What could a stolen laptop do to your business? Or a client’s name uttered in the wrong place at the wrong time? Information security is paramount in today’s world, where the thief who stole the laptop might recognize the information on it is more valuable than the hardware its on, or the person sitting behind an employee on the flight back from that industry conference just might work for the competition.

While you can forbid your employees to talk about work when not in the office, slips can happen, especially when everyone thinks nobody is listening…which isn’t always the case.

An easy fix to this problem is to use code words for client names. My office uses a word and a number. The word cannot have any association with the client. For example, we just named a new client “Oxford 7.” Every place where the client name appears in a file, it says “Oxford 7.” If we need to send correspondence to the client, we do a quick global search and replace for Oxford 7 to the client’s actual name. We also let the clients know about our protocol, which they always appreciate.

Now let’s say I leave my laptop in a taxi tomorrow, and the next person who gets in it, on the same block as I got out (where both me and my competitors hold office) takes it home, and does a casual search through the files. The filenames are all code words. So he opens up a file. Turns out to be a proposal. But he still doesn’t know to who. Another file turns out to be a PowerPoint presentation outlining our marketing plan for a financial services company. With some work, the thief may figure out who that client is, but that’s the point: it will take some work. It won’t simply be an impulse to pick up the phone and call the company’s competition: “Hey, what would you pay to see your competitor’s marketing plan?”

In addition, if (God forbid) two of my staff are discussing client business over lunch (which is forbidden, but people don’t always follow rules), and using the code word (which is likely, as we never utter it in the office, so it becomes natural to refer to it that way all the time), there will be a much smaller chance that their conversation is recognized by an unfriendly third party.

Using code words does not prevent information slips, but it does make those slips less likely, and may allow you to say something very important to a client: “No information that directly identifies our clients was released.”