Threats On A Plane: What Not To Say, What Not To Pack, And What Not To Wear

Guest author Armond Caglar is a senior threat specialist at TSC Advantage.

With the summer travel season well underway, it’s a timely moment to think about best practices for keeping your information and yourself safe in transit and while abroad. Particularly for working road warriors, simple choices can make the difference between becoming an easy target or remaining an impenetrable one.

Here are several tips to help you protect your intellectual and physical property in the air, on the ground and at your hotel.

Invest In A Good Set Of Earbuds

Airplanes are prime hunting grounds for corporate espionage. Travelers often feel compelled to participate in small talk with their seatmates, but you really never know whom you’re speaking with or who else might be listening.

For example, in the 1980s, it was widely reported that Air France had secretly placed listening devices in its first class cabin in order to record the conversations of American high-tech executives traveling aboard their planes. Such incidents should be enough to convince travelers that it’s not a good idea to talk business with strangers, even if you’ll be spending hours seated next to them.

If you want to signal your reluctance to chat without being rude, just put on a headset, and if you know you get chatty after a few glasses of wine, let the drink cart pass you by.

Buy Some Pulp Fiction In The Airport

Professionals who spend a lot of time on the road want to maximize those hours by working, but taking your laptop onto an airplane is a questionable safety practice.

If you get up to use the bathroom, your seatmate will have ample opportunity to compromise your device with something as small as a thumb drive. Even with privacy screens, it can be hard to protect your passwords in the close quarters of an airplane. And hardware stored in the overhead bins, outside of your constant view, is particularly susceptible to tampering – especially while you doze off.

If you have to bring a computer on a work trip, make sure it’s one your IT department has designated for travel. It should contain only the data you need for the purpose of the trip – data that would not cause irreparable harm in the event of a breach or theft. Better yet, leave your hardware at home and spend your flight with a good book.

Study Your Maps

Once you land, you’ll need a cab, but that is not a moment to drop your vigilance. Depending on your line of business and the country you’re traveling in, it’s not beyond expectation that your taxi driver could be working as a secret informant for the country’s security apparatus.

Before you get in any cab, make sure you get a rough idea of what the fare will be and always familiarize yourself with the location of your hotel in relation to the airport to gain situational awareness in case you think you are being taken in the wrong direction. Wait until you’re in the cab with the door closed before you share your destination with the driver, in case anyone on the sidewalk is listening. And don’t engage in sensitive conversations with colleagues or on the phone while you’re en route—odds are good that the driver understands English even though he might claim otherwise.

Beware Unwanted Room Service

A hospitable hotel staff might be working double duty for local intelligence or criminal operations.

When you check in, assume that your personal information could be shared, and don’t divulge more than you need to. Carry your own bags rather than turning them over to a bellman and cover the peephole in your room; it can be reversed for passersby to peep at you. 

If you’re traveling with colleagues and find that you all end up with similarly numbered rooms—such as 409, 509, 609—you may have won the bugged-room lottery. Surveillance gear is easier to install in consecutive rooms. If you notice a pattern like this, as well as other red flags, such as a room across the hall that always has a “do not disturb” sign out, consider that it might not be a coincidence.

And from a personal safety standpoint, before entering your room, consider propping the door open with your bag or other item and check inside closets and showers and under beds before closing the door and settling in. Finally, when you go out, take any hardware or sensitive documents with you.

Pack Your Boring Outfits

Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, a foreign country isn’t necessarily a great place to stand out in a crowd, particularly if it’s a nation prone to kidnapping-and-ransom rings. Leave your flashy outfits at home, and never do anything that will call attention to yourself unnecessarily.

A business traveler’s best defense is knowledge. When traveling internationally, you should always assume you could be a target—particularly in highly competitive intelligence destinations, as well as places that attract masses of people for special events, such as the World Cup. Use your head, be vigilant and remember, snakes aren’t the only threats on planes.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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