I have seen guidelines which suggest that traveling overseas is particularly risky when it comes to protecting your intellectual property. I'm confused about what specifically are the factors that heighten the risk compared to staying at home. How well does the list below describe the problems of international travel?

Technical risk factors:

  1. laptop tampered with when passing through TSA?
  2. evil maid attack at hotels
  3. being compelled to enter encryption keys at border
  4. spoofing attacks / man-in-the-middle / bad connections

Societal / structural / human risk factors:

  1. More motivated attackers depending on the countries visited

What am I missing?

It seems that you could deal with 2. by always staying with your laptop (except at TSA) and 4. by using a VPN. And while you can't prevent 3. you would certainly know that you'd given up the key. As for 1., is that a concern at all? (I'm wondering about it because it's the one time that you have to leave your laptop out of sight.)

I'm hoping for feedback on whether the thinking above is sound and about what's missing from the list.

As for 5. there is one or two countries that are typically mentioned but how about elsewhere? And specifically for western Europe, is there any difference in risk between individual countries? I've seen comments by a former US official singling out particular countries in Western Europe as higher risk, but is it just hyperbole or is there an appreciable difference to be aware of?

  • 1
    The question gets very very broad by the end. Questions asking for lists gets broad because there is no defined end to the list. Debating each potential mitigation for every point on a list gets broad too. As for #5, that's a whole other question entirely.
    – schroeder
    Mar 22, 2019 at 22:25
  • What countries are you considering. I am more concerned with re-entering the U.S. than most European countries. My laptop is really never out of sight with TSA, either I can see it or it is passing through the X-ray and I can see it is not taken out.
    – zaph
    Mar 22, 2019 at 22:25

1 Answer 1


It all boils down to one factor: you lose physical and direct control over the storage medium/device. Government inspection (border crossings or otherwise) and spending every minute of the day in environments that you do not control (hotels, restaurants, public spaces, etc.) that an adversary could control weaken your ability to retain or regain control over the storage media.

We could list a hundred things that could go wrong, but they all boil down to that one fundamental factor.

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