If you’re a government contractor or employee traveling overseas – whether for work or for pleasure – you have an obligation to keep Uncle Sam’s information safe. With $99 flights to Europe coming as early as May, some cleared professionals may be contemplating a more elaborate summer vacation.
Don’t let that cheap flight cost you – the Center for Development of Security Excellence, an office of the Defense Security Service – released a relatively interesting and informative overview of how foreign intelligence services target contractors overseas. As someone who has sat through a fair share of PowerPoint training, it’s a presentation worth listening to before your next OCONUS trip. Here are a few highlights.
1. When traveling overseas, FIEs have the advantage.
What’s an FIE you ask? Just a friendly term for Foreign Intelligence Entities. In a time when espionage was simpler, James Bond always got the girl and cyber was a twinkle in someone’s eye, you could keep your concerns focused on Foreign Intelligence Services. The industry lingo has expanded to include commercial interests and even individuals with a vendetta. Not all terror is state sponsored, and not all targets are traditional.
Remember that anytime you leave the U.S., from the moment you set on the plane, you’ve lost home-court advantage. Even if you’re going on a simple vacation, remain aware of your surroundings. The moment you forget is the moment you’re a target.
2. They want to steal your data – and your secrets.
DSS notes there are several types of information FIEs are looking for:
- List of contacts
- Military technologies (UAVs, etc.)
- Associated technical specifications and proprietary data
- Personal vulnerabilities
These are just a few examples. Note that FIEs want both your personal information and any business data you posess.
3. Ditch company logos.
You know all of those logo shirts, notepads and pens you carry around on a regular basis? Ditch them for your next overseas trip. Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, there’s no need to advertise – literally – all of your affiliations.
4. Leave your phone at home.
This is an increasingly significant issue, given the prevalence of BYOD and the ease in enabling your mobile plan overseas. Keep in mind that any company data you may store on your phone – from things as simple as contacts to as significant as project notes – will be accessible by FIEs overseas. Even if you don’t have classified data on your phone (and you shouldn’t), it probably contains sensitive information. Consider a pre-paid phone or really enjoy your vacation and ditch it entirely.
5. Self-report any issues.
If you suspect anything suspicious, report it to your security officer as soon as you get home. As a general rule, you don’t need to run to the U.S. embassy every time you encounter a suspicious person at the hotel bar or think your sanitized laptop was tampered with. The U.S. embassy is your resource if you experience criminal activity or a very significant counterintelligence concern.
Go ahead and plan that European vacation this summer. But plan ahead so you can enjoy your trip, not worry that every friendly face may be a spy in disguise.