Thursday, July 17, 2014

Family Security: Talkin' Trash

Operational Security or OPSEC is what the military defines as: The evaluation and control of any critical information that could be used against you by an adversary.
Why is this important to us as civilians and you and your family? Because there are those who would use this information to steal from you, take your identity or worse, to do you harm. A friend I had worked as the Information Systems Director for the Department of Corrections in a populous state in the US. When he was at his office near the State Capitol, he wore a tie, nice shoes, and a business suit. But when he had to travel to the prisons, he would dress in jeans, tennis shoes, a faded work shirt, and would drive a State vehicle to and from the prison. He did not want the prisoners to know his appearance, or information about his personal car or license plate number. The reason is that he had intelligence that certain criminals said they were going to kidnap the Information System Director, as they thought he had access to the computer system and could lower their sentences by altering the computer files. Even though the computer system was set so that no one person could change anyone's sentence, the implications for this man and his family were the same. Criminals want to take from you and others want to control you. There are many aspects of OPSEC but I’d like to focus on one, trash. Now, your trash doesn’t probably mean much to you. But it is amazing how a little information can lead to a lot. For instance, I was driving with my youngest son the other day and I pointed out the truck in front of us. From just the stickers on the back of this truck I could tell a lot about the owner within a certain percentage of accuracy. From the NRA sticker I could see the owner was pro 2nd amendment. From the Vietnam service sticker I knew he was in the military at one time. I learned his political views from his anti-Obama sticker. From the Christian Fish sticker I learned his religious leanings. All that from the back of a truck. Imagine what your trash would tell. If you don’t own a shredder but have a fireplace, burn your mail instead of shredding. Shredders are not very expensive but worth the security. As a Mormon, safeguard your tithing information. I know federal officers who prefer to not have their names on a Ward Directory. This info should be safeguarded also.
A firebox or safe would also be a good idea to secure the documents you need to keep. Even a place to hide your important papers would at least keep them from burglars or prying eyes. Don’t leave mail or bills out at home or in your car. Guard your credit card numbers and social security numbers as you would cash. I may order from a gun accessories store through the mail but I don’t want anyone else to know that. If I buy a new rifle, I don’t want the box to be in front of my house for all to see. It’s not a great secret, but others do not need to know that information. I was talking to a law enforcement officer a few weeks ago and he commented about how he could learn almost everything he needed to know about someone by going through their garbage. Everything from their favorite restaurant to where they work, to how much their car payment is. He reminded me of what I’ve known we need to remain vigilant in. Most people think once you toss it, Poof! It’s gone. Not so, of course. Be mindful of what you throw away. Most sanitary workers are good, honest, hard working Americans. All it takes is one unscrupulous worker to steal your identity or notice that big screen TV box in your trash. (There was a group in Washington DC that would empty the garbage cans of powerful people, such as Henry Kissinger and others, and report the interesting items they found. Quite a find, and there are very few laws against taking someone's garbage.)
I recommend shredding or burning anything with this information on it:
Your name
Your name and address, even shipping labels from boxes
Insurance/medical statements
Statements or advertising from financial institutions or service providers, banks, etc. anything that links you to a company
Catalog back covers (or wherever your address is)
This list is not 100% complete, but look what you throw away and decide
If you reload ammunition there is certain packaging that might tell someone what you do. Even archery or other preparedness activities you may not want to advertise. This is in your trash.

There are two issues you should consider in conducting “OPSEC” in your home. Criminal activity, and privacy. These are the two reasons for trying to keep your “trash intell” from telling anyone anything.

Do an OPSEC assessment of your activities and home, school, and work. Look at what you do and how you do it. In some LDS areas, the whole neighborhood is away from home at church for 3 hours every Sunday. If this is widely known, you could be a burglary victim. Be aware that this could be a weakness exploited.
The steps for developing your own OPSEC are:
1. Make a list of any critical information you have that can be used by an adversary.
2. Determine who your adversaries are.
3. Look at all the ways your critical information can be compromised.
4. Make an assessment and rate the items of information that are the most likely to be used by your adversary, and what countermeasures you can employ.
5. Consistently employ your countermeasures and other security for your most vulnerable assets, in priority order from the results of step 4.

I’ve been called paranoid and maybe there is truth to that. But we believe in fire extinguishers and fire alarms, seatbelts and child protective seats. Most people wear a helmet to ride a bike, something I did all of my childhood without a helmet! (Maybe that’s why I’m paranoid!) Being prepared and concerned about security could be considered paranoia. If I wasn’t prepared, I WOULD be paranoid!

Semper Paratus