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Six ways to protect your intellectual property abroad

Along with safeguarding your passport and your wallet when doing business abroad, you must also take steps to protect your intellectual property.

Travellers face cybersecurity threats from corporations, organized crime and even some foreign governments, says John Proctor, director of Cyber Resilience for CGI, an independent information technology and business process services firm.

He suggests six practical ways to protect your intellectual property when you're travelling for business.

1. Assess your risks

The first step to protect against cybersecurity breaches is to assess your risks by considering the value of your sensitive data.

“For example, if you're taking the design of your new widget or chemical with you to meet with a manufacturer abroad, the value is that information,” Proctor says. “Then ask yourself what would happen if you lost it or someone else took it.”

Proctor says you must also consider your destination, as some regions are hot spots for cybertheft. He suggests consulting the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s travel reports and warnings to assess the risks before you leave.

When you know the value of your information, you can take steps to mitigate your risks.

2. Bring as little as you can

Proctor advises travellers to think about leaving their laptops, cellphones or other devices containing personal information at home.

However, he says travelling without technology usually isn't practical for most workers.

Therefore, Proctor suggests mitigating your risks by using encrypted hard drives or one-time-use USB keys to store sensitive data and leave everything else behind.

3. Get your people, processes and technology working together

Proctor says the three tenets of protecting against cybersecurity breaches are your organization's people, processes and technology.

For example, you can buy expensive technology to monitor your networks and prevent email leakage. However, if your business has not established policies to determine the level of sensitivity or value of the information, the technology will be useless, Proctor says.

Similarly, if your corporate directives don't specify the consequences of transmitting sensitive or valuable information to the wrong parties, then your employees are less likely to understand the requirements and use the technology effectively, he says.

You need to get your people, processes and technology to work together to help combat intellectual property theft, Proctor emphasizes.

4. Don't forget the easy stuff

Some travellers forget to take simple precautions, such as keeping their laptops and cellphones with them at all times, says Proctor. He cautions travellers to never leave devices containing sensitive data unattended.

Other easy ways to limit the risk of cybersecurity breaches include avoiding public computers or servers, using strong passwords, ensuring your anti-virus software is up-to-date and backing up your electronic files.

Proctor also warns travellers not to assume all breaches are technical.

“If you're verbally giving away all your trade secrets, thieves wouldn't need any technical expertise whatsoever,” he says.

The same goes for leaving sensitive information on your computer screen in a public place.

5. Beware what you bring back

Cybersecurity breaches don't just happen while you're travelling, Proctor cautions.

Criminals can also steal your intellectual property by using customized malware that you bring back to Canada with you, he says. When you plug your computer back into the corporate network, it can give them access to your sensitive information.

“It's like if you were overseas and caught a cold and then went home and gave it to your coworkers,” says Proctor. “In this case, you go abroad, pick up a piece of malware and then you go home and give it to all your coworkers.”

If you suspect your technology has been compromised, don't connect with your organization's network without getting your computer checked first.

6. Continue to update your cybersecurity strategy

As Canada strengthens its ties with developing countries, protecting your intellectual property when travelling internationally is becoming more difficult, Proctor says.

“As we strengthen our trading relationships with more nations, some of the risks will increase because they have looser laws on intellectual property and data theft,” he warns.

For more information on traveller risk management, visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website, Travel Reports & Warnings of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada at and also visit the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service website, including Protecting your Intellectual Property in China.

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