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Clean Devices

This is a transcript of a podcast discussing Clean Devices, and how to work with them.

Speaker Key:      PB Phil Brown, DW David Whelan                 
PB:  Hi, it’s Phil Brown, and I’m here with David Whelan. Today we’re going to talk about clean devices.

DW:  Clean devices often come up when people think about crossing a border or going on a trip to visit a client in a different location and having to go through security, or potentially putting their client information that’s on their device at risk.

PB:  And the whole idea is, at least with border crossings and so on, you may be asked to reveal information on your computer.

DW:  Clean devices can also be used even if you’re just going around town and you want to have a device where you’re sure that you’re not carrying anything confidential; that if you lose your device, laptop or phone, that you won’t then inadvertently expose the client-confidential information that’s on it. 

PB:  In my 25 years or so, I’ve heard a number of lawyers have had their cars broken into next to a courthouse. That’s probably the worst place to leave your laptop or any other electronic devices.

DW:  The way you clean your laptop isn’t by dropping it in the sink and giving it a good lather. Think about how to remove all of the information that’s on it so that if someone was to get a hold of the device, there was only the hardware and basic software that was needed in order to run the computer.
PB:  It doesn’t mean you’re now walking around with a brick; there are a number of ways to access information.

DW:  One of the easiest is to buy a second laptop or a second device, and then use that only when you’re going to be travelling or in a place where you want to have a clean laptop. Don’t leave any passwords or any other client information on there.

PB:  So, rather than erasing information from a computer, you’re just never putting any confidential information on it.

DW: It’s a lot easier to leave the information off the device than to try and hunt it down, because information is often stored in hidden folders, particularly on Windows computers, and can be difficult for you to even know that you’ve saved something that you shouldn’t have.

PB:  And when we’re talking about a clean laptop, we’re talking about a laptop that doesn’t have any email going to it. There are no resident programs left over, your calendar is not on it, there’s nothing on it.

DW:  Right. A second way to do that, if you don’t want to spring for a second device or a second laptop, is to remove the media that you’re using in the laptop, like the hard drive in the laptop, or the SD card in your phone. If that is where you’ve stored the information that you use for your practice, you can pull the hard drive out of your device and then use an alternate media for booting up the computer, for having basic programs on it, and then make sure that you don’t leave any data on that.

PB:  And that could be either a hard drive or a USB key or anything that was bootable. Now, again, if you were travelling across the border, they would often ask you to boot up your computer for them.

DW:  Right. They would at least want to see that the computer was going to start up, and that it doesn’t have any other ulterior purpose. If you had a flash drive, for example, that you could pop in the side and use to turn it on and the computer started right up, then you’d be in good shape. And you still wouldn’t have any of your data on the machine.

PB:  Let’s talk about ways to work with that clean laptop so there’s a point to taking it on your trip to begin with.

DW: If you’ve made it so clean that it’s of no use, then it really does become a brick, and it might be good at wedging the door open, but not much else.
PB: One way would be to work in the cloud.

DW:  The cloud is an easy way to get into information that you made available, either before you left your office or is always out there. One of the most common things that lawyers use in the cloud is their email. So if your email is always in the cloud, which means that you use a web browser to get to your Google mail account, for example, or your Office 365 account from Microsoft, then you’ll be able to operate your clean device, use your web browser on that device, and still be able to get to your email without making any changes in how you practise.

PB:  As well, you could access a number of files that you have in your office as long as they’ve been loaded into the cloud and some sort of application.

DW:  Right. You may use the cloud in your practice anyway; you may be automatically synchronising your files to Dropbox. But even if you don’t, you can use one of those cloud tools, Dropbox, Box, and SkyDrive are examples. There are many different types you could use to just load them up while you’re going to visit with a particular client or on a particular trip. Then when you return to your office, you can remove them and leave your cloud empty.

PB:  And one of the cautions when using the cloud and using your device on the cloud, is to not download things onto your computer while you’re using it.

DW:  Right. The one thing you don’t want to do is have a clean laptop when you leave and then download or acquire information, store it on the device, and then have it on there when you’re crossing back over the border. Or, if it’s stolen, losing that information. So if you do download files from Dropbox, for example in order to print them, make sure that you delete them after you’ve done that. Try not to download any email because that will be very difficult to locate and delete later. You want to keep as little information on that device as possible.

PB:  A quick review: the cloud is essentially a computer server that’s not anywhere within your business; it’s held somewhere else by a third party.

DW:  Right, and you want to make sure it’s encrypted, but you really don’t have any other control over it.

PB:  There are other options besides working in the cloud. Let’s talk about some of those.

DW:  The cloud makes some people uncomfortable, so one of the ways you can get around that is using technology that allows you to get back into your primary computer. And this, again, is similar to the original – which is that you buy a second device. Working on your office computer while you’re using a clean device requires two devices. So you would leave your office computer alone; you would take your laptop or your smartphone with you, and it would be clean. And then you would connect back to your office using something that allows you to communicate with your computer but doesn’t itself actually require you to leave information on any other computer outside your office.

PB:  One of the keys here would be to make sure your computer was on before you left the country.

DW:  That is critical. One of the ones I like is called Tonido. Tonido actually calls itself a personal cloud, but it’s a bit of a marketing term. What it allows you to do is to install the Tonido software on your desktop computer or your computer back in your office, or even on a server. And once you have set it up, then Tonido’s site,, communicates with your Tonido server or your Tonido software, so that when you’re out on the road with your clean device, whether it’s a smartphone or a laptop, you can connect back through the Tonido server, using your user name and your password, and get back into the files on your computer. You don’t actually see everything that’s on there, but it’s a great way to access individual documents that you need to download or get to without having loaded them into the cloud.

PB:  Right. You set up virtual files on your computer; you’re not accessing the whole thing, but you’re accessing your private stash of files that you’ve set up on your computer before you go. Some other more traditional options might be things like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC – things like that.

DW:  Those are virtual desktops. They are easier to use on a laptop, although you can use them on a smartphone. It loads up a version of your desktop, so you would actually feel as if you were working back in your office, even though you were connected to it over the internet. The only downside to that compared to something like Tonido is really the amount of bandwidth – the speed – that it would take to load up that desktop so that you can see it. The upside is that if you aren’t really sure where you saved something, you have your entire operating system that you can work on as if you were sitting in your practice.

PB:  Right. It does tend to be a little bit slower, but you have the advantage of being able to access everything that’s on your desktop back in the office.

DW:  All of these have free versions as well as paid versions, so you can give it a try, get started with it, and then if you want some of the additional features, you can pay for the premium plans.

PB:  That’s our look at clean laptops. Thanks.

DW:  Thanks Phil.

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