The Only Fact You Need To Know If You Use The Internet

February 12, 2016

Regarding safety and sovereignty, there are many things to be aware of when using the internet. Right now, I'm going to point out the one right at the top.

And it's second to none. By far.

Not to say there aren't many important facts and matters that can't be over-emphasized, but this one you can't avoid, at any cost.

Additionally, this fact will only be strengthened going into the future. Just as it has solidified itself into significance as the internet as gained wider use, it will continue into the future.

That fact put simply is this:

"There is no way to guarantee your security online."

I don't care what anybody says. Everything has a crack. It might take the most sophisticated hacker(s) to spot and penetrate it, but if they want to, they will.

Admittedly, that is just the simple fact.

So what is Clear Your Tracks about then? If there is no guaranteed way to ensure my safety and ability to "clear my tracks," then what's the point?

First, there are the basic points of interest. Like staying up to date on the ways to keep your girlfriend from knowing, that even though you're 38 years old, you still like to watch Justin Bieber videos on YouTube. And how to keep a curious kid from checking your Google history to see what presents you've been researching for their birthday or Christmas.

You can guarantee those abilities.

What can't be guaranteed, is that your Gmail account won't be sold out by Google to a third party. Or that Facebook won't be monitoring your activity for your opinion on "hot topics," then hand it over to the government. Email, social media, and anything you think is, or should be private, is at best, not really. Not from everyone.

Your online activity is as secure as the platform provider allows it to be. Remember when you checked the box, agreeing to the Terms of Use, the conditions, and the Privacy Policy? That's where you, for instance, signed away your Freedom of Speech. Just as an NFL player does when he signs up with the NFL. He's no longer a citizen with rights. He's a player with separate rules and privileges. What he can say to a referee on the street with no issue, he could be fined $25,000 for if he says it to him on the field, in uniform. He signed away that right to free speech when he signed his contract with the NFL and agreed not to call the referee such a name. And when you break that rule, you are subject to another whole judge and jury...

And when you leave the "field," and those rules, you have the "streets" which are synonymous with the wild, wild west. You have HACKERS. And you're an international citizen. Somebody can mug you on the streets of the internet, but you can't yell out for a cop at that point. They just don't deal with most of the offenses online. Your bank account gets hacked? It's not like your wallet being stolen.

THAT is where Clear Your Tracks comes in. It's about each of us being informed of the facts of the digital world we are living in, and being well disposed to protect and ensure our safety and the safety of those we care about most. 

We can definitely do a LOT when it comes to that.

Is That A Two Way Mirror In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

I wrote in a previous post about hackers breaking into the webcam on your computer. Well, I think it's almost more of a concern that the camera on your smartphone is hackable to that same person.

Just so we’re clear here- everything is hackable. Everything. Where there’s a will…

Most of us use the camera on our phones a lot more than the camera on our computer, which makes covering the phone camera more of a nuisance. Special stickers are available to purchase for computer cameras that I’m sure work fine. I’ve always opted for a simpler approach to the sticky part of a post-it note stretching across the camera. It stays on there as long as I want and peels off with no issue of residue at all. Then I just get a new piece when it’s time to replace it. Extremely simple and costs next to nothing.

That same problem affecting the smartphone camera isn’t so easily remedied. Who wants to remove and replace a piece of tape every time you use your phone camera? It’s just not practical at all.

We need a little ingenuity.

I figured out a way to fix this with no hassle. I’m a big fan of the company Saddleback Leather. Been buying up their products for years. They sell an iPhone case that slides down over the top of the phone, like a mitten over your hand. I don’t want to make this sound like a commercial, but I do think this case is worth checking out because it is awesome. All their products are guaranteed for 100 years. A warranty second to none. So they’re made extremely well. They fit kind of snug at first, so to help the leather form properly to the phone for optimal protection.

As you can see, the case is designed to cover the whole screen, for purposes of protection. It also works with the matter we’re discussing here as I figured if you slide the case up all the way to the point that the entire screen is visible, you can still utilize the whole screen while blocking the camera to any hacker. So when the phone is not being used, the camera is covered. And when you want to use it, you can slide the case up, able to block the camera if you wish and conduct your business at the same time.

There’s always a solution.

Are You Opting In To The New World Order?

These days, if you’re on the internet, you’re doing it. You can’t set up an email account, join any social media site or shop any major online retailer without doing it. You also can’t bank without doing it.

The state of “Privacy Policies” today is not any particular websites policy about protecting your privacy. On the contrary, it’s their statement about how they may use any information you provide to them, or they can gather from your other internet activity away from their site and sometimes even your computer. Much, much more often than not, these are cleverly written and physically formatted so that no one wants to read them, so it’s now common practice to just automatically click the box to accept the conditions. But more and more we are learning that many companies are up to “other than good” intent. At least, not in our favor.

It’s not a matter of morality for the people in these businesses. It’s, “if the law lets us do it, then we will do what we can get away with until we no longer can, or until the slap on the wrist hurts too much.” So they are forcing legislation by way of a lack of moral judgement. That is another way the “World Wide Web” is like the wild, wild west. There is little to no policing, so it’s up to the individual to protect herself. When you accept the “terms and conditions” put forth by a website, especially a “free” site, these days, you could reasonably ask yourself if you are opting into the New World Order.

I recently watched the documentary “Terms And Conditions May Apply” again. You know, the one during which the filmmaker goes “undercover” to meet Mark Zuckerberg and ask him about Facebook’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy?

It also shows an IM chat with Zuckerberg where he refers to Facebook users as “dumb [email protected]$%s” for trusting him with their personal information.

It also has a few “interesting” anecdotes with former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt. Check it out. It’s a valuable primer on the subject and will get you thinking, discerning, about how you conduct yourself online.

It’s kinda like the adage, “you can’t make a good deal with a bad guy.”

The Illusion Of Safety

Get someone scared enough of everything and they'll submit to anything.

I saw a video this morning of a segment on Good Morning America. The story involves a 10-year-old girl named Vendela Brainerd-Payne at an airport in North Carolina with her father. A bottle of juice that she was carrying set them off and the next thing dad and daughter know she is getting the old TSA pat-down (which lasted almost 2 minutes.)

Apparently her cell phone went off during the whole ordeal also.

Now, I wanna make a point, but before I do, I will acknowledge one thing. In 2016, we should all, by now, be aware that the TSA will give you a hard time if you have liquids, at least over a certain amount. And we probably shouldn’t be surprised if they give us a hard time if our cell phone starts ringing or making noises. Personally, I prefer to go incognito. When I get to the airport, I take my belt off, remove everything from my pockets and put them in my carry-on bag and turn my phone off. I think it’s ridiculous and silly, but it minimizes my risk of being singled out for stupid reasons as forgetting to take my belt off. Or a few coins set the metal detector off now I have to be frisked.

So with that said, let me say this- the TSA as an organization, is highly suspect. What has happened in this country for us to “reasonably” suspect that a ten-year-old girl carrying a pouch of juice needs to be “violated” and made “uncomfortable” by being frisked?

Nothing.

There is nothing that has happened before or after the Dept. Of Homeland Security or TSA was created to REASONABLY warrant a little girl to be frisked for a carrying a pouch of juice.

Vendela

On Good Morning America, Michael Strahan, the cohost says he wouldn’t mind his two daughters being subjected to the same treatment as Vendela because it’s better to “err on the side of caution.” Because “people could use a child to get things through the TSA.”

That is what I call the “illusion of safety.”

Americans have too often and for too long been willing to trade their liberty, rights and sovereignty for the illusion of safety. When one doesn’t have any (again) REASONABLE references for frisking a 10-year-old girl in public at an airport but does so, that is called major, massive, total defeat of consciousness and it’s happening on our collective watch. How does that father explain to his little girl why they did that? He can't tell her about the time a little girl smuggled lighter fluid in a juice pouch onto a plane and killed innocent passengers. 

The deeper fear roots itself into our minds, the further we will reach for safety by any means, at any cost, no questions asked, no other aspects to consider. Safety above everything. Get someone scared enough of everything and they'll submit to anything.

This experience alone isn’t the only landmark reference she’ll have going into her future. The discussion that she has with her parent(s) as to finding a meaning and explanation as to WHY it happened and why we live in a world where someone would physically violate her for carrying a pouch of juice onto an airplane.

This is the world in which our children are being born.

What does this have to do with Clearing Your Tracks online, in the digital world and the Illusion Of Safety? Well, there’s obviously the invasion of privacy factor. But furthermore, it’s a directly related matter because similar rules apply. In the physical world of the TSA, it’s just more concrete and visible. Except with the digital world, we go a step (or more) further. There is the NSA, which has tremendous abilities for spying and tracking. But virtually anyone, should they choose, could be a potential TSA-style invader of your digital self. Such invasions are happening in the physical and digital worlds. It’s just on a vastly larger scale in the digital world. And it’s getting worse. Largely because of complacent people that blindly trust their government or are too scared to act and speak out.

That works extremely well for the “powers that be” if one holds the correct perspective and iterates phrases of complacency like, “err on the side of caution” “better safe than sorry” “no harm, no foul” “they’re just doing their job”. These attitudes lack the careful and thoughtful attentiveness needed to improve these conditions.

What we need is a thoughtful and self-informed citizenry. As you’ve read this, I congratulate and thank you for being one in that tribe. I stand with you.

Baby, Can You See Me Now?

December 17, 2015

I’ve been researching baby monitors for a little while now.

Like most (if not all) products to do with babies, there is no shortage of them; mostly to do with different levels of technology. The ones that really surprised me are the ones put out by companies like Foscam and Nest. These are video baby monitors with WiFi built into them, so if the parent is away from the house where baby is, you can still see him through the WiFi connection hooked up to the video monitor. I first read about the issues resulting from these devices being hacked in Mark Goodman's book Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable And What We Can Do About It.

I totally see how this is cool, and how so many people are intoxicated by the new technology. I read some reviews on this product from people who were just learning that this even existed and the response echoes repeatedly, oh that’s so cool. It’s always the “cool factor.” I don’t see it having much to do with safety factors. After all, baby monitors, as electronic devices, haven’t existed for most of civilization, and when they did come around, they just monitored audio. Not anymore. Now, for parents that are sensitive to the latest and "greatest" gadgets, we have video monitoring devices that can be employed wherever in the world you may be, as long as you have an internet connection.

I can’t help but wonder, if I can tap into this video feed wherever I am, what’s to stop someone else from doing the same thing? The answer? Not much. It’s just a wifi connection. While it certainly has it's security measures in place, if someone wants to hack it, they’ll find a way.

I think we’ll be opting for the old-fashioned radio frequency-based monitor. How easy are those to hack? Some crazy bastard would have to be standing out in the front yard. They don’t have the wifi capabilities that the new fancy ones do. They work right within the confines of your house/property.

While baby monitors are not completely up the road of “clearing your tracks,” it’s important to note that this is Big Brother’s twin sibling. There is tremendous vulnerability on the internet, but similar vulnerabilities are also creeping into our regular day-to-day household items at an alarming rate. The internet and the "internet of things," (IoT). They're really two heads of the same monster.

Be aware of the big picture. The old world is gone. If we want to be safe, we need to take calculated, conscious steps to ensure our security. It’s simple and relatively easy.

We just have to do it.

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

December 12, 2015

Do you want to know a secret?

Creativity is the name of this game. And it doesn’t just flow. Not just under any circumstances.

When The Beatles were preparing to record their next album in late 1968, the idea came up to film the whole process of album creation. That would include them working out all the songs from their roughest form, and the audience would follow them through their evolution. They actually set up in Twickenham Film Studios. This was not a place where music was recorded. It's a place where movies are made. A very different atmosphere than what they were used to at Abbey Road.

What started out as a unique and fun idea quickly turned sour. First of all, they were used to starting work in the studio later in the day and going to the wee hours of the morning, sometimes pushing dawn. Now, they working on working class schedules. As John said, “you can’t make music at 8 o’clock in the morning!”

Second, with the tensions growing among the band members at this time, being filmed was the last thing they needed as they worked on these new songs. During the early stages of one song, Paul and George are shown having a bit of a fight about something. The camera’s off to the side, and we are watching the four of them sit there. George is trying to get Paul off his back about playing something incorrectly, and when the camera cuts to Ringo, we get a clear sense that this is uncomfortable even for him. A few days later, John and George get into a massive fight, presumably off camera. George quit the band that day after lunch only to return a few days later after they agreed to move the band back to a more comfortable setting and just finish the album. The concept of filming the creation of this album had taken over, and it had become too much.

Obviously, they eventually finished the album, which was Let It Be. And while all the other Beatles films have long been officially released on DVD and Blu-Ray, Let It Be remains an unreleased soar spot. Rather than document the creation of their album it recorded the dissolution of the band.

I’ve always liked that album and the bootlegged DVD copy of the film I found years ago, but it can’t help but be noticed that the filming of their private, creative process had an impact on their behavior. And this was just filming they were in total control of. Closed-circuit. Nothing externally imposed. They could have burned all the reels if they wanted to and ever showed anyone. But even still, knowing they were being filmed in privacy, it had an impact on their behavior- in a less creative, free way.

It’s one thing to make a recording of audio or film that is intentional. When the recording is being made for the sake of recording. Like when The Beatles sang into a microphone. This kind of intentional and conscious recording is one thing. It’s another whole thing when the recording instrument is off to the side, as a witness.

I argue that such acts of creativity are more fruitfully done in “secret.” And how far does that line reach? Writing a book? Singing to my infant son? A family making dinner? We have technology all around us now that lets anyone tap into our business as long as they have the simple know-how and a lack of morality. Microphones on cell phones can be remotely turned on by hackers or NSA, even with the phone off. There’s also no shortage of the woes surrounding desktop computer cameras and microphones. Same thing with devices like the Amazon Echo.

The Beatles had no “secrets” when they were making Let It Be. But, with the cameras off, they were probably better off keeping it a “secret”.

Private Parts And Shopping Carts

Many people are concerned about staying safe and anonymous while shopping offline. Major brands like Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels, Home Depot, etc... With all the stores that have had their point of sale system hacked over the last few years, this has been an issue that needs remedies. One such remedy is quite simple.

Cash.

Now, it's not as easy as just paying with cash. Not these days. There are a few things you want to consider during the transaction. Some of these stores want your email address or if you special order something they may want to put your personal information into a computer. Especially if they store it all in a register that doubles as a computer.

For example, I like to shop at my local bookstore. They have a great mix of new and used books. They can also order pretty much any new book you want if you can give them the ISBN number. He jots your name and phone number down on a post-it note and calls you when it’s in! And the he has a very cheap register that has no computer/wifi connected to it. Just a plain, old cash register. Now this is in far contrast to Amazon.com which stores all your search and purchase history in unencrypted text. So, as former NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden said, “If you look for the book 1984 on Amazon, NSA knows about it.”

So if you want total privacy, we have that option. The idea is- brick and mortar stores. With cash. And low-tech.

You can do it at big-box stores too. Sticking with the previous example of a bookstore, it works totally fine at Barnes and Noble. Though if you wanted to special order something, they’d probably have to put your name and contact info into a computer, which will be attached to what you are buying. You could, however, ask if they might just order the book for the store’s general stock. Keep tabs on the website or call them a week or so later and head over once it’s in stock.

You can take this idea and apply it to any business. It’s simple too. You’re not going out of your way at all, or at least to a minimal degree. Let’s say you’re 17 years old and exploring your sexuality. You live with your parents, and they’ve given you a credit card. You might not want to use that credit card to purchase a book on homosexuality. What you want is a simple and private transaction. Cash at a local merchant. You certainly have the right. When you get off the internet and go to a store up the street you give yourself the option. 

Since cash is still anonymous, we better take advantage of it. There’s been talk for a while now about putting RFID-style technology in dollar bills. While some high tech engineering does going into dollar bills, we’ve at least managed to keep it anonymous. For now.

These days with so much shopping being done online, and most of the money being transferred electronically, it’s a good reminder that old-fashioned cash is still anonymous and secure. Quite easily, you can avoid hackers and trackers by just supporting your local business with a few folded bills in your wallet.

No one needs to know what book you’re buying. Just like closing the bathroom door at home is completely reasonable, so is buying a book with cash.

Your private parts and shopping carts are your business!

Banking On Safety On Cyber Monday

November 29, 2015

Please.


This is a major pet peeve of mine.

Do not use your debit card online. Hackers can perhaps surprisingly easily break the encryption around your debit card that puts your whole bank account at risk. If your debit card gets hacked, you may have a challenging time getting that money back.


Instead, use your credit card. They're traditionally much safer and more secure. And disputing a charge on your credit card is much more user-friendly than trying to replace funds from a debit card hack.


Additionally, you can also use a Simon card or a credit card gift card. These are even more secure since they operate as simple gift cards that can be used practically anywhere. One thing to keep in mind when using them is that you sometimes need to register them when making purchases online, which means attaching your name and address to it. It isn’t required with every use, but if you go to purchase a $75 item with $100 on the card, even though you have sufficient funds on the card, the merchant may have stricter security measures and not allow the transaction to complete if the card has not been registered. Then you have to wait for the card company to refund the money back to the card, which of course takes them about a week to do.

If you’re looking for near-total anonymity and security when shopping online, one clever way to go is to use a Coinstar. These machines are all over the place in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. You can cash coins in and get cash for a small fee, OR you can cash coins and/or cash in and get a gift card for many businesses, including Amazon.com for NO FEE. You don’t have to give up your email or street address. Simply give the machine your money and it’ll give you a coupon code to many businesses.

Now, if you are concerned about spying and monitoring of purchases by the NSA, then beware that these approaches don't address that concern. Even if you use a browser like Tor to shop on say, Amazon, they can still get access to that if they want. It's best to assume that the NSA can monitor anything you do that leaves a paper trail. Even if you use a service like Coinstar, they can access the purchase on Amazon, and trace the gift card number back to the specific Coinstar you used in which grocery store. And that whole transaction obviously has the shipping address you used to have that purchase sent to you. If you're concerned about this, then see the next post about keeping yourself completely anonymous from even the NSA.

It's actually quite easy.

Until then, I hope you're having a fantastic holiday season so far! Be safe and have fun.

What To Do When THEY Are Hot On Your Heels

November 17, 2015

Paranoia is just another mask for ignorance. The truth, when you finally chase it down is almost always far worse than your darkest visions and fears.” Hunter S. Thompson

That quote sums up a lot. Including a lot of recent events. Specifically, the terrorist events in Paris.

The truth is always something we need to chase down. Unless we know ahead of time what was going to happen, there needs to be a period of investigation. And when I investigate, I have to chase it down. It doesn’t come knocking on my door. In fact, it has no interest in being found.

Additionally, to wallow in ignor-ance is to be cloaked in paranoia. The truth sets me free. But if I ignore it, I am outside the realm of fact. The word “paranoid” comes from the Greek word “paranoos,” which means “beside” (para) “mind” (noos).

When I’m present with what is going on, I am in my body. In my mind. Aware of what is happening. To not be aware of what is happening is to ignore it- to be in ignorance.

The stakes are rising higher and higher these days. Never in recorded history have fellow citizens and governments been able to spy, steal and surveil their fellow human as much as today with the internet. With each terrorist attack that occurs (like the Paris attack), governing agencies (like the CIA, cough- John Brennan) are using the lowly tactic of exploiting it to justify their legal, but unconstitutional ends of continued and more invasive surveillance.

So what do to do when terrorists strike, and they come looking for you to relinquish some of your rights as a sovereign individual for the sake of their undisclosed agenda? Step back. Take a deep breath. Become curious. Start learning and turning stones yourself. In the 3-dimensional world, there’s always more than meets the eye.

Ignorance is a prerequisite to paranoia. Curiosity and patience are prerequisites to sovereignty.

Caught In The Deep Web On Silk Road

Wow. I just watched Alex Winter’s new documentary, “The Deep Web.”

If you haven’t seen this, I highly recommend you check it out now. Since you’re obviously online, it affects you and numerous rights that you hold assumed. The implications in this film are far-reaching and long-lasting.

It’s the story of the deep web and Ross Ulbricht, or as he was allegedly known on the Silk Road website, “Dread Pirate Roberts.” (As you may have imagined, the name was taken from the mythical Princess Bride character.) I don’t want to spoil the film for you but here are some key points to get you to check it out:

- Ross Ulbricht is an intelligent guy. He held multiple degrees, including a Master’s from Penn State, where he attended on a full scholarship.

- He supposedly started Silk Road to create a community for, probably among other reasons, to minimize the violence that is encountered through drug transactions and the overall “War on Drugs.”

- Through the forums on the Silk Road website, he wove a very clever political message and created a very large community with it.

- The story of Wired magazine senior editor, Andy Greenberg’s early correspondence with Ross on the Silk Road forums.

- Ross’s parents are interviewed extensively. Their presence sheds an interesting light on the dynamic of his family life. His sister is also featured.

The film shows some of the messages written by Dread Pirate Roberts, (aka, “DPR”) on the Silk Road website. “He” makes clear that Silk Road is not about drugs, or guns, or “sticking it to the man,” but more about freedom and citizen rights.

That does, however, contradict the fact that much of Silk Road ended up being about drugs, guns, and illegal activity. At least to those outside Silk Road. Additionally, while Ross was studying at Penn State, he became interested in Libertarianism.

This philosophical connection to DPR seems to thicken the plot a bit.

One of the initial challenges I think he will face regarding the public's opinion is the identity of the DPR character. Ross denies being DPR, but he was arrested in a public library in San Francisco with his laptop opened and confiscated while he was logged into the Silk Road website. With that evidence the government says Ross is DPR.

Ross admits starting Silk Road but denying being DPR with the government having his computer with all kinds of damning evidence (including a journal he supposedly kept of the whole Silk Road creation) may present a challenge in the court of public opinion.

According to the film, the judge that Ross faced in court significantly restricted the Defense’s ability to counter much of the evidence and witnesses presented by the prosecution. One of the most troubling aspects of the whole case is that the FBI never had to disclose how they -seemingly- hacked the Silk Road servers. They had no warrant so it seems as though they may have violated Ross’s 4th Amendment by what may be an illegal search and seizure. The Defense was not allowed to bring this matter up during the trial.

There is still tremendous mystery and fear surrounding the Deep Web. Ross Ulbricht's story is one of getting caught in the deep web while on the Silk Road paved with Bitcoins and the FBI hot on his trail for years. There is so, so much to this story and film. And it affects all of us. I highly encourage you to check it out.

Here it is on their website. Also on Hulu.

It’s a great film. And an important one. Whether you agree with the outcome of the trial or not, this is a Landmark Case and affects everyone in the world of Internet Privacy and our rights surrounding it.