You’ve probably heard some of the common advice for athletes heading to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics this year: Bring a burner phone and don’t log into any personal accounts. This is good advice for athletes and non-athletes alike, no matter where they travel.
Knowing how to properly protect yourself requires knowing a bit about the threats you’re likely to face, so what should Olympians, and the rest of us, plan to beware of in China and other international destinations? ?
Aubrey Turner, executive adviser at Ping Identity, said spying and spyware in China is certainly a concern, but there’s more to this “bring a burner” line than just concerns about spying on the Chinese government. . “Who knows you better than your smartphone? Think of all the sensitive data, sensitive memories, secrets, passwords, all that stuff,” Turner warned.
“[Your device is] a living story of you. Do you want to risk this being potentially compromised? »
Cyber threats to Olympic travelers in China
Due to COVID-19, the Beijing Olympics will be relatively spectatorless. There are no tickets generally available, and only Chinese citizens will be allowed to purchase the few tickets available on a selective basis. With that in mind, if you’re traveling to Beijing later this week, you likely have a business reason to be there, so it’s important to be aware of any threats you may encounter during your visit.
Along with concerns about Chinese espionage, Turner said the very nature of a big event creates a target-rich environment for criminals to take advantage of. “With the Olympics, a lot of people gather in one place for an event. So definitely it will be a target rich environment for cybercrime, people will be distracted by games and so on. said Turner.
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The possibility of theft means anyone going to the games should be acutely aware of physical security in order to prevent a device, memory card or other sensitive data storage hardware from disappearing from a pocket.
In addition to pickpockets and government espionage, there is the Great Chinese Firewall which filters any internet traffic that the Chinese government decides not to allow. In order to access many sites that US visitors regularly use, a VPN is needed to bypass it. Don’t rush to install one on your burner: that too could make you a target. “The Chinese government may overlook your use of a VPN, or they may choose to shut you down,” Turner warns. The likelihood of getting caught may be slim, but that’s yet another thing to consider when planning tech for your Olympic trip.
Protect yourself whatever your destination
Some of the recommendations people have made about traveling to China for the Winter Olympics apply to other countries as well, but each location has unique concerns you should be aware of. To find out what to expect when it comes to privacy laws, Turner recommends checking out the US State Department’s Travel Advice website for a quick overview of the legal differences you might encounter while abroad.
When it comes to universally applicable security tips to protect your mobile devices and data, both Turner and Forrester security and risk analyst Allie Mellen have some advice.
“When traveling anywhere, individuals have to worry about insecure or malicious Wi-Fi networks used to collect data or connect to their devices, Bluetooth connections from unknown devices, AirDrop from unknown devices or the theft or physical modification of their devices,” Mellen mentioned.
Mellen’s modification warning applies particularly to two countries: the United States, where she said border law enforcement can legally seize and search devices, and China, where the government has the power to install applications that collect personal data.
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When traveling to any country, Mellen said it’s all about identifying your personal risk tolerance. “For those who are very privacy conscious, it may be a good idea to get a phone or laptop with a burner and leave personal devices at home. Others may be more comfortable with their device personal, but taking precautions like not logging into their personal accounts,” she said.
Turner describes overseas personal security in terms of thinking like a business organization: Minimize your attack surface. “They are going to look for people who may be negligent or negligent, or who may have just been unaware. And those are easier targets,” Turner said. So do businesses that choose not to invest time and money in proactive security.
Best Practices for Burner Phones
You have decided to invest in an engraver to go to Beijing, or elsewhere. You can always get the wrong burner, so Turner and Mellen recommend the following:
- Get your burner phone in your home country. Trying to get the right device abroad can be tricky and invites additional risk.
- Also order a SIM card for your destination in your home country.
- Use a temporary email address to create an account for your burner.
- Do not log into any personal account on your burner.
- Use a strong password and MFA on your burner, even if it’s a temporary device.
- Disable Bluetooth, AirDrop, Wi-Fi, camera, microphone, and other data entry/exit points.
- Do not use unknown or untrusted cables, such as those found at charging stations.
As for getting home and disposing of your engraving device, Turner recommends a thorough cleaning and handing in the device for recycling. “Be environmentally conscious and maybe try to find a place where you can recycle,” Turner said. Heck, you might even get some cash for your device if you do it right.
It’s also worth noting that Turner said there’s no reason to buy a new burner if you have an older device that supports international cellular bands. Clean the device, get a temporary SIM card, wipe it again when you get home, and put it in your desk drawer until you can travel again.