DANGER CLOSE DIGEST
We wanted to take the time to showcase a friend of ours, Danger Close Digest (DCD). DCD has some valuable information about home security while on vacation that we wanted to help push out. Read below to learn more and also subscribe to their email newsletter here
Are you planning to enjoy some time away on vacation this summer?
If so, this one's for you.
Today in 10 minutes or less, we'll cover some travel tips that will keep you and your family safe, both physically and in the cyber world!
First, a short anecdote that inspired this week's content:
I recently had lunch with a close friend of mine who works in the clandestine services for a big three-letter agency. His wife enjoys a similar career for a different agency but works a far more prevalent mission set than him and she was asked to move to Europe a few months ago. As the supportive husband he is, he put his career on hold and they moved their three children, and Fido, to Europe.
I know what you're thinking, "Sure he did," but it's true - he really did go on sabbatical and is simply an accompanying spouse in the country. However, he can't turn off his counterintelligence instincts/paranoia while constantly attempting to reduce his signature and detect threats as he lives his boring life tending to their home and kids. This has become such a significant stressor for him that it is now causing mental health issues.
So, what's the point? Well, he has no operational mission in the country (aside from caring for their children while mama-bear does her thing), so running around like he's still a spy only makes him look like he's still a spy! Sometimes we make ourselves look like more of a target when we're really not. Instead, maintaining his situational awareness and just living a normal life that does not include attempting to evade surveillance and every camera would not only be good for his mental health but also actually reduce his target profile. Something we should all consider when we're not on the job...
With that, now we'll dive into the best practices you can follow as you travel and enjoy your families this summer!
Holistic Security as You Travel
DANGER CLOSE: Hotel Security
Practicing the tips below will allow you to fly under the threshold for suspicion of espionage while significantly improving your security.
Before Leaving: Have a plan for your home that creates and maintains the appearance you're still there. Smart lights placed throughout your homework wonders, but use them in multiple areas of your house on alternating schedules that include early mornings. With that, don't just put one in the dining room that enables someone to peek through the window and see no one is there. Instead, use internal rooms, like bedrooms, and you can set a schedule in the smart light app that shuts them down around when you normally go to bed and turns them on in the early morning.
You must also consider things like retrieving your mail and maintaining your lawn. The only thing that screams "No One is Home" more than high grass and an overflowing mailbox is your garbage cans; ensure someone takes your cans to the road on pick-up day and returns them, just as you would if you were home.
Room Selection: Allow yourself enough time to book so you can request a room on the second or third floor that is not near the stairwell. The reason for this is that the first floor gets the most foot traffic and does not require a room key to access; this prevents the number of criminals who can physically access your room if given the opportunity. Rooms nearest the stairwell are the most likely to be burglarized because of the easy egress route the stairwell provides. Lastly, in the event of an emergency, fire ladders can usually reach the second and third floors.
Accessing Your Room: Be mindful as you go to your room after checking in, taking note of anyone following you or riding the elevator with you. A good tip here is to always take the elevator to the floor above or below yours and take the stairs the rest of the way. This way, if anyone is assessing you for a future attack, they don't know what floor you're really on.
Maintaining the Appearance of Occupancy: From the minute you access your room, place the do-not-disturb sign on the door, then turn the TV on and never turn it off; especially when you leave! This will give the appearance that your room is occupied at all times and hinder anyone's attempt to eavesdrop on your conversations from within another room.
Know Your Environment: After putting your stuff in your room and creating the appearance it's occupied, walk the halls and locate escape routes in case of an emergency. Don't just look at the plan hanging on the wall, actually walk down the stairs to know where they lead and ensure no maintenance or anything is being done that is not accounted for on the posted plan.
The Hotel Safe: It is simply NOT safe. First off, the staff has master keys to all the safes in the hotel and they use them allllllllll the time to steal our things. If not a master key, it'll be a 4-digit master code they can use for every safe in the hotel. Secondly, when hotels are robbed, the hotel safes are usually the first thing targeted because of how easy it is to obtain that master key or code and take what all the guests think are their most valuable possessions.
Appearance: Travelers who appear confident and don't draw too much attention are less likely to become victims of scams or other attacks, but you must maintain this appearance all the time. You must understand some scams and criminal rings are deep and involve more than the actual attacker; sometimes you become a target from the minute you check in as a legitimate hotel employee spots and assesses something about you or your family that makes you a desirable target. Be mindful of the jewelry you wear and don't share details about your trip, even if the person asking seems friendly. You want to give the impression that you're there to go where the wind takes you, which indicates you have an unpredictable schedule. Also, do not wear flashy jewelry, it only makes you more of a target for robbery or burglary.
I know people look forward to their mimosas and other adult beverages on vacation, but this is another area that can really get you in trouble. First off, it's not uncommon for travelers to be drugged via their drink of choice. You know what happens after you're rendered unconscious, right? Secondly, a stooopid drunk guy is an easy target for any attack. Lastly, there are many scams, especially in Europe, that target Americans by leading them into bars and leaving them with exorbitantly high bar tabs for the few drinks they ordered. Please be VERY mindful of this as mostly everything bad that happens while on vacation involves alcohol, one way or another.
Valuables: Cash is less common nowadays, but it's always good to have a bit on you while traveling. With that, divide it up and keep some tucked away from your wallet where the sun don't shine, like in your shoes. With the secure cash, keep copies of your passport/driver's license, and a list of emergency contacts' phone numbers in the event you lose the originals and/or are robbed for your phone and wallet. This way, you're not left with nothing, including your contacts in your phone, when you need help the most.
DANGER CLOSE: Hotel CYBER Security
Hotel Wi-Fi: It sucks. I don't know how else to say it. Seriously, it creates all kinds of issues for you and opportunities for bad guys to target you. Use everything below to help protect you.
Device Safety: First off, consider reducing what personal electronics you bring. If you're going to another country and feel you need a computer, consider buying a cheap Chromebook, or something for less than $200, and just trash it after your trip, same with a cheap burner cellphone. The amount of malware you are likely to pick up from the airports to the hotel makes bringing your personal devices a risky endeavor. Think of it as spending $200 to avoid identity theft and/or the cost of your fancy MacBook Pro.
*If you must bring your personal stuff, ensure all software and operating systems are fully patched and updated. Additionally, ensure you're running an anti-malware program. We really like BitDefender, but Avast also has a free version you can access here.
Password Security: It is a solid practice to change all your passwords when returning from a trip. This way, even if an attacker was tracking your activity, you prevent them from being able to access your accounts with new login credentials.
Know the Network: You'll see below that I'm a strong advocate of using travel routers, but always confirm the hotel's actual network name before connecting to anything. Bad guys will create fake networks that they control called something like the name of your hotel, so you think you're connecting to a safe network when in reality you just fell into their trap. If the real network requires personal details, use fake ones.
A VPN: It's not a drink at the hotel bar. Well, maybe it is somewhere, but it also stands for Virtual Private Network and encrypts your network activity. This way, even if someone intercepts your activity, which is likely at hotels, they won't be able to see what you were doing. They're very inexpensive and often times free with trials, but do your own research before selecting a provider. We plan to share with you our top picks on our site under the Resources Tab soon.
Your Activity: Don't access sensitive sites, like your bank, while on vacation. That would defeat the purpose of taking a vacation for me anyways. This way, if someone is tracking you, they are not able to get your bank info for their own use. Also, never open suspicious links and use URL checkers, like Criminal IP, to ensure it's safe if you do have to access one.
Web Camera: Always, even at home, use a web camera cover to prevent someone from being able to remotely access your webcam and spy on you. It happens all the time, but this attack can be thwarted by simply covering it up - you can even use a sticky note.
See the section below for our insight on the devices you need to bring with you for your family's ultimate protection! Plus, a clever, discrete spy trick that will help you know if you've been targeted.
DANGER CLOSE: Security Gear
What To Bring: Well, I'm going to avoid making recommendations on bathing suits and shoes because many of you know my fashion sense. However, below is an actual list of what I carry with me on every trip, and I consider them Must-Haves:
- Travel Router: Purchased on Amazon for less than $50, I use the Mango router. This allows me to convert any public network (like the hotel's Wi-Fi) into a more trusted network for my internet activity. They're simple and super easy to set up.
- Hidden Camera Detector: Purchased on Amazon for less than $40. There are a bunch of them, but I purchased this off-brand one. It works well for the limited amount I use it and will detect any illicit devices installed in your room.
- AirTags: These Apple AirTags are a little pricier, but a must-have for parents traveling with children these days. I slip them into my little ones' shoes and they never noticed, yet I can tell where they are down to a couple of meters from my phone.
- A Rubber Door Stopper: Nothing sexy here, but these are a must-have for preventing surreptitious entry into your room; not only while you sleep, but have them in place at all times when you're in your room. The reality here is that, like the safes, many other people have access to your room. The doorstoppers are an easy way for you to take back that control.
DANGER CLOSE: Bonus Security Trick
Bonus Trick: A little tradecraft for you that will make you feel like James Bond without running surveillance detection routes on your way to the beach. It's called "discrete alignment." It will help you detect if any of your valuables were messed with inside your 'secure' room while you were out.
Think of a valuable item you wish to safeguard but can't bring with you everywhere you go, so you leave it in your hotel room. For the sake of this example, we'll go with an iPhone because my son is playing with the laptop I wanted to use.
Take another object, like his Super Mario Brother pencil, and use it to create a discrete alignment tool used to position your iPhone against a wall or edge. Then remove the pencil and don't touch the phone. When you return, put the pencil exactly where it was before you move the phone and if it aligns perfectly, you can be confident that it was not moved. If it does not align perfectly, then you need to call Lynx Security Group because something's wrong.
See the pictures below!
YouTube Video of the Week
A quick closing message from George:
Thank you again for reading this week's DCD! I'm incredibly grateful for all our new subscribers and truly hope you find our newsletter valuable! If you have any requests on certain topics you'd like to see covered, please post on our Facebook page.