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Risk to Intellectual Property, Trade Secrets from Terrorists

What do they have in common? Recently border officials have began a dubious practice of collecting mobile phones, PDA's, memory sticks, and even whole laptops and copying the information for 'security reasons'.

No actual terrorists appear to have been uncovered yet, but I'm sure a lot of proprietary, sensitive and valuable information has been exposed.

Corporate executives are not immune although it appears that profiling has minimised the impact on most western executives. There is a very strong likelihood that our trusty government has set a precedent and toppled us from the moral high ground giving foreign countries license to do it at will.

Therein lies the danger. Sure there is a risk that if you visit a friendly country that your data might be deemed as being 'necessary' for the national security of the country you are visiting, but an unfriendly country may apply a different definition of 'necessary'. 

To state it simply - we are in all likelihood going to be searched and our data copied at borders whenever the local country sees a benefit. This means your mobile, contacts, email, corporate and personal documents, technology, passwords, etc. It doesn't matter that you trust the local representative of an international corporation and you have received their NDA, if your IP is exposed at the border. Don't assume that it only happens to hackers, security experts and people who fit the profile of a potential terrorist suspect.

This risk can be mitigated but we'd virtually have to empty our phones, delete and overwrite our storage devices before we arrive at a border, and forget about your laptop or disk drive, you couldn't possible secure that. If it's encrypted they'll just 'induce' you to provide them with the key.  Possibly selecting a phone with the smallest memory chip filled with rubbish in the phone and secreting the real one in our baggage will become the rage. Maybe even custom disguised memory chips ala 007.

IT departments may have to 'pre-clean' laptops and devices prior to executive travel and revoke all passwords and logons and renew executive identities and privileges upon their return. They'd also have to scrub the laptops in case of trojans and viruses planted by others and it would probably be safer and easier to just throw their gear away completely. Many mobile phones can easily be loaded with a trojan which gives effective remote control of your phone and access to all records and calls, long after you have returned home.

Executive network access from foreign countries couldn't ever be trusted, it could be that their credentials were compromised at the border. 

One might argue that it's that same as torturing suspects, if we do it then there's no incentive for anyone else not to, and even though many don't and won't, more certainly will. 

Once it starts - where does it stop, and if we can do it for our own particular reasons then how long before anybody can do it for any reason?

If you want to forget to the morals, ethics and principles you still have to remember it may happen to you.

Surely this is worthy of discussion? 



Comments: (1)

Paul Penrose
Paul Penrose - Finextra - London 21 April, 2008, 10:02Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes Can't agree more. Look what happened to AB_Global's Martin Lukes after his Blackberry was confiscated by customs officials at Atlanta Airport.

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