Surveillance systems can track the locations of mobile phone users and spy on their calls, texts and data streams. The Washington Post has reported on such systems that are being turned against travellers around the world, according to security experts and U.S. officials. The summer season highlights the need to take extra precautions when travelling.

When travelling anywhere in the world, for business or pleasure, citizens need to be aware of and alert to looming physical and cybersecurity threats.

To elaborate on expert security tips, strategies and advice for traveling this summer, we presented several questions to The Chertoff Group, a global security advisory firm that enables clients to navigate changes in security risk, technology and policy. Chris Duvall, Senior Director at The Chertoff Group, offers insights into cybersecurity concerns, physical security precautions, and recommends digital resources/apps for consumers while traveling.



Q: How are security risks – physical and digital – changing? Why are threats greater today than five years ago?

The exponential number of headlines over the past few years is a strong indication that both physical and digital risks are evolving and increasing

Duvall: The exponential number of headlines over the past few years is a strong indication that both physical and digital risks are evolving and increasing. The scope, severity and complexity of physical and cyber risks are increasing and becoming more dangerous and destructive. This is especially true for those travelling outside the U.S.

On the physical side, threat actors are actively seeking “soft targets” – public events, social settings, mass audience venues, etc. – to communicate their message, sow chaos and inflict catastrophic harm.

On the digital or cyber side, we have seen a shift from “thrill hacking,” to an increase of “hacking as a business” (through credential compromise and ransomware), to an increase in “hacking for harm” - with the rise of “nuke ware” and ransomware without a clear financial motivation.



Q. What specific precautions should a traveller take to protect their calls, texts and data streams from being spied on?

Duvall: When travelling abroad, we recommend to our clients that their personnel and executives should practice good internet and social media hygiene. Some best practices include:

  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi services—unless you use private VPN service for encryption
  • Increase the privacy setting on your technical devices
  • Disable location identifiers on apps
  • Create a new (unlinked) email for internet correspondence
  • Consider purchasing international MyFi devices to decrease the risk of getting your personal identification information (PII) or protected healthcare information (PHI) stolen 
  • Use temporary (i.e. burner) phones to protect your data and your contacts


Q. What cybersecurity concerns are likely to impact travellers? Are the threats greater outside the United States or in any specific parts of the world?

Significant precautions should be taken to protect personal electronic devices (PEDs) and the data connected to PEDs

Duvall: The international cybersecurity landscape has grown increasingly dynamic, with threats posed by government authorities (in some countries), terrorists, insurgents, and criminals, requiring travelers to be proactive and vigilant. U.S. citizens, particularly executives of U.S.-based technology companies, must be aware that they are considered high-value targets for nation-state intelligence services and criminally-motivated bad actors. Many countries will go to great lengths and expense to acquire and exploit proprietary information from U.S.-based companies, and views U.S. executives visiting the country as “soft” targets of opportunity. As such, significant precautions should be taken to protect personal electronic devices (PEDs) and the data connected to PEDs. The tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) utilised by bad actors are often covert and nearly undetectable by the affected person.

Threat actors routinely access, monitor and utilise Wi-Fi networks at hotels and in public spaces to compromise target devices. Other targeting methods include luggage searches, extensive questioning, and unnecessary inspection and downloading of information from personal electronic devices.

There are numerous, high-risk countries for which the U.S. Government warns travellers to be wary of mobile malware, mobile device privacy attacks and hot spots for mobile botnets. The U.S. Department of State has the most recent and up-to-date list. For example, the U.S. Government has investigated numerous incidents in which U.S. travellers’ PEDs (personal and company devices) have been compromised by Russian authorities while transiting Russian airports, left unattended in public spaces and in travellers’ hotel rooms. 

	Protect your personal information and travel itinerary as much as possible
When travelling to an unfamiliar place, research your destination to understand the local roads and transportation, geography, local roads, culture, etiquette and laws


Q: What physical security precautions should a traveller take?

Duvall: Here are some useful precautions:

  • When traveling to an unfamiliar place, research your destination to understand the local roads and transportation, geography, local roads, culture, etiquette and laws.
  • Protect your personal information and travel itinerary as much as possible.
  • Limit the amount of jewelry worn, cash, credit cards and electronic devices carried while traveling.
  • Avoid staying on the ground floor of a hotel. Consider choosing a room on the 2nd through 7th floors as these rooms may be more difficult to break into than those on the ground level, but still able to be accessed by fire/emergency response equipment.
  • Never answer your hotel room door for anyone until you’ve determined who they are, why they are at your door, and if it is necessary for you to open the door to interact with them.
  • Carry a rubber door stop/wedge with you to install on the room side of the door before you go to bed.
  • Vary your patterns and routines when venturing out in to a new location, do not become predictable.
  • Politely decline offers of food or drink from strangers (If you do accept beverages, ensure that they are in sealed containers and that there is no evidence of tampering).
  • Never discuss your itinerary, personal, business or other sensitive information where others can hear you.


Q: How can companies be proactive in protecting their business travellers?

Companies should educate their employees on the importance of maintaining good internet hygiene while travelling abroad

Duvall: When travelling on business, companies should provide their employees with clean computers and cell phones before departure. Upon return, the company should immediately wipe the computer clean to prevent any malicious threats from penetrating the company’s internal, cyber-infrastructure. Additionally, companies should educate their employees on the importance of maintaining good internet hygiene and recommend their employees disconnect from social media platforms while travelling abroad. Some general tips to recommend to your employees when travelling abroad include:

  • Register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (https://step.state.gov/step/)
  • Visit Travel.State.Gov to view travel related information specific to the country or countries you’re visiting, including local US Embassy or Consulate contact information, as well as current travel advisories and alerts.
  • Always leave a copy of your transportation and hotel itinerary and driver’s license (or passport if travelling internationally) with a family member or trusted friend.
  • Always use a baggage tag with a protective cover
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi services


Q: What digital resources and/or apps might a traveller benefit from (and how)?

Duvall: The Chertoff Group recommends researching the below travel-related apps before departing on a trip:

  • TravWell: This app provides destination-specific vaccine recommendations, a checklist of what you need to do to prepare for travel, and a customisable healthy travel packing list. The app can store travel documents, keep records of medications and immunisations, and set reminders to get vaccine booster doses or take medicines.
  • My TSA: This app provides real-time updates on airport delays. It includes how long security lines are at various airports; information about what you can and cannot bring onto an airplane; and a frequently-asked question list, including new advanced imaging technology.
  • Border Wait Time: The app provides estimated wait times and open-lane status at land ports of entry, which may be particularly helpful when in an area with multiple crossings.
  • Mobile Pass: The Mobile Passport app speeds you through U.S. Customs and Border Protection at (1) cruise port and (24) airports


Q: As a security expert, what’s your best advice for travellers?

Duvall: At the end of the day, travel security is not rocket science. Simply put, travellers need to:

  • Be aware and situationally alert at all times.
  • Be aware and situationally alert to the location of your luggage and carry-ons at all times.
  • Don’t access unknown, unsecured or public Wi-Fi if at all possible.
  • Turn off “auto connect” features and institute stringent privacy controls as much as possible.
  • Try to “blend in” – you don’t have to try to look like a local but travellers should avoid gaudy and expensive attire wherever possible.
  • Use your common sense – if an offer, invitation or opportunity seems to good to be true... it probably is.
Download PDF version

In case you missed it

What are the obstacles to adoption of mobile credentials for access control?
What are the obstacles to adoption of mobile credentials for access control?

Using a smart phone as an access control credential is an idea whose time has come – or has it? The flexible uses of smart phones are transforming our lives in multiple ways, and the devices are replacing everything from our alarm clocks to our wallets to our televisions. However, the transformation from using a card to using a mobile credential for access control is far from a no-brainer for many organisations, which obstacles to a fast or easy transition. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: When will mobile credentials dominate access control, and what are the obstacles to greater adoption?

How to choose the right security entrance for effective customer security
How to choose the right security entrance for effective customer security

Security and systems integrators across the nation are recommending and providing long-term security solutions to their customers. But when it comes to physical security entrances, integrators can easily fall into the trap of simply fulfilling an end user’s exact request without much pushback. Why? We believe the complexity and variety of entrances available makes it difficult to consult on the best solution, but also because there are a lot of assumptions at play. 1) Ask questions to determine the correct security entrance solution There is confusion in the security industry on the meaning of the word, “turnstile.” End users, when requesting a solution, tend to use the word “turnstile” to describe anything from an old fashioned, 3-arm turnstile to a high-tech optical turnstile to a security revolving door. We encourage security integrators to ask questions to discover how their clients want to mitigate the risk of unauthorised entry or “tailgating.” This can help determine the correct security entrance solution to meet the end user’s goal and budget. By asking the right questions and offering true solutions, you can enhance a relationship built on trust and consultation leading to potential repeat business. Below are four physical security goals—crowd, deterrence, detection, and prevention—accompanied by the type of “turnstile” and its capabilities. This breakdown can help the integrator to confidently address an end user’s request for a “turnstile,” and then recommend a solution that truly fulfills their security goals. 2) Explore options for crowd control Typically seen in stadiums, amusement parks, universities, and fitness centres, tripod turnstiles are considered a low security solution for crowd management. Designed for counting employees or slowing down high traffic volume to collect tickets or payments, tripod turnstiles are built to withstand the most abusive of conditions. Here’s what security integrators should know about tripod turnstiles: Low capital cost, but high annual operating cost due to needed 24/7 guard supervision Lack of sensors can lead to defeat – turnstiles can be crawled under or jumped over without alarm/notification to guard staff Little to no metrics capabilities available – no sensors or alarms if defeated High throughput, handling 30 persons per minute in one direction Full height turnstiles are a tall, robust solution for perimeter fence lines, metro stations or parking garages 3) Choose an effective deterrent A physical deterrent to infiltration, full height turnstiles are a tall, robust solution for perimeter fence lines, metro stations or parking garages. While full height turnstiles do physically stop tailgating (an unauthorised person following someone in the next compartment), they have no means to prevent piggybacking. Two people in collusion can gain access through the full height turnstile by badging once and then squeezing into the same compartment. Here are some other things to note about full height turnstiles: Low capital cost, low annual operating cost Guard supervision is up to the user Little to no metrics capabilities available – no sensors or alarms if defeated Moderate throughput, handling 18 persons per minute in one direction 4) Ensure your chosen turnstile can detect tailgating A staple in lobby security to accommodate visitors, optical turnstiles utilise complex sensors to detect a tailgating attempt. Most models available today offer sliding or swinging barriers. A very common assumption in the security industry is that optical turnstiles prevent unauthorised entry, which isn’t true. In fact, once the barriers are open, a second user can slip through. Or, in the case of a wide lane for disabled use, two people can walk through side by side. In either case, an alarm is generated and supervision is therefore essential in order to respond swiftly. The cost of 24/7 supervision must be factored into the security budget. Here are some other points to make note of: Moderate capital cost, but high annual operating cost due to need for 24/7 guard supervision Sensors detect tailgating and sound an alarm for post-tailgating reaction, but turnstiles can still be defeated Moderate metrics capabilities available (for example, # times tailgating occurred, passback rejection) High throughput, handling up to 30 persons per minute in one direction 5) Determine prevention tactics for staff and visitor safety The entry solution of choice for Fortune 1000 companies, security revolving doors and mantrap portals completely prevent tailgating due to their working principle, ensuring the safety and security of staff and visitors. Commonly used at employee-only entrances, security doors are an unmanned entrance solution that cannot be defeated; sensors in the ceiling prevent tailgating (following in a trailing compartment). Optional piggybacking detection systems are also available (preventing two people in the same compartment from entering). The benefits of utilising a truly unmanned door are unparalleled: guard staff can be reduced or reallocated, and this entrance offers an ROI of just 1-2 years. Here’s more information security integrators should know about security revolving doors and portals: High capital cost, low annual operating cost due to no required guard supervision Sophisticated metrics capabilities available, allowing the end user to prove the value of their security investment Security revolving doors = 20 persons per minute, simultaneously in two directions; Security portals = 6 persons per minute in one direction Biometric devices and bullet-resistant glass can be incorporated for an even higher level of security As we’ve demonstrated here, “turnstile,” in the eyes of an end user, is a complex term that can range from a low security, crowd control solution to a high security, tailgating prevention entrance. Security integrators need to first accurately determine the security goals of their customers and then break down the “turnstile” barrier of confusion to recommend the best solution for fulfilling those goals.

Why customers should buy products and services from SMBs
Why customers should buy products and services from SMBs

In 1973, a brilliant economist named E.F. Schumacher wrote a seminal book titled ‘Small Is Beautiful:’ taking an opposing stance to the emergence of globalisation and “bigger is better” industrialism. He described the advantages of smaller companies and smaller scales of production, highlighting the benefits of building our economies around the needs of communities, not corporations. In almost every industry or market that exists in the world today, you're likely to find a difference in size between companies. Whether it’s a global retail chain versus a small family-owned store, a corporate restaurant chain versus a mom-and-pop diner or a small bed and breakfast versus a large hotel chain — each side of the coin presents unique characteristics and advantages in a number of areas. Disparity in physical security industry Customers are drawn to products and services from large enterprises as the big names typically imply stability This disparity very clearly exists in the physical security industry, and differences in the sizes of product manufacturers and service providers could have important implications for the quality and type of the products and services offered. All too often, customers are drawn to products and services from large enterprises, as the big names typically imply stability, extensive product offerings and global reach. And that's not to say that these considerations are unwarranted; one could argue that larger companies have more resources for product development and likely possess the combined expertise and experience to provide a wide range of products and services. But the value that a company’s products and services can bring isn’t necessarily directly related to or dependent on its size. In an age where the common wisdom is to scale up to be more efficient and profitable, it’s interesting to pause and think about some of the possible advantages of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Typically, “small” companies are defined as those with less than 100 employees and “medium” with less than 500. Providing social mobility  Schumacher argued that smaller companies are important engines of economic growth. Indeed, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 36 member countries that promotes policies for economic and social well-being, SMBs account for 60 to 70 percent of jobs in most OECD countries. Importantly, SMBs provide resilience in that there are often large economic and social impacts when big companies fail. Smaller companies are better for regional economies in general, as earnings stay more local compared to big businesses, which in turn generates additional economic activity. SMBs are also better at providing social mobility for disadvantaged groups by giving them opportunities and enabling them to realise their potential. Smaller companies are often more innovative, bringing to the market novel technologies and solutions such as Cloud, analytics, AI, and IoT New companies introduce new technologies There's no denying the role of start-ups when it comes to innovation. In the security industry, many new technologies (e.g. Cloud, analytics, AI, IoT) are first brought to the market by newer companies. In general, smaller companies’ products and services often have to be as good or better than others to be competitive in the marketplace. They are therefore often more innovative, bringing to the market novel technologies and solutions. And these companies are also more willing to try out other new B2B solutions, while larger companies tend to be more risk-averse. Customer service Aside from the quality of products and services, arguably one of the most important components of a security company’s success is its ability to interact with and provide customers the support that they deserve. Smaller companies are able to excel and stand out to their customers in a number of ways: Customer service. Customers’ perceptions of a product’s quality are influenced by the quality of support, and smaller manufacturers often possess a strong, motivated customer service team that can be relatively more responsive to customers of all sizes, not just the large ones. A superior level of support generally translates into high marks on customer satisfaction, since customers’ issues with products can be resolved promptly. Flexibility. SMBs have a greater capacity to detect and satisfy small market niches. While large companies generally create products and services for large markets, smaller companies deal more directly with their customers, enabling them to meet their needs and offer customised products and services. And this translates to adaptability, as SMBs become responsive to new market trends. By having a pulse on the market, smaller companies have much more flexibility in their supply chain and can adjust much faster in response to changing demand. Decision-making. Smaller companies are much more agile in decision-making, while larger enterprises often suffer from complex, tedious and lengthy decision-making processes. Communication is easier throughout SMBs, as smaller teams enable new ideas to flow and can solve problems faster. Job satisfaction Employees working for SMBs connect more directly with the company's goals and objectives, which in turn increases motivation and job satisfaction Employees working for SMBs connect more directly with the company's goals and objectives, which in turn increases motivation and job satisfaction. SMBs are also generally more connected to local communities and participation in community activities leads to a greater sense of purpose. Additionally, SMBs have a much smaller impact on the environment, which is increasingly becoming an important consideration for today’s employees and customers. Though Schumacher's book takes a much deeper dive into the large global effects of scale on people and profitability, the general impact of a company’s size on its products and services is clear. It’s important for all players in the security industry to remember that the commitment and dedication to product quality can be found in businesses of all sizes. Ensuring safety of people, property and assets Large manufacturers may catch your eye, but small business shouldn’t be forgotten, as they can offer end users a robust set of attributes and benefits. While all security companies are aiming to achieve a common goal of providing safety for people, property and assets, smaller businesses can provide extensive value when it comes to driving the economy, innovating in the industry, providing quality employment and offering superior customer service.