Risky Business Travel: How to Protect Your Trade Secrets and Information Overseas

By Jonathan Spira on 10 April 2012
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Tom Lehrer gave travelers some advice in his song “Pollution,” advising “just two things of which you must be aware: don’t drink the water and don’t breath the air.”

What M.H., a former intelligence official currently employed in the private sector, does when he travels makes Lehrer’s advice seem quaint.

M.H., who asked that we refer to him by initials that are not actually his because of the sensitivity of his position, does not take his regular laptop or smartphone with him on trips.  Instead, he takes a “loaner” device that has none of his files or passwords on it.

“In some countries, it’s almost a guarantee that your devices will be virtually or logically attacked,” he told us.  As a result, M.H. simply doesn’t bring any technology with him that he can’t afford to have compromised.

The “some countries” include China and Russia as the biggest threats, but also on his list are Brazil, France, India, Israel, South Korea, and Turkey.  China and Russia, according to M.H., are the most aggressive and the best at pursuing confidential government information, corporate trade secrets, and proprietary intellectual property.

If you haven’t thought about taking precautions with mobile devices when traveling abroad, you aren’t alone (in fact you are in the overwhelming majority). Nonetheless there are many business and government officials who do take ultra-stringent precautions before, during, and after undertaking such trips and the number is growing as are the threats.

One such individual is Tom Kellermann (pictured), vice president of cybersecurity at Trend Micro, a  cloud computing security company who served on a commission established by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to advise then-incoming President Obama on cybersecurity issues.

The risk, Kellermann said in a recent interview with Frequent Business Traveler, is “significant.”

“People assume that their devices are insulated by their IT departments not only when they travel, but when they move around domestically, and they’re not conscious of the fact that it’s very easy to hack into a laptop” he cautions.  In some regions of the world travelers turn on their Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios and they [the devices] are “almost immediately compromised.”

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are “promiscuous,” Kellermann explains.  They are always reaching out for a signal.  Even for domestic travel, he cites “man-in-the-middle” attacks (also called Evil Twins) as being very common in airports, coffee shops, and hotels.

Click here to continue to Page 2Protecting Your Devices and Information and Who is at Risk?

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