6 Travel Tips from the National Counterintelligence Center

Intelligence business-travel

Traveling abroad this holiday season?  Planning on taking your technology with you – that would be your laptop, smartphone, a couple usb sticks, and a tablet or two? The Director of National Intelligence‘s (DNI) National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NSCS) has compiled a list of cautions for you to absorb as you do your pre-trip planning.

Privacy doesn’t exist for you

You don’t have any; forget about it. The NSCS tells us that you should have no expectation of privacy abroad, especially in “internet cafes, hotels, offices or public places.” They go on to highlight how, “Hotel business centers and phone networks are regularly monitored.” And, yes, you should expect your hotel room and belongings to be searched, because it is the norm in many countries.

Sending electronic messages

Yup, you guessed it. They may be targeted. The US isn’t the only country with a formidable signals intelligence (SIGINT) and counterintelligence (CI) capability.  Expect and therefore plan for your transmissions of messages via fax (who does fax in 2017?), smartphones/pdas, tablets, or laptops to be intercepted.

Location, Location Location

Security services (and many of your apps) can track your location electronically. To keep the apps from tracking you, turn off the location services on your device. To keep a security service from tracking you, remove the battery … turning the device off may be insufficient. This also removes the possibility your device will be used as a listening device.

Malware, the gift that keeps on giving

Don’t download apps willy-nilly. Only download apps from trusted sources. And, should you receive an email, SMS (text message) or video message with a link – don’t click!  Similarly, if you get an attachment sent to you don’t open it without verifying. A trusted contact may have had their device compromised and that document or photo may carry a malware payload.

yes, you are a target

Far too often we consider ourselves too insignificant to warrant the attention of a hostile intelligence service. In three words, YOU ARE NOT.  You have a clearance, you are therefore in the target pool. Now whether or not you rise to the level of interest of an adversary is determined by the intelligence organization. You don’t even get a vote. Don’t be surprised if at a border crossing a customs inspector conducts a technology inspection of your devices and storage media.  Consider them compromised from that point forward.

Pre-travel prep

Make sure you leave with  a trusted family member, or friend/colleague a copy of your itinerary, photocopies of your passports (and carry these with you as well), copies of all the “cards” in your wallet/purse – if it is stolen, you have a headstart on what needs to be replaced.

In sum, keep your wits about you as your travel abroad. Don’t take anything with you that you aren’t prepared to lose.  If you must travel with sensitive information, ensure it is protected accordingly.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).

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