In today’s post, Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser Neal O’Farrell shares 10 very important tips that could help keep your personal and employment information out of the hands of cyber spies. Read on!
Could corporate spies be stalking you?
It's been more than thirty years ago since I followed a surge in corporate spying in Ireland, where corporate thieves were being paid small fortunes to steal data from businesses, tap telephones, and even break into offices.
Fast forward thirty years and while the game remains the same, the players and tools have changed. And there's clear evidence over the last few years that criminals, corporations, and governments around the world are targeting employees who may be careless with what they say or how they guard corporate secrets.
In a recent story in the Washington Post, business travelers heading to China were warned not to bring with them anything that might give competitors a competitive advantage. The Post warned that China, Russia, Israel and even France were hotbeds for corporate espionage, in many cases sanctioned by their own governments in an effort to give home-grown companies a competitive or technical advantage.
According to the Post "Travelers there often tote disposable cell phones and loaner laptops stripped of sensitive data. Some U.S. officials take no electronic gear. And a few corporate executives detour to Australia rather than risk talking business in a bugged Chinese hotel room."
Corporate and personal data are the new world currency and the thieves will stop at nothing to get their hands on whatever data you're carrying. As far as thieves are concerned, everyone has as story worth telling and data worth stealing. If they can't use it themselves, they can still make money selling it to someone else.
And there have even been reports of governments placing bounties on the laptops of senior executives of a long list of companies, paying handsomely for any who steals and turns over these laptops.
The risks are two-fold: that in an effort to steal company data from you while you're traveling, the thieves end up with your personal information and identity; and you become the unwitting backdoor through which corporate spies steal invaluable data that could do serious damage to the company you work for.
American identities are considered especially valuable on the black market because, in spite of the recession and credit crunch, it's still relatively easy to access credit lines quickly if you have the basic identity information of the victim.
Here are ten ways you can protect your personal and employer information from the sticky fingers of cyber spies.
- Travel "data light." Take as little sensitive information with you, both corporate and personal. It means less for you to guard and worry about, and less harm if you fall victim.
- Encrypt everything. Encryption is the best and easiest way to protect data that has been lost, stolen, or accessed by malware. Without the proper key the data is useless to the thief.
- Watch your laptop like a hawk and turn your back on it down for a moment.
- Think twice about using free Wi-Fi networks when travelling, and especially at conference venues and your hotel room.
- Avoid bringing thumb drives with you or transferring information from your laptop to thumb drive when travelling.
- Treat your smart phone like it's a laptop and take as many precautions as possible. Store as little information as possible on it, use the password locking feature, and don't leave it lying around.
- Make sure you make regular online backups of everything that's on your laptop and phone. If they're lost or stolen, at least you'll still have an accessible copy.
- Practice safe computing. A common way to steal data and breach security is to target busy employees with emails, text messages, and Facebook messages that hide dangerous Trojans and other malware. Always be vigilant when clicking on any link or opening any attachment, but give everything double scrutiny and skepticism when you're travelling.
- Don't leave files or data storage devices in your hotel room. Carry everything with you, even if it's a little inconvenient.
- Consider using a laptop or smartphone tracking system. It can help locate a lost or stolen device.
Learn more about identity theft protection.