Archive Monthly Archives: November 2015

Banking On Safety On Cyber Monday

November 29, 2015


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 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.