1Password Travel Mode protects passwords from border agents

1Password has created Travel Mode, a new feature that will allow users to protect their 1Password data from unwarranted searches when they travel.

1Password Travel Mode

The need for such a feature

US border agents are increasingly asking travelers to unlock their electronic devices for a search and give them access to passwords for various accounts. For some travelers, saying no comes with disastrous consequences (e.g. being denied entry into the country). And, unfortunately, this kind of privacy overreach is not confined to US borders.

In the current political climate, this situation is unlikely to change in favor of travelers’ privacy soon, so it’s on tech companies to come up with solutions.

How does it work

The 1Password Travel Mode is available only to users who have a subscription with the company (1Password Teams, 1Password Family), i.e. have a 1Password.com account and the stored information is synced through the company’s servers.

It works like this: if you have to travel and want to bring with you just certain items (logins, secure notes, etc.):

  • Sign into your account on 1Password.com
  • Put these items into a separate vault
  • Mark the vault as “safe for travel”
  • Turn on Travel Mode in your profile
  • Unlock 1Password on the devices you’ll be traveling with
  • All the vaults (and the information in them) that have not been marked “safe for travel” will be automatically removed/deleted from those devices.

Once you cross the border and get to where you’re going, login into the 1Password.com account, and turn off Travel Mode, and all the vaults will be restored to your devices.

“Your vaults aren’t just hidden; they’re completely removed from your devices as long as Travel Mode is on. That includes every item and all your encryption keys. There are no traces left for anyone to find. So even if you’re asked to unlock 1Password by someone at the border, there’s no way for them to tell that Travel Mode is even enabled,” Rick Fillion, a developer at AgileBits (the company behind 1Password), explained.

“In 1Password Teams, Travel Mode is even cooler. If you’re a team administrator, you have total control over which secrets your employees can travel with. You can turn Travel Mode on and off for your team members, so you can ensure that company information stays safe at all times.”

Travel Mode limitations

The idea is that border agents may have the right to search the information on your devices, but not to access information stored in an online account. At least, that’s the situation in the US at the moment.

On the other hand, border agents (not just in the US) could theoretically force travelers to log into their Password.com account, rendering the Travel Mode protection moot.

This scenario has been floated by users commenting the new feature, and several ideas were proposed to remove this drawback, such as duress passwords and time locks.

Fillion noted that they are thinking about solutions for that particular problem.

Finally (and unfortunately) the Travel Mode is not available for 1Password users who use standalone vaults that can be synced via their Dropbox or iCloud account.