As an exporter, it’s part of your job to hop on an airplane in order to visit a foreign customer or attend a trade show in another country. While you’ll surely notice the new language and scenery at your destination, you’ll also need to pay attention to the new cyber surroundings. As soon as you land, your research, product design, and production methods are at risk of theft. Any information or knowledge that would save another company time and expense is valuable and may be the target of corporate espionage. According to the FBI, corporate espionage is an increasingly serious threat for the business traveler. Here are some tips the NDTO has collected in order to ensure your company’s cyber security abroad.
- Avoid free, public Wi-Fi. This may be the exact opposite of what you’ve been doing here at home. It’s always nice to save on data plans but all free Wi-Fi networks are considered insecure. Just as easily as your device connects to Wi-Fi, anyone can gain access to the information you’re sending out over the network, including emails, credit card information, and passwords. If a hotel or café keeps their network password-protected, that’s slightly better. But don’t trust any public Wi-Fi with your confidential information.
- Make sure the website address says “https” instead of “http” when entering sensitive information. The extra “s” stands for “secure” and indicates that the information sent between you and the website is uniquely coded and can only be read by the intended recipient. No one in between can intercept the information, and even if they could, it wouldn’t make sense.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) connection to encrypt the information that you’re sending. If you do use Wi-Fi overseas, avoid being an easy target by taking some safety precautions. At least then if a hacker gets a hold of your data, your encrypted information may be passed over in favor of more easily obtained information. To learn more about setting up a VPN, visit http://bgr.com. Also keep in mind some VPN providers may get their service disrupted by the government, such as in China.
- Remove sensitive information, research, or personal materials from your laptop and cell phone before you go. Back up that information on a hard drive or in cloud storage and leave it until you get home. If you’re able to, pick up a new, inexpensive laptop, temporary cell phone, and a new email address while you’re overseas. Cell phones and laptops contain all sorts of desired information such as contact lists, login information, and browser history. In some countries, your device may be seized at customs and the contents copied before being returned to you. In other cases, the device may not return at all!
- Carry your electronics with you at all times. Do not put them into your checked luggage during flight, where they may be damaged or stolen. Keep an eye on your laptop as it goes through airport security, and ask one of the guards to hold on to it if you must pass through the metal detectors again. Laptops sitting on busy x-ray machines are easily stolen. Any unattended electronics in your hotel room may be tampered with and contents duplicated.
- Avoid using your electronics at multi-firm meetings where security cannot be assured. This is a perfect opportunity for potential competitors to gather proprietary information on your products, processes or pricing.
- If you’re not actively using an electronic device, turn it completely off. Yes, it can be a hassle to start up your computer, but if it is not running, there is no physical or remote access to your system. And if it is stolen, they have to get past a password….. you do have your startup procedure password protected, right?
- Do not use publicly shared computers in hotels, internet cafes and coffee shops for business purposes. You do not know who is in control of the computers and who might be in control of the information that you log or type into the computer.
- Your computer bag and cell phone will attract thieves. Be aware of your computer bag and put a case over your cell phone to disguise newly released cell phone models.
- Once you’ve returned home, suspend use of all devices. Get your computer checked out and “cleaned” by your IT Department or a trusted repair shop. The hard drive may need to be reformatted, and the operating system and software reinstalled. Or just dispose of the devices.
Though hacking doesn’t rely on geographic location, visiting a country with more hackers or electronic surveillance puts your electronics at more risk. Hong Kong and China account for about half of the world’s hacking. Other top countries for hacking are the U.S., Turkey, and Russia. Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, Romania, Germany, India, Italy, and Hungary also have a significant amount of hackers.
The threat of data theft also depends on which industry you’re in. According to fireeye.com, the top 5 reported industries for cyber-attacks in the last 30 days are Education, Federal Government, Energy/Utilities, Manufacturing, and High-Tech.
It is up to you to decide to what extent you need to protect your data. This will be based on which country you’re traveling to, what kind of information you’re carrying, and the perceived threat of hacking. Not everyone is after your company and personal information, but it’s best not to find out the hard way who is.