When the SHTF and you need to leave your home for parts known or unknown, you’ll want to have some way to continue being a part of the information age. If you’re like me, computing and internet access are important to your daily life. And one of the goals of prepping, in my not-so-humble opinion, is to keep your life as normal as possible in the face of disasters of every kind. So if you have to bug out, here are my tips to maintain access to the internet and keep your data safe on the road.
1. Choose a Portable Computing Device
There’s always a trade-off when choosing a computing device that small and light enough for travel. Laptops are powerful and full-featured, but a little on the heavy side. The lightest and thinnest laptops are also the most expensive. If you want small, light and inexpensive, try an ultrabook (currently as low as $450 or so) running Windows operating system.
Another good option is the new Chromebooks. They start at around $250 (as of this writing), and run Google’s Chrome operating system. You have browser access to the internet, e-mail through the browser, and you can use Google Docs for word processing and related tasks. The feature set of a Chromebook is limited; it doesn’t run programs independent of the internet. But a Chromebook boots fast, handles internet tasks well, and is small, light, and cheap.
I suppose you can always throw a tablet computer in a backpack and be good to go. But you will be limited by the lack of a physical keyboard. Tablets are good at many tasks, but if you have to type more than a few words, you’re better off with an Ultrabook or a Chromebook.
2. Water-proof it
Waterproof padded soft-shell laptop bags are inexpensive and effective. You can bug out in the rain with a laptop in your backpack and not have to worry. Aqua Quest makes a waterproof laptop bag for the Macbook, that also works fine for other computers of the same size (or smaller).
A smartphone or tablet will work in a pinch to keep in touch and informed while on the road. Otterbox makes a wide range of rugged waterproof boxes for smart phone and tablets.
You can buy a laptop that is “ruggedized” and it will resist damage from water, drops, dust, etc. But the extra cost is not worth the limited additional protection you get. Not recommended. Some smartphones are now touting a waterproof feature: Top 5 Waterproof Smartphones to Kickstart Your Summer. The problem is that most people already have a smart phone, and it doesn’t make sense to buy a new one just to get the waterproof feature.
3. Backup your data to the Cloud
It’s always possible, when you are on the road with your data, that you will lose your laptop, or it will be stolen or damaged. Any data that you have with you is vulnerable to loss. That is why you should always have your most important files backed up to the cloud (a server on the internet).
Many companies offer online storage for files. My top pick is Dropbox.com. They use 256-bit AES encryption for your data, and the software is easy to use. I find it helpful to keep a folder on my desktop computer with all the files that I am currently working on in one place. This makes it easy to back-up your most recent and most important files.
4. External Hard Drive
Cloud backups are limited in space, and large files take a long time to upload and download. So apart from your most important files, you will want a way to back-up everything. I use ShadowProtect to back-up the whole hard drive as one file (called an Image back-up). This is the quickest way to protect all of your data in one fell swoop. If your desktop crashes or your laptop is lost, you won’t lose any data. But the file size for this type of back-up is large, so you will want an external hard drive to hold the data.
Western Digital makes an inexpensive rugged case for their small and light My Passport external hard drive. The 1 Terabyte drive has plenty of storage space, is currently under $100 and uses a fast USB 3.0 connection.
5. Protect Your Passwords
How many passwords do you have for all the different internet sites that you use in a day or week? Using the same password for every site is not secure. But there are so many sites nowadays that require passwords, it’s hard to remember them all. This is especially true for sites that you might only access on occasion. I suggest using PasswordSafe. It’s a free and easy-to-use program that encrypts all your passwords in one place. Just don’t forget the main password for the program.
PasswordSafe also has a feature to generate a new and secure password; one that would be almost impossible for a hacker to guess or crack. This level of secure password is only needed for sites that are most sensitive: your online bank and online credit card sites, for example. See my previous post: How To Choose A Secure Password
6. Secure Your Internet Access
While you are on the road, if/when internet access is available, it is likely to be in the form of an insecure public WiFi spot. This type of access to the internet is risky. Someone with ill-intent and a few programs downloaded from nefarious hacker-type websites might be able to obtain access to your data or intercept your e-mails and internet usage. The best way to secure your internet access on the road — whether bugging out during a disaster or simply traveling for business or pleasure — is to use a VPN service.
Lifehacker has a good article on this topic: Why You Should Start Using a VPN (and How to Choose the Best One for Your Needs).
A VPN service costs money; there is a monthly or yearly fee. Setting up the software can be a little tricky. So there is a small barrier in terms of money and time. But once it is set-up, your internet access will be very secure. Maybe the NSA will still be able to see what you are doing. But pretty much no one else will have a chance at breaching this type of security. A VPN makes any public free unencrypted and very insecure WiFi access point more secure than an encrypted home WiFi set-up. It’s worth the time and effort.
7. Encrypt your Hard Drive
Instead of encrypting a set of files on your laptop within a secure folder, use a more comprehensive approach: encrypt the entire hard drive. When booting the computer, you will be prompted to enter a password. The whole computer is essentially encrypted. A good program like TrueCrypt with a well-chosen password will make the data on your laptop secure if it is lost or stolen. However, TrueCrypt has not been updated or improved in many months.
If you have Windows 7 or 8 in their Pro or Enterprise editions (or if you upgrade), there is a built-in whole-disk encryption program called BitLocker. This program will also protect the entire hard drive if the computer is lost or stolen.
Jetico offers a whole disk encryption program that can be used to protect a laptop, external hard drive or USB flash drive. Unlike TrueCrypt, Jetico’s BestCrypt is available for Windows 8 and is continually being updated and improved.