Avoiding Digital Theft in the 21st Century

Security experts in both the government and the private sector speak constantly about the imminent threats posed by hacking and all types of electronic surveillance. It’s time the public started listening.

The startling truth is that all of our personal and professional information is vulnerable — particularly when traveling overseas. The U.S. government and most of the corporate world know this very well, which is why they follow rigorous digital safety protocols.

When traveling abroad to nations like Russia or China, government officials and corporate executives assume that any digital information that’s of any value is likely to be pirated, hacked, or worse yet, used for creating a digital backdoor (which would give hackers remote access to all of the data on an organization’s network). This assumption is not based on paranoia, but instead on experience and exhaustive research in digital defense.

When Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, travels to China, he follows a very strict routine that minimizes any chance of a security breach. He leaves his personal cell phone and laptop at home and instead brings loaner devices, which are wiped clean right before he leaves the U.S. and once again on his return home.

Lieberthal told the New York Times that while abroad, he makes sure to keep all Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections disabled, he never lets his phone out of his sight, and he only logs onto the Internet through an encrypted, password protected connection, which he copies and pastes in from a thumb drive. “The Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop,” Leiberthal told the Times.

During meetings or other times when he feels sensitive information might be at risk, Lieberthal not only turns off his phone; he also removes the battery to guard against the possibility that the phone’s microphone might be remotely activated by a digital spy.

As extreme as this routine sounds, it’s considered standard operating procedure for officials in government agencies, research groups, and companies that do business in China and Russia — including Google and the Internet security company McAfee. In fact, McAfee is so worried about potential digital security breaches, the company says it wouldn’t even take the risk of plugging a device into its network if it was inspected at a suspect country’s border.

What’s the lesson here?

There’s a fine line between protecting your sensitive information and compromising your ability to live and work in the global economy. It’s important to stay vigilant at all times, and to the degree that it’s possible, to emulate the digital security practices set by those at the highest levels of our government and corporate America.

(Via NY Times)

About the author  ⁄ Marc Horowitz

Marc is the Creative Director at BrickHouse Security and the Editor of the BrickHouse blog. He’s a former Editor-in-Chief at Hachette Filipacchi Media and has written about technology and general interest topics for a number of major national print and online publications, including The New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, The Economist, The Village Voice and many others. A native New Yorker, Marc lives in NYC’s West Village. His passions include travel, skiing, food, books, film, live music, comedy and irony.

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