Cyber security iffy for travelers overseas

(CNN) - When Edward Snowden dropped his bombshell revelations about the U.S. government's surveillance program, his story took an ironic turn: he fled to China and Russia, nations long known for spying on foreign visitors.

Those countries are not alone, especially when it comes to computer, phones and other devices.

Many countries, even allies, consider them fair game.

"When you cross the border, you're going to be carrying a bag, and in your bag you'll have, say your phone. You'll have your laptop computer. The border patrol agents in any country around the world have the right to take all of the data off of that drive," said Mark Rasch, a cyber security expert.

"Most business travelers do not know that countries have the right to copy everything that's on your drive and all of your passwords that access your mail, your email, all your files," he said.

Whether openly or in secret, from border guards, to customs agents to free wireless system at a hotel, all represent ways in which information can be grabbed from electronics.

The White House has acknowledged the threat.

"We're going to have to work very hard to build a system of defenses and protections both in the private sector and in the public sector, even as we negotiate with other countries," President Barack Obama said.

So who and what are they after?

Journalists and lawyers are targets for the contacts they have; college professors and students for their state-of-the-art research; and business travelers because of internal memos, studies, and trade secrets that other countries and companies want.

"They have economic interests in wanting to learn trade secrets, business processes, new development, new information technologies," Rasch said. "If they can shave a year off of designing a new airplane engine, they can save billions of dollars for their economy."

Avoiding such spying is not easy.

People can travel with cheap, disposable phones, encrypt everything on the computer, or better yet, leave at home everything not absolutely needed.

It is worth noting, most of us, in most of our travels will not be spied on. But those who work in high tech, the military or some other sensitive area, the odds do go up that when they go to see the world's sights, someone may also be looking at them.

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