Just as companies develop plans and policies for their international travelers, they must have plans and policies for information protection. “Employees don’t realize that…there are always people trying to collect the information they’re carrying,” Gruber says.
While executives are normally the recipients of travel protection services, Nicastro says that usually it is “the employees who are there to support the meetings or other business functions who have the most vulnerable information.”
Gruber notes that many companies do have IT policies in place regarding work computers, “But what we see routinely is people traveling with their personal computer with some files from work on it, with their cell phone with text messages [regarding the trip or the business], and with files on the thumb drives we carry,” he says. “Now here is a major point to consider: the snowball effect. There are three or four people traveling, and each person releases a little bit of information about their actions within a business event.” Independently, a rival company or foreign intelligence agency can’t get a full enough picture, but with multiple business travelers, each providing a piece of the puzzle, the full picture can come into view.
Gruber recommends that prior to travel, employees should comply with a company policy to “lock down their electronic items, their cell phones, their Wi-Fi ports, and their Bluetooth as they move through airports so that no one can pick up their information. Ensure that everything is PIN or password protected, and make sure everything on the computer is encrypted.”
Some countries screen passengers’ electronic information as part of the customs process. “They’re going to turn the device on, try to access it, and potentially download information, he states. One place where this is the case is Russia. “There will be a hands-on review of your equipment. Some of that equipment may pass through areas that you have no observation of. This may be a legitimate search, but if your computer is booted and your Wi-Fi port is open, someone can still download from another area or location. There are software tools that can be attached that can capture the last data files or packets that you’ve been accessing. That can happen within a few minutes while you think there is just a cursory inspection.”
Blakemore, whose company has operations in China, where proprietary-information theft is a concern, says “We’re not in research and development; we don’t make any products, but we still have company confidential information, and we do provide our travelers with guidelines on information security” in China.