Data is the most important asset that companies have in the information age. Data comes in a variety of forms whether it’s customer data, employee data, production information, and even design plans. If these fall into the wrong hands then a significant financial loss can occur. This loss can cripple a company. Business needs their workers to travel from time to time and this makes them vulnerable targets for cyber attacks.
Cyber Risks of Business Travel
The threat of cyber attacks for business travelers is so great that companies, governments and even educational institutions that require international business travel have a set security protocol. For example, North Dakota State University has an IT travel policy that advises staff to not take personal devices on travel to China or Russia. The Canadian Government maintains a cyber safe page filled with recommendations for keeping cyber safe while traveling.
Some of the measures taken to avoid cyber attacks can seem extreme. One high-tech company will issue brand new laptops to all employees on business trips to China. It will be outfitted with strong encryption to protect what data needs to be installed on it. When the employee comes back from China, the laptop will be destroyed. Why? Software and hardware backdoors could be installed on the laptop and it would be difficult and time-consuming to find all of the possible backdoors.
The following represents a few reasons why business travelers are prone to cyber attacks and why precautions should be made to protect data and devices.
Lack of Strong Network Security
Business travelers do not have the strong network security that they normally have on business networks in the office, they are definitely more prone to cyber attacks. These cyber attacks can come from several directions. One of the most insecure ways to connect to the internet is through open wifi networks. Open wifi networks have no encryption because they lack a password. It’s easy to educate business travelers about access to these networks, but they are hardly the only network threat.
Hotel networks provide access over password protected wifi and ethernet. In many reputable hotel chains, these can be adequately secured, but there is never any guarantee that they are. Some hotels may utilize proxies that by and large are innocent but can be opted by nefarious parties to snoop, steal data, and destroy trust. It can be difficult to know what these are installed.
Along with this lack of network security is that a nefarious could install a backdoor on the computer that can be used to snoop and steal data on the network in the home office. These backdoors can wreak havoc on a network and allow valuable to be lost.
Lack of Physical Security
Backdoors can also be created directly on the machine when it’s not in the possession of the business traveler. In 2007, U.S Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez left his laptop unattended for a few minutes and had the contents of laptop copied during a trip to China. Other visitors worry about the bots and backdoors installed on their laptops or other devices in the few minutes they need to leave their laptops, such as eating meals. It’s almost impossible to keep your laptop and other electronics in your possession 24/7.
More Vulnerable to Physical Theft
Even ignoring the spies who are actively trying to steal corporate data, business travelers have always been prime targets for theft when traveling, especially when traveling in the developing world. The risk of physical theft is not just an Oriental travel problem, but truly a worldwide travel problem. A laptop can represent several months salary for many people in the developing world. They are also easily sold and since they are targeting travelers, there is little risk involved. Whether taking transportation or even working in a coffee shop, business travelers are always a target. While encryption can mitigate the risks of losing data, it doesn’t do away with lost work time due to a lost laptop.
Because of these very real risks involved in business travel, it’s not surprising that business travelers are vulnerable targets to cyber attacks. It’s best to make sure now that your company is taking proper precautions to reduce cyber attack vulnerabilities for business travelers.
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