When traveling to a city, whether locally or abroad, it is paramount to keep your eyes open. Gather some situational awareness by reading a little about the area you are heading to before you go there. The internet is your friend. Once you are there, pay attention to your surroundings by just observing. This means, when you are on the street or a public place, don’t bury your attention on your smartphone. Remove your earphones and look up and around. Learn your environment so you learn to recognize people and objects that are out of place.
There are many things you can do to increase your chances of remaining safe. Some are simple common sense things to do, some are things you need to know. Check the post below. Most of the tips apply to international travel only, but some apply to all: daily urban commuting to a known environment, travel to a local (domestic) city that is unknown, and international travel.
General Security Mindset
The most effective means of protecting yourself and your property is the liberal use of common sense reinforced with a high state of security awareness. Do not give anyone the opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities. Stay alert and exercise good judgment. Avoid giving unnecessary personal details to anyone.
- Do NOT publicize your travel plans, but limit that knowledge to those who need to know. Leave a full itinerary of your travel schedule, hotel phone numbers and business appointments with your office and with a family member or friend.
- If possible make photocopies of your passports, driving licenses and credit cards, and leave them with your family or at the office. These will be used in case the real ones get stolen and a copy needs to be sent to an embassy or police station. Do not take any expensive jewelry or “flashy” items that will draw attention to you so you do not increase your chance of being a victim of a crime.
- When traveling overseas, It is recommended to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By doing this, you can receive alerts from the State Department should events, either natural or manmade, occur which may impact your travel and safety.
Your Personal Security
To diminish the risks of being attacked, especially as you arrive at the airport, there are a number of things that you should remember when checking into an airport.
- In the event of a disturbance of any kind, go in the opposite direction. DO NOT GET INVOLVED!
- Plan to check in early for your flight to avoid long lines at the ticket counter or security check, thus also avoiding attacks that target crowds.
- If possible, stay away from glass wall areas and airport coffee shops which are open to the concourse or public waiting areas.
- From the time you pack your luggage, maintain control of all items.
- If staying at a hotel, consider being transported to/from the airport by a hotel vehicle.
At the Hotel
- Be vigilant.
- When possible, request a room that does not have a door to an adjoining room.
- Be alert to strangers who are at the hotel for no apparent reason. Do not accept unexpected deliveries and visitors. Call the hotel desk to confirm identities of hotel employees.
- Do not open doors to strangers.
- Make your room look occupied when you are out. Keep the TV and lights on; put a “do not disturb” sign on the door.
- Let someone else that you trust know when you are leaving the hotel or the office, and where you are going.
On Public Places
- Vary daily routines, such as departure times and routes to and from work/vacation place.
- Remain low key and do not draw attention to yourself.
- When possible, travel with a friend or in a small group.
- Refuse to meet with strangers.
- Avoid places of high criminal activity, Google that shit!
- Reduce exposure to crime by avoiding isolated, poorly lit areas and by concealing high value personal property.
- When traveling internationally, wear conservative clothing; do not wear distinct American items such as sports shirts, caps, or flashy clothing. Do not wear US identified items such as cowboy hats or boots, baseball caps, American logo T-shirts, jackets, or sweatshirts. It will make you a target.
Guides, drivers, and interpreters may report on your activities. Be mindful.
- Beware of attempts to put you in embarrassing or compromising positions. You may be getting targeted for eventual extortion.
- While abroad, register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and please report any suspicious incidents you experience to them.
- If arrested, taken into custody, or interrogated, do not make any statements or sign any documents, particularly if they are written in a language you don’t know. Ask to have the U.S. Embassy or Consulate notified of your detention at once. Depending on the country, the officials may have up to seventy-two hours before the embassy is required to be contacted.
- Remember, you do not have any “rights” while in other countries which you may enjoy in your country (Ex. - US - Miranda Rights do not exist)
- At the hotel, select a room on floors two through six, if possible and closer to a fire exit. Fire equipment is unable to reach rooms above this level from the exterior
- Pack a portable door stop in your suitcase to help secure your door when you are in the room.
- Keep all papers and notes. Any discarded items (such as notes, documents, etc) may be retrieved, analyzed and potentially exploited.
General Security Mindset
If you are traveling with a lot of electronics (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc) be aware of the capabilities of certain people and governments. Certain countries are notable for taking over your electronics the moment you turn them on. Capabilities exist which allow malicious actors to:
- Identify and target mobile devices, more specifically smartphones and laptops.
- Deliver malicious code to the device.
- Use device network connections (e.g. cellular networks, wireless, Bluetooth, etc.) for their own purposes.
- Leverage the device as a means of spreading malware and malicious code beyond your device.
- Access the device as a means to track your location (e.g. GPS).
- Activate the microphone and/or camera on a device and turn it into a listening or spying device.
- Intercept communications that are sent electronically.
In some countries, hotel business centers and phone networks are monitored, and in some locations, rooms may even be searched. As a general guideline, assume that there is no expectation of privacy in offices, hotels, bars or other public areas.
The best way to prevent compromise of digital assets is not to travel with them. If you do, try to minimize the connection to untrusted, public networks. Unless you are on a trusted network, do not access your data remotely, and certainly do not connect to things like your bank.
Basic Tips for Mobile Devices
- Always use a password on your device.
- Never leave your device unattended.
- Always lock the screen, or turn off the device when walking away from it (e.g on a corporate office in another country).
- Some devices have an option that will erase all data if the password is entered incorrectly 10 times. Enable this option.
- Disable your wireless (Wi-Fi) connection as well as Bluetooth when you are not using your device.
- Avoid charging your phone on computers or devices that you do not control, such as hotel docking stations. Malicious software could be stored on devices that could be transferred when your device is connected. Use your personal computer or a direct-to-wall-socket charging port to charge your phone.
- Never connect an unknown USB flash drive to your tablet or laptop. Any device that connects to a USB port can be considered a storage device and may contain malicious software (mp3 players, smartphones, external hard drives etc.).
- Avoid using unknown storage media such as CDs, DVDs or USB thumb drives in your computer. They may contain malicious software that automatically reads the contents of storage media or drives. You do not need to click on a malicious file for your computer to be infected.
Always secure your belongings, regardless of where you are. Do not leave them unattended.
Wireless Access Points and Networks
It is recommended not to connect your smartphone, laptop or tablet to the Internet at open and free wireless access points, common at coffee shops, in hotels or at airports during your travels. These are highly insecure and are accessible to everyone. These networks are usually used by malicious actors to gain access to corporate assets and both extract data and spread malware.
The attackers may establish a free Internet access point that is made to look trustworthy, naming the access point or Wi-Fi network anything to simulate a legitimate network. When you connect to their system you open your devices up to attack.
The best is to connect only to password protected networks provided by either the hotel or the customer you are staying / visiting. And even then, the use of VPN is a must to surf the internet.
Any information that you send over an unknown network could be intercepted. Never transmit information that you wouldn’t want disclosed to an undesired or unauthorized party.
Shared or Public Computers
Be cautious when allowing access to your devices via Bluetooth and in how you manage your device’s Bluetooth connections. It is recommended not to use Bluetooth devices while traveling. It also recommended Bluetooth be completely disable (turned off) on the devices. This will prevent devices that allow for automatic connection to accept malicious requests, and to prevent any connection snooping by a third party. So, disable your Bluetooth networking while you are traveling to prevent unwanted connection attempts.
- Place tape over any integrated laptop cameras.
- Disable all unnecessary network protocols (such as WiFi, Bluetooth or infrared). Enable them only if necessary.
- Be sure to clean out your purse or wallet. Any RFID cards should be carried inside, when possible, an RF-shielded cover.
- Do not use USB-based public battery charging stations; the USB interface to your device may allow the charging station to do more than just provide power.
- Do not purchase new hardware while traveling.
- Do not purchase or download any new software while traveling.
- Do not have any of your electronic devices “repaired” or “worked-on” while abroad.
A lot to remember and do! I agree. However, just remember to use your common sense. Always start by building a baseline of what is normal. Then see how you can use that to your advantage. Remain aware, be light, and move fluidly. Do not make yourself a target.