One of the effects of the growth of international trade has been increased numbers of executives travelling the globe to attend meetings and exhibitions, buyers travelling to investigate potential suppliers and salespeople journeying to present their offerings to prospective clients. These travellers themselves are often blissfully unaware of the potential threats they face, both to their physical wellbeing, but increasingly also to their personal and private business information.
Theft of trade secrets was traditionally the work of company insiders, disgruntled former employees or criminals who had infiltrated a company to steal its intellectual property, however in the Digital Age it has become easier to steal information remotely, especially given many these international business travellers tend to carry their personal smartphone and laptop on every trip.
Hackers policy is to break in to employees portable devices and leapfrog into employers networks to access critical private business information. It is difficult to assess just how widespread the problem is, given the reluctance of victims to come forward and the fact that some victims are simply not aware they have been hacked until sometime in the future, however a recent Interpol report stated that cyber crime is a growing problem and cyber criminals have stolen intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to one trillion US dollars.
The level of the threat varies dependent on the destination country, with travel to China and Russia generally considered by the security industry to present the greatest risk, but realistically the problem is truly worldwide, as security steps are ramped up in the high threat destinations the hackers move to other safer countries, where security is more lax in their quest to gain access to private corporate intellectual property.
International business travellers can take steps to increase their information security, starting with planning for the trip and choosing what to take, and more importantly what to leave behind.
If at all possible leave your cellphone and laptop at home and take a clean device with you. Sanitize the devices of all information before you travel, and wipe them clean when you return. If you really must take your regular devices with you, although if travelling to a high risk destination you should not even consider it, back up as much information on to a separate hard drive and clean it from your device before you travel. If travelling to a high risk destination you need to take extra precautions with your communications, such as only connecting to the internet through an encrypted, password protected channel, copying and pasting your password rather than typing it directly.
Disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi at your departure airport to discourage tracking when you arrive at your destination and turn off your cellphone and remove the battery when conducting private business meetings to prevent the device being turned on remotely and being used to eavesdrop.
Of course you should never use any shared devices, such as computers in a cyber cafe or hotel business centres, even devices belonging to colleagues or friends may have been compromised.
Do not advertise your travel plans via social media.
Western Governments are beginning to address the problems of cyber crime and the US State Department for example briefs employees annually on security with specific advice on how to secure their devices in Russia and China and most major international corporations are aware of the importance of international business travel information security. It is the smaller and medium-sized corporations that lack internal security departments that are at most risk, with business travel security being something they may not have budgeted for. For employees of these organisations the responsibility for information security will increasingly fall on the traveller themselves.