How to protect sensitive information from commuter snoopers

Public transport is a common hunting ground for opportunist thieves looking for easy pickings. However, it’s not just the bag snatchers and the pick pockets that pose the threat. Talking confidential company business on the phone and working on sensitive documents while commuting are also a concern. 

Indeed, 72 per cent of the UK’s office commuters are looking over the shoulder of the person sitting next to them to find out what their fellow commuter is working on, according to Iron Mountain research. Thus, one in five UK commuters have seen confidential or highly sensitive information.

Nearly 18 per cent of those in marketing say that they frequently sneak a peek at the work of fellow commuters, compared to just six per cent of legal professionals. Marketing professionals are also the most likely to be working on confidential or sensitive work during their commute. PA and Admin staff are, at 15 per cent, the least likely to undertake confidential or sensitive work while on public transport. Across all job roles, 21 per cent of respondents say they are doing confidential or sensitive work while travelling on public transport.

In the UK, trains and planes are the top locations for ‘commuter-snooping’, although 20 per cent at director level or above find the airport business lounge a particularly fertile ground for information spotting.

It is not just exposing information on mobile devices that presents the threat. Paper documents often contain critical information that must be safeguarded while travelling and, when discarded, securely destroyed so that the information cannot be reconstituted.

Here are five tips for commuters looking to protect confidential information while travelling:

1. Keep it private

Keep your confidential company business private by using a laptop privacy screen when working on the go. It allows you to view the information on your screen but makes it impossible for a fellow commuter to see on-screen information from a side view. Don’t discuss confidential company business in a public space.

2. Don’t forget the paper

All too frequently the focus for information security starts and ends with IT. Yet confidential paper documents are easy to transport and just as easy to leave in plain sight or leave behind. Make sure that sensitive documents are not consulted in full view of fellow commuters. When no longer needed, you should return sensitive documents to the office to be destroyed securely.

3. Make it difficult for thieves

If possible, keep your mobile devices concealed and avoid using them openly at off-peak times. Professional thieves can easily undo a zip, so think again before you carry your devices in a backpack or in the outside pocket of a rolling suitcase. Don’t place devices on the seat next to you and don’t store them out of view in the over-head luggage racks.

4. Don’t be an obvious target

Thieves target passengers likely to struggle because they are over-burdened with luggage. They also looking for distracted travellers who unwittingly place their briefcases and laptop bags on the floor to consult timetables, buy refreshments or ask for directions.

5. Stay alert

Be particularly vigilant as your train pulls into a station or when you get on or off public transport. These are the big-opportunity moments for pickpockets and bag snatchers. And, if you’re travelling alone on the train, don’t fall asleep!

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