The Conference Travel Curse


Outspoken Media is cursed. At least that’s what it feels like when we travel and seem to have the worst luck. We’re thankful that no one has been hurt, but we’ve had thefts and more travel complications than I can count. At least we have incredible industry friends like you buying drinks when we finally made our destination. For that, we thank you and I hope that with the most recent string of incidents, we’ve broken the conference curse, because I personally can’t take much more of this.

Rather than crying or yelling about our most recent bad luck, I’ll simply state that our car rental was broken into by a pro and we had about $5,000 worth of property stolen including two laptops. It was interesting because there was no sign of forced entry or damage to the vehicle and we had nothing visible that would entice them. Then we found the key. A key that matched the make of our vehicle tossed in a stairwell close by.

In under one minute, the cop was able to wiggle the key until it opened the vehicle. Smart and terrifying that something so simple can/does work.

While I was furious and flustered, we took the violation one stride at a time, because we already knew what to do when a laptop is stolen and implemented most of the security measures ahead of time. This time around, our reaction looked something like this:

Try not to touch anything. Call the police. Survey the missing items. Notify those who can help (employees back at the office and my husband who could access iCloud to remote lock and track the Macbook). Provide cop with serial numbers, so laptops can be entered into the FBI database. Change passwords. Call the rental car company. Notify clients. Call car insurance. Call business insurance. Lose our minds a little. Write down all of the lessons. Develop a plan for an even more secure business.

While traveling home from SMX Advanced 2012, many of you were probably digesting the amazing sessions and lessons you picked up from the conference. We collected those notes, but not until after we’d brainstormed more preventative security measures for future travel.

In an effort to make your own travel more secure, here are several policies we’ve had in place to keep our data secure as well as new policies we came up with. Please share your thoughts in the comments below:


  • Password protection on login
  • Sign out of accounts every night
  • Do not store passwords in browser or another password manager that opens on load
  • Use a cross-platform password manager with admin access and different user levels
  • Save client passwords in a location separate from company passwords
  • Change all company passwords at regular intervals
  • Do not store passwords near desk space or stick to computers


  • When traveling, always get full coverage on car rentals
  • Make sure business insurance covers lost or stolen effects, including travel
  • Make sure personal car insurance covers personal effects if you’re the driver of the rental car


  • Automatic backup for all computers
  • Backup for the backups
  • iCloud setup to sync weekly for Mac properties

Client communication

  • If there is a security breach, contact clients immediately
  • Reset sensitive passwords immediately and suggest clients update theirs
  • If there are client-specific instructions, follow those
  • Destroy or return all client data at the end of a contract

Offensive measures

  • Setup a GPS tracker on PCs (Prey Project or LoJack)
  • Enable Find my Mac for all iPhone and Mac properties


  • Client passwords only accessible to exec team and client-specific account manager
  • Password protect all client passwords (preferably with two layers of login)

Conference attendance

  • Do not set your things down and walk away from them. Ever. Even a secure, locked and alarmed vehicle. Take them with you.
  • If you have to leave it somewhere, store it with a coworker or conference attendant in the speaker/press room if they are willing to watch it and they will be there the entire time
  • Always tell your team where you are going if you are leaving the main conference area
  • Keep your phone charged and on

Office security

  • Use a paper shredder for all sensitive materials, cards, checks, etc.
  • Store all sensitive files in a locked filing cabinet
  • Always lock the office door (preferably exterior and interior locks and an alarm system)

With that, I hope we can break the conference travel curse (knock on wood)! Did we miss anything? Let us know!

SMX photo credit: 7345287518 by chiropractic

Your Comments

  • netmeg

    Get a cross cut shredder or a particle cut shredder. Not a strip shredder.

  • Lou Mitch

    Self-destruct button!! That’s crazy about the key!!

    Good to know you had a plan ahead of time. Many people don’t have a plan until AFTER something like this happens (i.e. crashed hard drive and no backups, stolen wallet, etc.). It’s important to know what you have lost so you know which numbers to call if anything needs to be canceled or can be recovered remotely. The quicker the better.

  • Michael Dorausch

    Was sorry to hear about what happened in Seattle. I’ve heard too many stories of laptops getting stolen while at conferences to know this is an important read and reminder. Comparing my checklist to yours and taking extra steps where needed.

  • Takeshi Takahashi

    Oh goodness, I’m sorry that happened to you all! Things like that can really take the wind out of your sails, so I’m glad you’re being positive and proactive about it. Thank you for the tips; always a good reminder that the worst can and does happen at any time, so preparation is key.

    For computer security, I also recommend TrueCrypt for an extra level of digital security. It’s a highly-respected open-source program that creates and manages fully encrypted folders on your system. You mount and unmount them like hard drives, so you could have one for each client, or one big one for work and one for home, etc. You can also keep them on flash drives and move them between laptops if you like. If you keep them small sizes, you could probably have them synced to your choice of cloud backups, but that may be overmuch. Just an option. =)

    I hope things normalize quickly, and there’s a long, long time before the next Outspoken curse!

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Takeshi, thank you for the recommendation, we’ll definitely check it out. We’ve got some solid processes setup, but always looking for even better solutions. Things are already normalizing, just really frustrating, ya know?! :)

  • Chris Le

    Great post and very important. Especially those who travel a lot.

    For additional security, I also would add:

    1) Encrypt your hard drive.
    On a Mac, use FileVault (Apple > System Pref. > Security > FileVault). On PC there’s PGP Whole Disk Encryption (now a Symantec product). It’s not hard to bypass a login screen with a password: simply take out the hard drive. If you are encrypted, it’s all unreadable garbage.

    2) Install Pray Project (free)
    Basically, you report your laptop is stolen and you can remotely track your laptop to help the authorities recover it. Prey Project recovery stories

    3) Install Ubuntu
    Thieves won’t know how to use it so it’s a natural theft deterrent. Lol. Just kidding.

    (BTW I’m not affiliated with any of the products mentioned)

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Hi Chris! Looks like WP had an issue with a couple different edits of the WP post and I lost half of the bullets! Check above for the full post, which is visible now. Had Prey Protect mentioned as well as LoJack, which a lot of folks seem to like, too. Any experience with both? Curious to know if there’s a preference for one over the other.

      Also, great tips on encryption and ubuntu! LOL on the latter.

      I guess we’ll keep that keyword optimized link. ;)

      • Chris Le

        AHH! The post reads much more differently now. I personally use Pray. I use it because it’s open source. Not because I’m some open source hippie, but because I’m cheap and I can tinker with it. Instead of making alarm sounds when it’s stolen, I can make it turn on the camera and have the computer’s voice randomly make fun of the thief’s manhood at full volume. If you’re going to steal my laptop, I want some entertainment value for it. :)

        • Rhea Drysdale

          That’s awesome and absolutely worthwhile. Nothing better than insulting manhood when someone acts like a d*ck! ;)

          Also, I think this should be your tagline for all online profiles: “I’m cheap and like to tinker.”

  • Todd Mintz

    I end up “sometimes unconfortably” hauling my laptop all over the place before leaving it somewhere outside of my control, including a rental car.

    Sorry that had to happen to you…

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Hi Todd, usually in the same boat. We felt like this was a secure situation being broad daylight, a secure garage with patrol, and a locked and alarmed car, etc. Learned our lesson and laptops will never be off of our bodies again. I don’t think I even feel secure leaving laptops in the office or at home anymore. Thankfully we had very secure information and remote locks, but proves that the unthinkable is still very possible. :)

  • Wil Reynolds

    Rhea, sorry to hear about this, my other approach…get the lightest laptop you can so you never have to feel like its a burden to carry around… It hardly ever leaves my sights.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Agreed! Haven’t gotten an iPad, yet, but thinking I might pick one up and carry that vs the laptop itself or get one of the new MacBook Air’s… we’ll see, I’ve got some good insurance money to spend! ;)

      • Dana DiTomaso

        Rhea, I’m sorry to hear this!

        I know you’re a Mac fan, but I have a ThinkPad X220 and it’s lighter and just as zippy as the smallest Macbook Pro. I bought it because I’m very paranoid about leaving my laptop anywhere – I carry it around constantly.

        Thanks for the tips, though – I haven’t written down my serial number and will now!

        • Rhea Drysdale

          Great tip on the ThinkPad. I’ve never tried one before, but open to playing around with it to see if I can overcome my longing for a Mac. Hard to imagine life without one though. First world problems! :)

  • rick

    For Macs, make sure Find My Mac is on and working via iCloud. For PCs, I’ll second Prey, mentioned above. Note that Prey has versions for Mac and for Android phones.

    I’ll also second encrypting any directory with client or other sensitive information. It is, honestly, pretty irresponsible to carry anything like that on a laptop and NOT encrypt it.

    Finally… it’s not clear but were the laptops in the car itself or the trunk? Obviously carrying them is best (though you could get mugged etc…) but if you do leave them in the car at least put them in the trunk. Leaving electronics in the car cabin itself is practically saying “hey, thief! Over here!!” especially in a parking lot used by a lot of business people who are likely, as a group, to have things like this.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Rick, fortunately, I did have Find My Mac enabled. Unfortunately, it’ll only tracks the device if it accesses a known network.

      Encryption is probably one of those areas that is crazy important and 99% of the world or more doesn’t do it. We’ll make sure we’re one of the 1% moving forward in addition to everything else we’ve got setup. :)

      The laptops were in the trunk and in laptop bags. There was nothing in the vehicle outside of some Starbucks to go cups and an umbrella that would indicate that we had expensive goodies in the back. The cop thinks the individual simply had a key to a Chevy that happened to be a close match. It’s a common car for car rentals and he thinks that they probably saw us get out of the vehicle with conference badges and knew it was a tech conference. We would never leave anything valuable sitting in plain view.

      • rick

        Damn, that’s crappy luck. Sorry you got hit (and in my hometown too… :( )

        You might want to install Prey on the Mac as a backup to Find My Mac. They do similar things, but it’s comforting to at least be able to remotely wipe your machine if it shows up.

        If you DO do encryption… keep the password somewhere safe. If you do it right, you can’t get at the data in a directory without the password… of course that means if you forget it, you can’t get at your data. So, use a strong password but also keep a printed list in a safe deposit box or something. Oh and to more easily manage passwords, look at Lastpass or 1Password. They will generate secure passwords and, if you lose a computer/get it stolen you can alter the master password, locking them out of everything that uses LP/1PW.

        • Rhea Drysdale

          I’ll try not to hold it against Seattle. ;) Back in July for MozCon, so you’ve got another chance to prove that the city isn’t entirely full of delinquents!

          Will definitely add some backups for locating the Mac. According to Chris Le, it’s also fun to humiliate my laptop’s captor.

          As for encryption, are you saying that we shouldn’t use a sticky note stuck to the laptop itself? It’s amazing how often this happens… (surveys desk for stickies). My master password is on a single sheet of paper in a fire retardant safe in my house. Two people know the combination to the safe. As long as there isn’t an earthquake or million year flood, it’s accessible. We do use a password manager, which is what the master password unlocks, but neither of those two. Don’t really want to state which one in the post, but happy to email and discuss further to see if you’re familiar with it and what you think. :)

  • Greg

    Whoa, just saw this. WTH, that sucks. Good job turning lemons into blog-post lemonade and hopefully helping others.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      We hope so! It’s unfortunate that this is the second theft of its kind in OSM’s history. Both freak accidents and one out of someone’s own home! Moral of the story — safety is a false assumption. Don’t be stupid and make sure all of the proper precautions and security measures are taken. Be pro-active and make sure there’s a reactive plan for the inevitable as well. I know other companies have had to deal with fires and death of a key employee, too!

  • Mackenzie Fogelson

    Really sorry to hear that Rhea. You’re quite resilient to do a post on this. Good for you. Let Mack Web know if there’s anything we can do to help.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Thanks Mackenzie, we’re solid at this point. Have been through a lot and the process is simply getting better. No process is 100%, but I hope others learn from the experience. We have a client who has had their office broken into twice at the physical location. It’s awful whenever something out of your control happens, but… it happens! Better to understand what to do in advance.

  • netmeg

    Also, you could just make everyone handcuff them to their wrists.

  • Leo

    I’m still sick over this and it wasn’t even my laptop. Have you had any luck tracking the Macs?