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Source: The Age

Posted on September 12, 2008

      If you're traveling, here are some financial security tips to pack with you.

      Laptop security: Computer security experts recommend that you "scrub" any important files from your laptop before entering a foreign country. If you must bring critical files, be sure they're encrypted.

      David Perry, a former computer security adviser for AOL who's now with Bay Area-based Trend Micro, logs about 300 days a year on the road with his laptop, about half the time overseas.

      Despite constant laptop use, he doesn't store any critical information on it.

      "I don't archive my emails, I don't use Quicken, I don't access my bank account, I don't shop from my laptop. My laptop and my credit card are unacquainted," said Perry.

      The reason? Laptops are inherently less secure than your PC at home, he said.

      Speaking from a computer hackers' convention in Las Vegas, Perry said the means of stealing personal data from a laptop are endless and insidious.

      His advice: "Before you leave on a foreign trip, clear everything off your laptop that you wouldn't want publicly broadcast. Take off those tax forms; your list of passwords; your business proprietary information."

      He also recommended getting knowledgeable about the security safeguards on your laptop.

      And remember now you can avoid the hassle of removing your laptop from its case in US airport security lines, if it's in a "checkpoint friendly" bag.

      Under new rules announced by the federal Transportation Security Administration, a laptop-friendly bag has a clear window and can lie flat on the airport's X-ray belt. Bags cannot have any metal snaps, zippers or buckles or pockets on the laptop side.

      Make copies: That's for every personal document you're carrying - passport, credit cards, driver's licence, travel itinerary. Tuck a copy in a safe place, separate from your cards and passport. Leave copies with friends or family members back home.

      Rent a phone: Because many mobile phones incur hefty roaming charges when used abroad, yours may be better off left at home.

      Credit card alert: Don't leave home without informing your credit card company that your card will be used in a foreign country.

      It also pays to know how much your card charges for currency conversions. If you're charging a hotel room in France, for instance, the cost is in euros but will appear on your credit card statement in dollars. The bank charges a fee for that currency conversion.

      And always bring two credit cards: If one gets cancelled or lost, you've got a backup.

      File a police report: Unfortunately, thefts happen. A pickpocket grabs your bag, fleeces your pocket, hustles your bag off the subway train. If you become prey for thieves, head to the local police department and file a report. Don't leave without getting a copy, even if it's in a foreign language.

      Visa, for instance, will provide full reimbursement for theft, if the item, say a camera or mobile phone, was stolen within 90 days of its purchase.

      To get full reimbursement, you must provide a police report, a receipt showing the original purchase and proof of insurance.

      When travelling, keep your credit card company's toll-free number to report a stolen or lost card.

      Also beware your full-blown image - private parts and all - could soon be visible to a security officer, on-screen, at an American airport.

      A dozen US airports have begun pilot-testing whole-body imaging machines, which reveal weapons and explosives concealed under layers of clothing.

      "It allows us to detect threat objects that are not metallic and that cannot be detected by metal detectors, and items that are sometimes missed even in a physical pat-down, in a nonintrusive manner," said Mark Hatfield, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport, which is one of the airports using the scanners.

      As passengers step inside the machine, they extend their arms and legs for several seconds, as millimetre wave technology creates an image. Nearby, in a covered booth, a security officer in radio contact, views the ghostly silhouette - with the face blurred - on a screen. The officer determines if a concealed weapon, such as a ceramic knife, or explosive detonation cord, exists, Hatfield said.

      "The image projected is more humanoid than human," he said. "What's important is providing a clear view of a threat object. And the person going through the machine will never see the operator."

      At least for now, the TSA is using "continuous, random selection" to choose passengers for the machines, and it is optional. Travellers who decline will be physically patted down. All passengers must still go through metal detectors.

      "For our travellers, through this airport, this machine adds even an additional layer of security," said Miami-Dade Aviation spokesman Marc Henderson.

      Full body imaging technology has been in the works for at least five years, as the government grappled with issues of privacy and civil liberties, Hatfield said.

      "It is tantamount to, essentially an electronic strip search, and that is our concern," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "The most intrusive technology that intrudes upon personal privacy should not be the first line of our security."

      Hatfield said that the TSA has mitigated those concerns by having the security officer located in a remote booth, where he or she never sees the passenger. Furthermore, the passenger's face is blurred on the screen. And the image is permanently deleted immediately after viewing and cannot be stored, printed or transmitted, Hatfield said.

      Still, privacy concerns remain. "It is naive to think that the use of this technology will be restricted to airports," Simon said. "The problem here is that we are shredding what little remains of personal privacy in America without much careful thought."

      Unlike the puffer machines, which blast a person with air, then vacuum the particles and scan them for traces of explosives, the body-imaging machines use millimetre waves. A passenger steps into the machine and remains still for a few seconds, while the technology creates a three-dimensional image of the passenger from two antennas that simultaneously rotate around the body.

      Millimetre waves use electromagnetic waves to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body, creating a robotic image. The energy emitted is 10,000 times less than that of a cell phone, the TSA said.

      Miami is one of 21 airports nationwide receiving the new technology.

      The whole body imaging machines, which cost $US170,000 are already in use in Los Angeles, New York's JFK, Baltimore-Washington, Denver, Albuquerque, Ronald Reagan Washington, Detroit, Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix Sky-Harbour, Washington Dulles and Las Vegas airports.

      Other airports that will get the new machines in the coming months include Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta, Newark, Boston, Indianapolis, New York LaGuardia, Tampa, San Juan and San Francisco, the TSA said.

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