In My Opinion: The top 5 threats to global business travelers (COVID-19 Edition)

In My Opinion: The top 5 threats to global business travelers (COVID-19 Edition)

This brief is part of a series I’m producing for my Lifestyle Advisory and Concierge Facilitation series.  

As a global security consultant, my task is to provide advice, not instructions, on how to best mitigate risks and obtain buy-in from the risk holder. Flexibility by design is essential particularly when dealing with high-performance people. As your trusted advisor, I’ll make suggestions, offer my opinion and discuss all the options. Perhaps you as the client will accept advice and go with a program I and my team have developed but more likely, you’ll have your own opinion and want / need to take the associated risk that goes along with your decision. Let me say here that sometimes a client will have a better idea or plan of action than I do and I am always pleased when that’s the case.

Today, these are the top 5 threats to business travelers specifically, in my opinion:

1. Covid19 and Related Health Risks

This one may seem obvious given the current state of the pandemic and its impact on modern society. I expect in the future we’ll remember the world pre-COVID19 sentimentally with fondness. The steps you take for your protection is entirely up to you or the business / social environment you’ll be working in. My recommendation: 

a. Conduct temperature checks before work and stay home when sick. 

b. Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face and eyes.

c. Practice social distancing including wearing face coverings in close common areas.

d. Learn about high-risk groups and help protect them or at least minimize your risk.

e. Cover mouths when coughing or sneezing. Step away and increase your personal space.

f.  Clean high touch surfaces like doorknobs, computers and desks frequently.

g. Consider local public health guidance as updated.

h. … and for good measure, don’t drink or brush with the water. (Depends on where you are)

2. Email Hacking And Cell Phone Intercepts

Today's cheap and readily available technology allows hackers with only a limited amount of knowledge to hack Internet traffic, intercept cellular transmissions, and execute man-the-middle attacks to steal your data, your privacy and potentially your reputation. If you’re traveling on business to certain countries, you may be targeted to steal your company trade secrets. You’re especially vulnerable in airports, hotels, and coffee shops or wherever you’re using public Wi-Fi. At the very least, I recommend:

a. A good VPN on each of your devices.

b. Active MalWare and Virus software on your device. (I recommend MalWareBytes) 

c. Use a fully encrypted, app to app communications package like WickrPro, or Threema for all of your calls, texts and file sharing.

d. Treat every communication as though you know it’s being monitored.

3. Hotel Intrusions

You are not secure in your papers and property when you leave your hotel room locked, even if you lock your suitcases and put your valuables into the hotel room safe. Keep your valuable data and electronics with you. If you choose to leave your gear behind, turn it off, use an encrypted drive and a good password to get back in. A better choice is to travel with “sanitized”minimalistic devices that have limited data in them and keep your data on an encrypted thumb drive.

4. Elicitation

An idle conversation with one “friendly guy” and then a subsequent conversation overheard by a doorman plus a bit of knowledge about you at the hotel, may give away enough information to put your business deal at risk or increase your likelihood of being targeted for corporate espionage. Do you remember the old adage “Loose Lips Sink Ships”?  It’s still true today. Casual conversation may be a carefully crafted mechanism to extract data or distract you while something is being stolen from you.

5. Surveillance - Observation and Studies

Consider where you’re doing business and who you’re working with. Are you in the EMEA? Are you in a developing nation or post conflict development zone? It’s likely that you might be the target of official or paramilitary surveillance. In these locations you should always “assume” that someone is listening to or watching you. This is especially true if you’re a person of HNW or an official guest of the host nation. The surveillance may be benign, for your own protection or it may be a tool to gain a competitive advantage during your negotiations. Surveillance may be a precursor to more physical threats such as robbery or kidnapping. Be aware of this and accept it but plan for it and act accordingly. 

This has been a high level overview of the multitude of various threats and risks to business travelers. I certainly haven’t discussed them all and there’s one more worth mentioning here - driving. In so many instances and for the overwhelming majority of people, the number one threat to life and liberty is driving, Getting into a car accident is anything from an inconvenience to a life altering event. In some countries you might get locked up if you’re the driver involved in an accident. I always recommend to HNW or UHNW clients, especially on business trips, to use the services of a properly vetted and trained security driver with local knowledge and contacts. That one bit of advice might save you from loss, embarrassment, or harm.

Remember to always advance the destination, have a plan and then another for the collapse of the first plan.

Safe travels,

J Damien Scott