United States: Business Travel Security Holes – And How To Plug Them

Last Updated: July 25 2011
Article by Robert D. Brownstone

An oxygen-sucking hole ripped in an airplane's ceiling — though quite grave and potentially hazardous — should not be the only leakage concern of business travelers. Thunderous voices, loose lips, wandering eyes, lost portable devices and aggressive Customs officers are just some of the many circumstances that can compromise the confidentiality or privacy of information.

As a frequent traveler who also often advises clients and colleagues on information-security and data-leakage, I am hyper-sensitive – OK, call me just plain hyper. Over time, I have devised a series of routines to guard against disclosures of: client confidences and identities; my law firm's proprietary secrets; and private information relating to me and my family. Hopefully, whatever your walk of life, you will find these ensuing tips instructive. Do try them at home.

As soon as you leave your office or home, security measures should kick in. The first rule of thumb is one I learned from the former prosecutors with whom I first practiced law, back in the pre-smart-phone 1980's in New York City. They taught me about "location, location, location," namely that, when, out in public, never mention names of companies or individuals represented by you or involved in any way in a confidential matter on which you are working. I distinctly remember one of my mentors Bill Purcell (a former Manhattan D.A.) reminding me each time we got into a cab to go to court or a deposition to be careful. Bill would calmly mention something to the effect that "who knows who will hop into that taxi next and strike up a conversation with our cabbie." Then, we would transition into "code name" mode. If we had to talk about a case, we would refer to key players as "Mr. C" or "Ms. M" and omit as many atmospheric and factual details as possible.

Once on the way to one's destination, in today's high-tech world people's loose-lips tendency seems to have been exacerbated by the ever-present cell-phones – and even more so by the apparently requisite high volume of speech that accompanies use of same on a bus, train or plane. In the recent annals of publicly loud law-firm partners, there are now such widely recognized characters as "Amtrak Bob" and "Acela Jim." Each of them chatted noisily on a crowded train about a highly confidential personnel situation involving his respective law firm. According to news reports, Bob disclosed imminent layoffs that were not yet ready to be divulged; and Jim called a young partner at another firm and recited all the terms of an offer to try to entice the listener to jump ship and join Jim's firm.

Although the Information-Technology half of my persona wants me to keep bashing lawyers, attorneys are not the only negligent ones in this regard. Haven't we all experienced multiple occasions in an airport gate area or on a plane itself when we hear a salesperson or an IT administrator revealing names, numbers, troubleshooting steps and other confidential details? "Speed kills." The ostensible need to talk to someone that very instant often trumps the risk of damage that could ensue from revealing a trade secret or the identity of a company with whom one is negotiating or an inroad into a web network.

In addition to big voices, the wandering eyes of others are a factor, too, especially on long, monotonous flights. Every task undertaken and every bit of information possessed on behalf of a customer/client warrants protection. Attorney-client privilege, the even broader ethical-duty-ofconfidentiality and all other lawyer and non-lawyer privacy obligations still apply at high altitudes. Thus, travelers should be especially careful about identifying customers or exposing other confidential information when typing on laptops on planes.

Before I go to the airport, I rename any laptop folders and document names that bear client names, typically only keeping the first letter of the client's company name. If there are a lot of documents in a folder that I plan to access on the flight, I use Better File Rename software to, with a few clicks, anonymize or pseudonymise all the pertinent file names. If I plan to edit a client-matter document that mentions a client name throughout, I run a Ctrl+H search-and-replace. Once I am back home or at my destination, it only takes another few clicks to undo those file-rename and search-and-replace temporary changes.

Laptops (and, whenever possible, other portable devices), once encrypted, enable one to reap two major benefits, one altruistic and one selfish First, the humane reward: in case the machine gets lost or stolen, whoever has the laptop will not be able to pull any data, let alone confidential information, off of the machine. As a result, confidential information, as well as private information as to co-workers, customers and others is protected. Second, the self-interest boon: anti-identity-theft statutes typically exempt lost or stolen encrypted personally identifiable information (PII) from triggering the duty of the data owner to give notice of breach. Thus, those who take precautions are spared the monetary costs and the PR-hit that inevitably flow from a notice-of-breach scenario.

But even if encryption protects files from getting into other hands, one's work has been for naught if he/she didn't back-up a document to another location. So, after each flight, a best practice is to make sure to copy new or newly edited documents back to the law firm's network. Our firm's IT Director Kevin Moore trained me years ago that the hard drive of a portable computer or device is like cash, but central storage on a network is like a credit card. The former, if lost or stolen, is lost for good. The latter is recoverable even if one local copy of it is lost or corrupted.

Along those same lines, go paperless as much as possible. Consider taking a portable scanner and scan all paper documents, receipts, handwritten notes that I create and gather on each trip. The scanner I use, the Visioneer Road Warrior, is about the same bulk as a light three-hole puncher. The only accoutrement it needs is a USB cable to attach to my laptop. As I find keeping track of physical objects increasingly distracting, I don't want to worry that I might have dropped — or left in the hotel room — a receipt or some notes or a prospective client's business card. Once scanned and saved to my work network, each such item is safe, secure and backed up. For business cards in particular, specialized user-friendly scanning software enables ready conversion into an electronic contact that can be saved right into, e.g., Microsoft Outlook or a webmail Contacts list.

Assuming one has been careful en route, what of the urge to surf the web on a big screen during down time at a hotel lobby or café computer? If you do check e-mail over a browser on a public computer, presumably you are not logging into a work email system via, for example, Outlook Web Access? If, however, you feel you must check work mail (or a personal webmail account Inbox) in this fashion, then at least make sure not to save the login/password or to download any confidential files.

On one cross-country trip, while waiting to do a workplace information-security presentation, I checked my personal Yahoo webmail on a hotel registration-desk PC. Once I had deleted the browser history and then closed the browsing window, I happened to notice something on the Desktop; it was called "[REDACTED FIRST AND LAST NAME]_Severance. doc". As soon as I hovered on that Microsoft Word file's icon, a yellow rectangular bubble appeared, displaying the company name and the first name of the original "Author" of the document – or of its parent or (great-)grandparent document. (According to some studies, 90% of electronic documents are created by editing a pre-existing document.) By right-clicking on the icon and then glancing at the "Properties" of the document, I was readily able to ascertain the original "Title" of the document. That Title reflected a different first and last name than the individual who was apparently about to be terminated via the current iteration of the document.

Without even opening the file, basic metadata allowed me to learn a fair amount of confidential information that was not meant to become public. I did delete the file and then emptied the Recycle Bin, such that only a computer forensics expert would have been able to resurrect the document from that machine. And I have never disclosed — and long since forgotten — the names I had stumbled upon. But the impact of that experience brought home to me how much more dangerous it is to lose a stray electronic document somewhere virtual than to leave a relatively one-dimensional piece of paper in a physical location. In the twenty-first century, inevitable human error can have much broader ramifications due to the many layers of information available in an electronic file.

Let's presuppose you made it through your trip without incident, physically and digitally. Now, what about the return trip home? Note that, if you travelled outside of the United States, hopefully you took special care at the beginning of your trip. Why? Under current Fourth Amendment law, upon anyone's return to the U.S. from overseas, the contents of his or her laptop — or other digital device — are subject to warrantless inspection at the discretion of Customs officials. No particularized suspicion of wrongdoing is required. Some courts have even ruled that a password and/or encryption/ decryption key must be disclosed upon request.

Just last month, yet another federal appellate decision came down supporting the legality of warrantless border searches of laptop computers. So, what is a business traveler do? A multi-pronged work-around could be: use a loaner laptop that houses neither a full set of company-provided computer programs nor any confidential files/data; throughout the overseas trip, only do sensitive work over the Internet via a virtual private network (VPN) connection; store no newly created or modified confidential files on the local hard drive; and, before the return flight home, run an application such as powerful freeware tool CCleaner to "wipe" the hard drive.

Whether at home in your day-to-day routine or on the road, be circumspect about which information you store on a portable computer or device. When in doubt, leave the information in secure central storage from which you can access it remotely in a location-independent fashion. In general, remember the wisdom of the old "Hill Street Blues" cop-show Desk Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, who always urged his minions: "Let's be careful out there . . . ."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
22 Oct 2019, Other, New York, United States

DLaw will be hosting a two-day summit on Disruptive Innovations in Legal Services providing a meaningful exploration of digital technology for the legal services professionals from specific emerging tools to new business models to creative client acquisition and retention strategies.

29 Oct 2019, Webinar, California, United States

In the digitized world of the twenty-first century, it is more important than ever for every organization to know as much as possible about the information it creates, stores, received and maintains.

14 Nov 2019, Other, California, United States

LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social networking sites offer lawyers myriad avenues for communicating with each other and the public about a host of issues.

 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions