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You are on the road with your confidential files, top-secret phone numbers, and hush-hush appointment calendar. Freed from your physical workplace, how do you lock the virtual door so that your private stuff stays private? Rule number one: Any device that goes out in public needs a password. Experts recommend that you change your password every 90 days, making sure that it contains a few numbers to throw the thieves off (TWA800 is probably not a good choice). Sure, and you should floss every day, too. You command top dollar for your brain, so why bother filling it with an endless succession of passwords? Use your thumb instead. Compaq’s Biometrics ID device ($179 suggested retail; www.compaq.com) uses your fingerprint as password. The device slips into a standard PC card slot, and then you simply squash your fattest digit onto the small scanner to log on to your network or your favorite Web sites from the road. Despite the Compaq brand name, Biometrics ID works with any notebook with a standard PC card slot. Important files on your laptop should be unreadable to a thief. Encryption, or scrambling software, will protect them in case your laptop is stolen or when you transmit them via e-mail. The most comprehensive way to encrypt is to upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional ($250 street; www.microsoft.com). There are plenty of competing encryption products. Pretty Good Privacy offers super-strong protection. And there are plenty of people who think that Bill Gates should stop bundling yet more features into the operating system. But they can complain to the Justice Department if they think that this is an illegal tie-in. I like keeping my life simple. If you don’t want to swell the Gates defense fund, try Encrypted Magic Folders ($61; www.pc-magic.com). Magic Folders not only scrambles files and folders, it also hides them so that thieves don’t know that they are there. You can’t, however, send hidden files back to the office or to a client with Magic Folders. A few years ago, mobile lawyers shuddered when Newt Gingrich was taped discussing legal strategy on a car phone. Among his many career miscues, Newt packed an analog model. If you haven’t thrown out your analog phone yet, do it now, before your malpractice carrier finds out. Don’t sweat the details in the current alphabet soup of digital technologies. Any digital phone is fairly secure, so long as you aren’t blabbing corporate secrets as you walk through Union Station. Most conversations are intercepted with miniature microphones hidden behind potted plants, not microwave dishes on top of camouflage vans. If you must tell secrets over the phone, be discreet. The airport scammers keep devising ever-more-clever choreography to pilfer your laptop. While in transit, consider TrackIT ($50, www.a2zsolutions.com), a tiny onboard alarm that emits a cochlea-crushing shriek if you and your computer are more than 40 feet apart. But please remember, turn it off before you visit the bathroom at your client’s office. In the air, if you don’t want the knucklehead in the next seat to spy on your work, buy 3M’s PF series laptop privacy filters ($65; www.3m.com). These heavily polarized filters fit over the laptop screen and prevent the contents of the screen to be viewed at an angle. The filter slightly distorted the edges of our 12-inch test screen, but they are a lot cheaper than buying out the row. Handheld and pager screens are generally too small for even for their owners to read. And because of their small memories, they rarely contain sensitive memos. But for the truly paranoid, TealLock ($16.95; www.tealpoint.com) buffs up the Palm’s built-in password protection scheme and boasts a corporate edition that allows network administrators to control access to a PDA fleet. Secret! ($19; www.palmgear.com) encrypts files on a Palm, and also can back it up to a desktop machine during synchronization. If your Palm crashes, you can restore the backup file from the desktop. The new Pocket PCs are more robust and have larger screens than Palms. They also make it easy to keep Word attachments, so there may be a greater need for encryption. Microsoft has an encryption pack ( www.pocketpc.com) that will handle the job. Even more than cool tools, common sense may be your best savior: If you want to keep something secret, don’t tell anybody. David Brauer is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis.

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