Staying safe as a business traveler

In an era when incidents of cyber espionage are common and the ways in which crooks can steal your personal and financial information are evolving constantly, staying safe as a business traveler has become more and more challenging. Despite these challenges, however, there are steps that organizations and their employees can take to minimize their risks.

During an educational session at the ASIS conference on Wednesday, Ron Lander, chief specialist at technology consulting and training firm Ultrasafe Security Specialists, and Matt Antkowiak, an independent security consultant and the co-founder of Thrive Intelligence, discussed some of the numerous vulnerabilities facing travelers, many of which people are either oblivious to or pay very little attention. According to Lander, all mobile devices are at risk from potential intrusions by hackers, who go to great lengths to access sensitive data.

The first layer in protecting information stored on a mobile device is the password, which according to Antkowiak often times leaves a lot to be desired. He said people should avoid using birthdays as passwords – their own and that of their children or other family members – as well as anniversary dates and pet names. Antkowiak said that all of this information can be easily learned through social media, which makes it risky to use as a password.

Although it’s difficult to stop someone who is committed to hacking into your account, Antkowiak said that the more barriers or obstacles you can put into a cyber criminals way the better. “The harder it is to get to you… the more you can mitigate the damage,” he told the audience.

And while compromised passwords are one of the more direct ways that people seek to gain access to sensitive information, there are also a number of indirect methods employed by thieves. For example, Lander says that you shouldn’t let people you don’t know borrow your cell phone charger as there are ways to extract data from them if someone has the proper knowledge and equipment to do so. He says that travelers should be particularly wary of this at airports. Some other proactive security recommendations from Lander when it comes to protecting data as a traveler include; turning off GPS and Bluetooth when they’re not in use; avoid leaving a phone or other mobile device unattended; making sure that your device’s operating systems and firmware are updated; and, using anti-virus software with an up to date definition file. Without an update definition file, it is “just a dumb piece of software,” said Lander.

Lander and Antkowiak also provided “10 tips to stay safe on the road.” These include:

  1. Understanding the fundamentals: Being aware of your surroundings and projecting confident body language that would indicate you’re not an easy mark.
  2. Safety on the streets: Dressing appropriately for the location you’re traveling too so as to blend in with the crowd. This also includes not wearing things like flashy jewelry that might draw unwanted attention.
  3. Pickpockets and thieves: Be knowledgeable about the areas you’ll be in during your travels and where you could be the most vulnerable.
  4. Health safety: Making sure that you don’t leave food or drinks unattended where someone could slip something into it.
  5. Emergency planning: Registering with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you will be traveling. They can tell you about crime rates and areas that you may want to avoid.
  6. Airport security: Maintaining a high level of awareness of places within an airport where thieves like to take advantage, such as the baggage claim where suitcases can be easily taken.
  7. Hotel security: Never open the door to anyone. Many criminals like to masquerade as hotel employees waiting for a chance to strike. People also should be aware of “phantom” wireless access points within a hotel where someone may try to gain access to your devices by trying to spoof a hotel’s Wi-Fi signal.
  8. Rental cars: Hide rental agreements and don’t store valuables in the trunk
  9. Seedier sections: Avoiding a city’s “red-light” districts.
  10. Risk management: Developing a comprehensive plan that takes into account all of the threats faced by employees during their travels and the steps that can be taken to mitigate those risks.