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Frequent travellers rely on mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices to stay in touch and take care of business on the road, away from the safety and security of their offices. But reliance on these personal devices potentially exposes sensitive corporate or personal information to the world.

In light of the voicemail hacking scandal stewing in the United Kingdom this summer, have you ever wondered how easy it might be for someone to hack in to your mobile phone voice mail?

Turns out it’s frighteningly easy. In many cases, all a perpetrator needs is your mobile phone number and a cheap or free “spoofing” service widely available online. (Just google “caller ID spoofing” to learn specifics.)

In a nutshell, caller ID spoofing services make calls appear to be coming from any number a hacker chooses. This means they could use the service to fool your mobile phone voicemail system into thinking that a call is coming from your phone, and potentially providing access to your saved messages.

To eliminate this possibility, always be sure that your voicemail is password protected for calls coming from your phone or any other phone. You should also opt out of offers from mobile phone companies to bypass entering a password when calling from your own phone.

It’s important to choose a good password and change it from time to time. “Many brand new phones come with common default voicemail passwords such as 0-0-0-0 or 1-2-3-4 which many users neglect to change when setting up their phones. If you are concerned about hacking, set up your phone with a unique password and change it from time to time,” said Atlanta-based telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan.

There are other ways travellers expose sensitive information to n’er-do-wells too. For example, when working on your laptop on a crowded flight or at an airport gate, have you ever worried about who might be snooping at your laptop screen? A survey commissioned by 3M found that nearly half of all business travellers admitted to sneaking glances of others’ laptop screens while in public spaces. And of those who do peek at other’s screens, 42% admit to being “interested” in what they see.

To help protect sensitive, personal or proprietary information from wandering eyes, 3M has developed what they call “privacy filters”— a thin plastic film that slides over your laptop screen and works like vertical mini-blinds to block the view to anyone trying to view it from the side. (The screen is obscured when viewed from the side.) The $50 to $70 privacy screens are available online or at office supply stores.

Finally, if separation from your laptop or mobile phone while travelling scares you as much as it does me, try this low-tech tip: put a small label on the device (right now while you are thinking about it) with your mobile phone number and email written on it. If you’ve mistakenly lost or misplaced it, in most cases the person finding it will make the effort to return it to you, so make contacting you easy.

Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel

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