Paranoia, laptop and border

Holiday season is finishing. Business travels will start again. If you are paranoid about your sensitive data then you may worry when crossing some borders such as US or UK. Border officers are allowed to scan your computer, download data and even cease it for further investigation. They may look for any type of infringements such as pornography, copyright infringement and of course terrorist documents.

If you are seriously paranoid (and even if you are serious about security), then you will have encrypted your hard disk. This is good (if well done) against theft but not against inquisitive border officers. They will ask your password. And you will have to give it unless you are ready to risk computer ceasing or even refused to enter the country.

Thus, if you want your sensitive data to be safe for paranoia sake, for confidentiality reason, or for privacy (pick up your choice), some tricks:

  • Securely delete everything you do not want to be viewed. Do not forget the tons of temporary files and cookies that are stored by software. I usually uses CCleaner.
  • I would recommend encrypting sensitive data in discrete non obvious locations. The chances that the officer will spot it are lower. Do not use my xxx directories.
  • One important action is to switch off the computer before crossing the border. The sleep mode leaves a lot of data available for forensic tools.
  • Even better is to store the sensitive data in encrypted format on removable media such as USB sticks or even better memory cards. Memory cards have a small form factor that you may easily “hide”. Most modern laptops have such card readers. And even if they find it, they will cease it rather than the laptop. If your password is strong,
  • The optimal solution is to use a VPN. In that case, all sensitive files will be securely stored on your company’s network rather than on your computer.

I must confess that my computer was never scanned at any border. Nevertheless, several people reported this type of scanning. Only once, when entering a US federal building, I was asked to switch on the computer to test it was not fake.

Your feeling?

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