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1/28/2014
12:06 PM
Dave Piscitello
Dave Piscitello
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Data Security: 4 Questions For Road Warriors

Traveling with electronic gear containing sensitive data carries a greater security risk today than ever before.

The issue of searches or seizures of electronic gear at international borders is not new, nor is it a kneejerk reaction to the Edward Snowden revelations regarding NSA surveillance programs. But if the seizure of the laptop of the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and other incidents disclosed in 2013 aren’t worrisome enough, the recent dismissal of Pascal Abidor’s 2009 lawsuit by a US federal judge is a stern warning that traveling today carries a greater data security risk than ever before. 

Pascal Abidor, you may recall, is a graduate student in Islamic studies who sued the government after American border agents removed him from an Amtrak train crossing from Canada to New York. He was handcuffed, placed in a cell, and questioned for several hours. Then his laptop was seized and kept for 11 days.

Incidents like these in the US, Canada, and the UK are well known. The British Columbia Canadian Civil Liberties Association notes that, "in Canada under the Customs Act, a Border Services officer does not need to have individualized suspicion to search your luggage or other possessions." Add warnings that devices connected to networks in China may be easy prey for cyberattacks, and it should be abundantly clear that search, seizure, or compromise of electronic devices are transnational concerns. It should also be clear that while encryption is one obvious defensive measure, it will, in some cases, merely be an impediment to search but not an "absolute protection."

Time to rethink mobile data policies.
If you are concerned about the disclosure of personal or organizational sensitive data, take stock now. Begin by asking these four questions:

  1. What data do I really need to carry with me?
    Security-minded organizations traditionally apply the principle of least privilege. It's time to consider a principle of least mobile data. Given the frequency of laptop theft resulting in the loss of thousands of social security numbers, user accounts and credentials, medical records, or intellectual property, it’s clear that as a rule, we travel with too much.
  2. What are the consequences of carrying these data and having them disclosed or copied -- for me, my family, friends, my organization?
    Apply basic risk analysis.  Disclosure of many kinds of personal or organizational data -- whether by loss or seizure -- has severe personal, business, or reputational consequences.
  3. What alternatives do I have to access the data when I travel, and will these alternatives be available (or legal) from my international destination?
    Consider whether secure remote access (VPN) or secure, cloud-hosted content or applications will satisfy access requirements and reduce risk. Consider as well where you host data. In the face of eroding confidence following surveillance revelations, many organizations today assume a zero-trust posture and consider privacy rights and surveillance laws equally as important a security factor as access to an "operationally secure" cloud.
  4. What measures should I take upon my return from an international destination to ensure that my electronic devices pose no risk to my organization?
    The Canadian Bar Association suggests 10 steps to ensure that road warriors travel with a "forensically clean" laptop.  Infosec professionals should read these recommendations with a critical eye; while the guidance CBA provides is spot on, maintaining forensic hygiene is a big, fat chore.

Searches, seizures, or compromises are disconcerting subjects. Stay focused on the notion of "zero trust," don't get distracted by country-specific issues or policies, and you'll likely succeed in finding a healthy balance of data security, trust, and mobility.

Dave Piscitello has been involved with Internet technologies and security for over 35 years.

IT is turbocharging BYOD, but mobile security practices lag behind the growing risk. Also in the Mobile Security issue of InformationWeek: These seven factors are shaping the future of identity as we transition to a digital world. (Free registration required.)

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KellyG077
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KellyG077,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2014 | 7:56:36 AM
Data Security via Secure wallets
I have been reading the article and people commenting on it regarding carrying sensive data like credit cars or licenses type material.I have been facing the same thoughts but since i have been using these secure walllets option in an encryption sofware #dataprotecto its been quite a easy journey for me as i travel alot, And by using these sort of encryption keeps me aways from worries.
davepiscitello
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davepiscitello,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/3/2014 | 8:55:42 AM
Re: nCrypted Cloud
I could not have found a more appropriate cartoon, thanks!

Practically speaking, no organization should put an employee in a position to be the target of a $5 hammer.

And while I mentioned border officers, I think the attack landscape for physical world attacks includes criminal actors. If we agree that spear phishing is a practical attack, then we shouldn't discount that criminals in the real world might identify a key role employee who also carries data they could sell or use for coercively.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2014 | 10:31:21 PM
Re: nCrypted Cloud
If the encryption is good, the encryption is good.  As Bruce Schneier says, "Trust the math."

But you are absolutely right about your comment regarding the potential for putting an employee at risk -- as this XKCD comic strip deftly illustrates.
davepiscitello
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davepiscitello,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/31/2014 | 3:04:18 PM
Re: nCrypted Cloud
This is an interesting approach but again, this is a solution not a strategy.

You begin down a particular path when you adopt a policy that "undefeatable" encryption makes it OK to travel with ANY data on the basis that it can't be decrypted. This is not a risk assessment: it's hubris. 

Think about whether such an approach might put an employee at risk when traveling. Will it put your employee at any less risk in a scenario where an authority demands disclosure if he is incapable rather than unwilling to relinquish keys to data? Your employee may be detained until you disclose. The root problem is that you've decided to make certain data mobile when you perhaps really should not.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2014 | 11:54:05 PM
Re: nCrypted Cloud
@Dave: The key, then, is to treat a court order as an insider threat and make encryption secure against even you yourself, as Ed Felten discusses in this excellent blog post.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
1/30/2014 | 4:26:11 PM
Some Other Options Not Discussed
(1)  Boycott those countries like the US that claim to be free but in reality simply paying lip service to freedom. 

(2)  If you must travel, leave your electronics at home. Period. 

(3)  Get involved with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).  The EFF watches the watchers and litigates accordingly.  For an allegedly "free" country, the US becomes more tyrannical/less free with each passing administration headed by the political duopoly.

(4) Vote third party.  The two major parties have proven to be clones of each other with very little difference between them.

 

 
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
1/30/2014 | 9:31:29 AM
Re: Baby steps
Thanks for jumping in on this @jg and I appreciate your positive spin on the vendor pitches. (You saved me the trouble!) But you also raise an interesting point about whether the market has yet to produce a solution that people want. 

So my question is what a mobile solution for data security look like from the user point of view? Let's hash it out in the comments.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/29/2014 | 11:46:38 PM
Baby steps
Whatever way you look at it there is clearly a market for solutions in this space. 

BobH088 here has made 4 posts since signing up, all identical by the way, plugging his solution.

ThomasM571 entered the fray with a plug for his solution, although all credit to him - he stayed for the discussion and he disclosed hs affiliation, and I respect that.

That certainly confirms to me that this is a market that companies are keen to tap, and one where they believe users see the value. I guess if we can persuade people to use a PIN as a starting point, we can get them to take the next step!
BobH088
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BobH088,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/29/2014 | 1:57:37 PM
lost data solution

One of the most common causes of data getting in the wrong hands is the loss of mobile devices that often contain a frightening amount of private information. I want to share a protection option that worked for me. Tracer tags let someone who finds your lost stuff contact you directly without exposing your private information. I use them on almost everything I take when I travel after one of the tags was responsible for getting my lost laptop returned to me in Rome one time. You can get them at mystufflostandfound.com
ThomasM571
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ThomasM571,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/29/2014 | 12:44:36 PM
Re: nCrypted Cloud
David,

Well said.  We agree to be different.  

How do you feel about the internet of things?   I am concerned that my refrigerator may be spying on me playing Angry Birds (while the NSA is spying on me).   

Tom
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