Security At The Border: A VPNReviewz Guide For The Device Carrying Traveler

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Preparing for travel outside of the US has always been a daunting task. But, now with digital devices being inspected at the border, one has to consider how much security is necessary, if they don’t want the device contents copied or examined at length…VPNReviewz has a few tips to keep these devices safe, and yet out of the limelight.

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Encrypting the data being stored on a device is important to keep the data safe in the event of a lost or stolen device, but this same safety can turn on the traveler and bite them

In this day and age, millions keep virtually every aspect of their lives on a laptop, tablet, or some other electronic storage device. Pics of the family, personal letters and emails, and even more often, business and financial related data. And often the data being kept on the device is kept unsecured, for the convenience of the user. For the traveler though, security of their data is of the utmost importance. Especially when sensitive personal, financial, or business data is concerned. Encrypting the data being stored on a device is important to keep the data safe in the event of a lost or stolen device, but this same safety can turn on the traveler and bite them…at the US, (and many others,) border.

When it is least expected, a US traveler can have their electronic devices seized and searched, including all those sensitive files you want to remain private, when entering into the US. The matter has been before the courts in several US jurisdictions, and the courts have found that laptops and other portable devices that are being carried by travelers entering into the US borders are subject to search, to include the files and documents that are contained in them. There has been more than one attempt to squash this Orwellian attitude about the devices, and the documents contained in them at the border, but so far the attempts haven’t managed to stop the invasive practice.

When crossing the US borders there are generally two agencies that will concern themselves with digital devices. The DHS has the Department of Customs and Border Protection, (CBP,) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE,) though neither agency makes a habit of detaining passengers and travelers. But according to the law, both agencies have wide sweeping discretionary powers, and it is impossible to know how they will treat each individual search situation, though both have published their policies for searching the devices. According to the CBP, they tell their agents that they can inspect the digital devices, make copies of the data on the device, or even keep the device…for a “brief, reasonable” time. This is so they can do the search on or off site. According to the agencies, the devices that are retained are generally returned to the owner within 5 days, and though agents are informed that they may see privileged or highly sensitive data, the agencies policies don’t clearly explain the procedures used in these cases.

The percentage of devices that are retained by either agency is relatively low when compared to the sheer number of travelers that cross the borders with their personal devices…the average traveler will probably never have their device inspected or copied. But this may change in the near future. reports that researchers are constantly working on faster and more discreet ways of invading digital privacies. So protecting your digital life, or data, has never been more important. And the precautions that are taken by each individual should be based on their experience, and assessment of the data they are protecting. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on what and how to protect the data on your device.

Citizenship Status – It could be considered uncooperative if a person encrypted their data, especially so if the person refuses to give the decryption key.

Time – How much time do you have to wait for the inspection. More encrypted data could mean a longer detention for the inspection.

Patience – How much hassle is tolerable when crossing the border for the person.

Importance – Is the data needed when on a plane or during travel, or could the data be accessed later from a remote location?

Itinerary – How many countries have been traveled? Certain countries will attract additional attention form border agents.

Internet Access – What level of access to the internet will be available. In some countries the level of internet is lower, and access to large amounts of data may not be possible.

Personal History – If there is an ongoing investigation, or previous suspicious activities noted there could be problems and delays at the border.

With all this in mind, a person should be able to make an informed decision as to how to protect the data they keep on their portable devices. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few of the better alternatives:

Cloud Service – Already this has made a huge impact on the IT community, and more and more, people are turning to the cloud to secure their personal data in a place that is “always available no matter where they are.” also highly recommends that users encrypt any data they store on the cloud, and if available use any additional encryption methods that the service may offer.

External HDD - Keeping a backup of any computer system is only prudent, and if the backup is an external HDD, then it can be transported separately from the carried device, and completely secured using encrypting technologies. The downside to this is the time it takeds to restore the backup to the device.

Ditch The Data – Or at least remove it to a better place that isn’t so apt to search and seizure without a warrant. Some people go so far as to remove the HDD from the device they travel with. Some pack it with the other luggage, and others send it ahead in the mail.

Secure USB Device – USB cards can contain the entire operating system of your computer, with the computer booting from the USB port. According to there are a few USB devices available on the market that, once encrypted, will resist every attempt at decryption, and ultimately self destruct before giving the data up without proper decryption keys.

These are just a few ideas for the traveler that wishes to avoid the “hassle” when crossing the border into the US. VPNReviewz CEO, Michael Maxstead asserts that more and more, the government and corporations are trying to invade our private lives, he says, “This is one of the bigger attempts, right next to the FISA legislation."

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