Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Operational Security (OPSEC) - Part 2: Practical Considerations

This is part 2 of my Operational Security (OPSEC) article. If you missed part 1, click here to read it

How do the bad guys get our critical information?  The answer is we give it to them, most often without realizing it. For one example oif how we might give away our information, take a look at the back-end of the cars in the next parking lot you visit. Chances are that most are covered with bumper stickers, window decals, family stick figures, parking passes, and car magnets that reveal a lot of information to nosy neighbors and potential bad guys.


Take those family stick figures that are so popular today. Folks, justifiably proud of their families, put them on their back windows as representations of their family. But think about what it potentially reveals to bad guys:  number of family members, their sex and approximate ages, even what pets you have. Many of these stick figures often also show the interests of the family: Dad holding a fishing rod, Mom swinging a tennis racket, a young boy holding a baseball bat, an older girl wearing a cheerleader outfit.  And look, the family has two cats, but no dog. The bad guys now have a real good idea of the make up of that family, including many of their interests. 

But it doesn't stop there. That parking sticker reveals where you work. This bumper sticker reveals where you attend church (which, in turn, reveals something about your religious beliefs). Another bumper sticker reveals where your honor student attends school (which, in turn, reveals the general location of where you live). That Bass Masters window decal (along with the stick figure of Dad holding the fishing rod) shows that Dad is really into fishing. And look, there are two car magnets - one a yellow ribbon saying "Support Our Troops" and the other a red, white and blue ribbon saying "God Bless America." Hmmm... This family is patriotic and probably conservative. Bumper stickers and window decals can also reveal political affiliation and ideology, even who we voted for in the last election. Favorite sports teams, causes we support, what groups we belong to, and other interests can also be revealed. Quite a database of private information to put on public display without a second thought.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. A quick glance at the back of my vehicle reveals a NRA sticker and a GOA sticker, broadcasting to the world that I support the Second Amendment, and am most likely a gun owner and a conservative. The "Freedom From Government" bumper sticker pretty much confirms me as very conservative politically, as does the "Jim DeMint for Senate" sticker. (Wow, that's old. I'm surprised its still readable.) I even have a "Survival Resources" sticker, revealing the fact that I am a survivalist. And the Alumni Association decal reveals my education level, and from what college I graduated. Quite a profile can be built on me by glancing at my vehicle's back end. What do your vehicles say about you?  

Tim, are you really saying we shouldn't have any stickers or decals on our cars? Nope. I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is that we need to be mindful of what information we are giving away without realizing it. It doesn't matter if the information is being given away on the back of our vehicles, on social media, in our trash, through public conversations, or however. 

I said in part one of this article "The first and most important part of protecting your critical information is to make sure that everyone in your family/group understands what information to protect." If you don't understand what to protect, you're not going to be able to do OPSEC. If you haven't already done this, I highly suggest you sit down with your spouse and/or group members and make a conscious decision about what critical information you want to keep protected. What exactly you consider critical information will depend on your own personal circumstances and concerns, but part one of this article will help you think through this step.

Once you decide what information is critical to protect, then you can examine the back of your vehicle, your use of social media, what paperwork you just toss away without shredding, and other ways you may be giving that information away without realizing it.  Follow this up by taking countermeasures to protect this critical information (part three of this article). 

In closing, I will say that, like most things in life, OPSEC will be about balance. Unless you want to become a hermit on a remote deserted island, it is unrealistic and impossible to perfectly protect every possible scrap of information. The OPSEC process described in part one is designed to help you come up with a realistic plan to protect truly critical information. You have to decide for yourself what information to protect and what steps are reasonable to take given your circumstances. 

As for me, this exercise has made me decide to remove several stickers and decals from my vehicle. I'll keep the NRA and GOA stickers because it is important to me to show my support of the Second Amendment, but the others will be removed today.
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