to somebody local about how to get your gear back from thieves, you may be able to get the local police to help, you may need a fixer to broker a deal and buy your stuff back. Don’t go looking to have your desires confirmed from a local – listen to them about the safest way to go about things.
Get Into Two Factor Authentication (2FA)
An additional layer of security is to add 2FA to your accounts. This is a service which assumes that while somebody might get lucky and guess your password, they ought not to have got lucky enough to access your e-mail or your mobile device.
Now, 2FA can be a complete pain for digital nomads because traditional 2FA wants to link your security to your phone number. I don’t have a phone number. I chuck SIM cards in the bin on a regular basis and normally, only buy a data-only SIM.
This can be a real drag when it comes to getting a Grab taxi but otherwise, it works just fine.
The trouble is that I can’t use 2FA that ties to a number I don’t have.
So, we recommend two means of 2FA that don’t tie to a number:
- Dongle based 2FA. The trouble with this is if you lose the dongle (a USB stick you plug into your device) – you have to go through a ton of effort to replace it. It’s secure but not convenient. If you like this idea try Yubico.
- App-based 2FA. This is definitely a better idea because it means that you can use an app to generate a 2FA key (you don’t need to be online to get the key) and you can install that app on any device. It’s not linked to a phone number. Try Authy for this (as it can be used on the desktop as well as on a mobile device).
You are responsible for your data security as a digital nomad. The good news is that you can do a lot to keep your data safe and secure. You can’t stop yourself from losing a device, having it stolen or watching it fail – but that doesn’t need to harm you or your business.
This is one of the few safety precautions in life that is cheap and easy to execute. So, no excuses or you’ll only have yourself to blame for your digital nomad journey coming to an end.