Protecting Your Data At Conferences

In less than two weeks, we will mark the start of the PASS 2019 Summit.  The annual conference of fellow data nerds, SQL Server geeks, family and friends.  It is a week that many of us often look forward to.  As we ramp up to this event, you will find bloggers that will post about the event such as places to eat, how to get around, things to do, or places to go site see.   This is great information to have, however, in this post, I want to talk about something else.

Data Security.  More specifically, your data security and what you can do to help protect it.

Let’s face it.  Data breaches happen all the time.  When you get a large crowd together in the same place, it could be considered a smorgasbord for hackers and data thieves.  As much as I’d like to think that my fellow data professionals wouldn’t hack my data, it happens unfortunately

So, let’s talk about a few things you can do to help keep your data safe.

Virutal Private Network (VPN)

Like any large conference, there will be WiFI available for conference attendees.  Most folks don’t think about it, but data thieves love free WiFi.   In order to counter-act them, I am a huge proponent of utilizing a VPN service.  This could be one that you built yourself or there are several VPN services that can be purchased at a monthly cost.    I built my own VPN server in Azure (or I use the one we have for the company) but purchasing one is definitely an option.

Make sure to consider your phone as well and not just your laptop.   I’ve configured my phone to utilize my VPN so that when I am using my phone on a free wireless network, I can ensure that my connection to the internet is as secure as possible.  Taking the time to ensure all your devices can utilize a VPN will help ensure your data is secure.

Juice-Jack Blockers

I’ve always been paranoid about plugging in my phone or any USB device into an unknown port, including the USB ports offered in most modern hotels.  You do not really know where that port might be plugged into (unless you can trace the wires) and if you don’t know where/what it’s plugged into, you don’t know what might have access to your device.   Even modern aircraft will provide USB ports for you to plug your phone in to charge during flight.  Do you know where that port goes?  I don’t.  So since I don’t know where that port really goes, I rarely use any USB port on flights instead using deferring to us a regular AC outlet to charge my device.

Until now.  

Thanks to a tweet from Cathrine Wilhelmsen (B|T), I discovered that they make devices that allow you to plug your device into a USB port and only charge the device.  They are called juice-jack defenders.   These little devices have the data pins removed and only allow electricity to flow to your device.  I was able to purchase two of these devices from Amazon for $12.

These simple devices will help to ensure that regardless of which USB port I plug my device in, I know that there is zero chance that anything but electricity is passing to the device.   Pick up one or two before heading out to the conference and make sure to take a moment before you plug your phone into that random USB port.

Encrypt Your Hard Drive

This is a big one for me.  If you have a work laptop, I sincerely hope that its already encrypted.  Windows offers up Bitlocker (has to be the Professional edition I believe) and fellow Apple users has FileVault built into the OS for free.   If you have a personal device and you don’t already have your hard drive encrypted, you are just asking for a data breach.

In todays world, local disk encryption won’t cause performance issue on most machines.  However, if you decided to enable encryption, do so well before you leave for any conference.  It will take some time for the encryption process to fully lock up your hard drive.  You will also want to make sure you backup (in a safe place) any recovery keys that might be need to decrypt the hard drive.

This is also great if your laptop/device gets stolen.  While I don’t want my laptop stolen (who does?) I would sleep easier knowing that my hard drive is encrypted, and any data contained on the drive is safe.

Please, please, please, please make sure your hard drive is encrypted.  The data you might save just might be your own.


Protecting your personal data while traveling should be on the forefront of your mind.  Spending some time configuring or purchasing a VPN service, or encrypting your hard drive, or a small purchase from Amazon could save your data.  This will help ensure you have a safe and relaxing time at the conference knowing your data is safe.

After-all, you don’t want to go back home knowing you let your data down right?  I know that I don’t.

See you at the conference!

© 2019, John Morehouse. All rights reserved.


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