Secure communications while traveling

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Secure communications while traveling

Secure communications while traveling is not markedly more difficult than communications security while at home.

Electronic communications

If you are communicating electronically, you merely have to encrypt whatever you send. We use PGP, which is available commercially at, and for non-commercial use at, and at for those outside the U.S. who can’t download from the U.S. sites.

PGP has plug-ins for many e-mail programs. We use The Bat! ( which allows encryption and decryption with the click of a button. For attachments, such as pictures or Word documents or Acrobat documents, we simply use Windows Explorer to find the original we want to send, click on the object with the right button, choose PGP followed either by Encrypt, or Encrypt and Sign. This will turn picture.jpg (you should use innocuous, non-revelatory names) into the encrypted picture.jpg.pgp. We then attach the encrypted file to the document and off it goes. The addition of encryption adds a few seconds to the process.

If you use Web based e-mail, you write your messages, copy them, encrypt them, and paste them into the e-mail. Again, it adds only a few seconds.

Landline conversations

Landline conversations are equally easy to secure, with a few caveats. We use Privatel encryptors from L-3 corporation ( east/infosec/privatel/ie_infosec_privatel.html). The Privatel is inexpensive – each unit costs $595 – and, once you match the Privatel to the phone you are using, is trivial to use. You simply call another Privatel user, press a button, and the call goes secure.

The caveats are that:

•            If the lines are horrible you may not be able to make a connection, or the call might go non-secure from time to time. It is not uncommon to have occasions where we would talk for five minutes and the call would then drop to non-secure. We just push the button again and have another go at it.

•            If you are in a room that is bugged, your half of the conversation will of course be picked-up.

•            Some countries – China comes to mind – don’t want you to have encrypted conversations, and will take your encryptor away from you, and never give it back.

GSM conversations

Not only have relatively few encrypted cell phones been available in the history of mobile calls (General Dynamics made one that was good until it was rendered obsolete by GSM 850), there are NO encrypted quad-band GSM handsets available. This should come as no surprise, considering how few quad-band terminals are made.

Because of this we have to deal with the problem in some other way. What we do is to buy pre-paid SIM cards. (Telestial, at, says they carry cards from “Over 250 carriers in 130 countries.”) By leaving home with your pre-paid SIM already in your handset, you arrive in-country with a phone able to make calls immediately, yet with no apparent connection to you. While these conversations can certainly be heard by the service provider, the likelihood of your SIM being singled out is so slim that, for commercial purposes, this method of communication can be considered to be reasonably secure.


There are places that in theory have GSM service but in practice do not. In some sub-Saharan countries, for example, connectivity is iffy at best. In this case your best bet is an Inmarsat system, using a Privatel for encryption. If this is something that you need, let us know and we will direct you to an appropriate supplier.

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