If you find a USB stick in the parking lot at your workplace, you already know that you should never plug it into your own laptop or PC to check if a colleague may have lost it. You are well aware that this is a common trick used to gain access to your laptop/PC and, in the worst-case scenario, even to the entire internal network. But what about when you're on a business trip abroad? Do you sometimes leave your laptop in your hotel room? Are you sure that nobody has tampered with your laptop while you were enjoying a beer on the terrace?

The scenario: Espionage

When you work in an organization with a biological laboratory, the knowledge within your organization, such as high-risk pathogens, can also be of interest to others, making you a potential target for someone attempting to gain access to this information through you or your equipment. Digital espionage is the easiest way to extract information. Often, employees themselves are the weakest link, for example, by opening an attachment in an email or signing up on the central website during a conference to respond to statements. This can provide access to your digital devices. What should you be aware of, and how can you prevent espionage?

Course of action

The most crucial rule, of course, is to always be alert to possible espionage and try to prevent anyone from accessing your devices. Do not leave your digital equipment unattended, avoid using unknown USB sticks or chargers, do not open attachments or click on links in emails from unfamiliar senders, and so on.
During a business trip, you are particularly vulnerable to espionage because you are outside the secure environment of your organization. Especially in countries like China or Russia, government-sponsored espionage may occur. If you are traveling to such countries, try to bring a "clean" phone and laptop so that there is nothing to gain if someone gains access to your equipment unexpectedly.
If you suspect that someone may have had access to your devices, contact your IT department as soon as possible.

Sharing your scenario

If you would like to learn more about this topic, sign up for the Biosecurity Knowledge Day on Thursday, November 10th in Amersfoort and register for the workshop "Espionage on Foreign Travel." If you would like to discuss this scenario further with the Biosecurity Office or if you encounter a biosecurity scenario that you would like to share with colleagues in the field, please let us know! The Biosecurity Office can be reached at biosecurity@rivm.nl.