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Friday, September 17, 2010

Non-TEOTWAWKI Comms, Plus Pretend You're A Spy!

Communications are HUGE.  Being able to contact others at a moment's notice has almost become obsessive to most Americans.  Cut off that link, and people get all hinky.  In times of emergency, the ability to have communications - primarily two-way communications - can at a minimum allow family members to know you're safe (or not).

When doing preparations, not every emergency or situation necessarily means that the world is coming to an end.  Circumstances like the recent natural gas explosion in San Bruno show that having some flexibility and redundancy in communications is important.

(See our previous posts on large-scale emergency communications - One and Two)

The way data is delivered is the key to understanding how to design your options.  In my area, we have regular telephone land lines (POTS), mobile phone service and Internet service.  Using the concept of PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency), we want to have alternatives because our planning process assumes one or more communications paths will be out-of-commission.

Minor, regional emergency - 

Traditional Telephone Service:

POTS is usually the first system to go down, or be over-loaded.  While it can be your primary communications tool, expect failure.  Plus, if your lines are cut, your communications are cut.

Mobile Services: 

Cell towers give us the most flexible option.  Even if your home blows up, you can still get cell service, since radio waves are used to transmit the voice and data messages.  If the tower is destroyed, other nearby towers can provide service. 

During emergencies, voice calls on cell phones are the first service to be interrupted.  The cells become overloaded with traffic. 

A widely used alternative is text messaging, or SMS (Short Message Service).  While it uses the cell towers, the size of the data packets are very small.  The messages are limited to 160 characters. 

Another thing that is nice about SMS is that the messages aren't sent directly to the recipient's cell phone.  They use a technique called "store and send".  When you send a message, the cell service holds the message until the receipient cell phone is either turned on or is within range of a cell tower.  They will usually hold the messages for a few days before they are purged.

Most smart-phones now also come with either G3 or G4 Internet access.  This is delivered via radio waves as well.  These allow you mobile access to Internet services.  While not as fast as a fiber optic, cable or DSL connection, you DO get on the Internet. 

Not all traditional Internet services can be accessed via G3 or G4, as there are restrictions on the amount of bandwidth that may be utilized, plus memory limitations of the mobile devices themselves.

Traditional Fiber Optic/Cable/DSL:

All of these delivery methods are used for various Internet services.  As with POTS service, if your lines are cut, you're cut off.

These include Instant Messaging (IM - AOL Messaging, Google Chat, etc.), Social Networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc), free/low cost VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol -Skype, MagicJack) and Internet-based email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.).

>Instant Messaging - as far as I can tell, this is rapidly being replaced by SMS messages.  Maybe it's just me, but it's a pain to use.  If I need to send short messages, I use SMS.

>Social Networking - These are VERY heavily used and have exploded in popularity.  Just be careful what you post, as it will be there, for all the world to see, forever.  Did I mention it will be there forever?  Good.

>VOIP - I'm a big user of these systems.  My training business uses them exclusively.  I can re-route calls to my cell or a land line system.  With my MagicJack account, I connect a USB cable to my PC, and the other end into a regular telephone, and I'm up and talking.

Regardless of the service provider, the quality of the phone calls is still not as good as a POTS system.

>Email - I strongly recommend everyone have an email account where your contacts are stored online (Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.), as opposed to on your local hard drive using an email program (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.).  Why?  If your computer is destroyed, or you must make email contact on someone else's computer, you still have access to your contact list.

Clandestine Communications -

So, you wanna be a spy, huh?  Maybe you just want some privacy.  You can have hundreds of reasons for not wanting to have someone know what you're communicating. 

You may have a business competitor that has a "mole" in your business, and you don't want trade secrets to be leaked.  You may have a spouse that is a bit too "curious" about your phone calls or text messages, even though nothing untoward is happening.  You may not want the government to know what you're saying and to whom you're saying it. 

BTW, contrary to popular belief, that IS all legal and ethical, although you're presumed to be a criminal or doing something slimy, because only criminals and slime-balls need to protect their privacy, right?.

Some options:

>Pre-paid cell phones - Get these while you still can.  There has already been discussion of requiring the presentation of identification for their use.  Terrorists have used them in the past, so all of us must have our rights infringed upon so we are safe and protected from the boogie-man.

For now, you buy the phones (about $20) and a pre-paid minutes card.  Your card must match the service provided by the phone manufacturer (meaning all cards won't work on all phones).  When you first get the phone, you can activate it in one of two ways:  You use your own phone to call your new phone, OR you go online and register it.

I've heard wild and unsubstantiated stories that people have email accounts that don't have any obvious relationship to themselves (Gasp!  Anonymity?!).  These email accounts are used to enter the phone data with a fictitious name and address to register the phone.

I've also read scary stories that if you want to maintain your anonymity, you should be careful how you enter phone numbers into this phone (names being used) and with whom you call with your "secret squirrel" phone, as patterns might emerge.

Be warned, though, that the pre-paid minute cards have a limited lifespan.  Once you enter them into your phone, the clock starts ticking.  The time will expire at the earlier of you using up the purchased minutes, OR the life span given the minutes.  For instance, most plans for 120 minutes must be used within 3 months.

Some systems give you an automatic, "Lifetime Double the Minutes" feature with the purchase of their phone.  If you buy 120 minutes, you're credited with 240. Shop around.

>Encrypted emails  - once used primarily by business to protect sensitive trade information, they are now more widely used by plain old folks.  A key is that BOTH ends of the message (sender and receiver) must be encrypted to be effective against snooping.

The best solution to this is to use one of the paid or free email encryption services.  You and your recipient each set up accounts with the service.  In most cases, even the owners of the email service cannot access your messages because they don't have your decryption key.

Still, it's a bit cumbersome.  One way around this is to send an encrypted file in a regular email message.  The sender and the receiver both have a shared key which is used to encrypt then decrypt the file.

>Steganography,  - Steganography is very cool.  Very James Bond-ish.  Essentially, you hide a message in a picture.

Most folks know that words and images on computers are just a bunch of 1's and 0's - binary code.  Steganography uses some of those "0's" and pastes your message into the picture.  The picture looks no different whether it has a message in it or not.  The only "give away" is that the file size is bigger with the message.  Unless you know the original file size, you can't tell the difference.

There are a number of free programs out there that allow you to insert and extract the messages.  You could insert a message into a photo, then post it on your website or Facebook account.  Your recipient could then download the image to their hard drive and extract the message.

A million years ago (OK, it was in 2001) I did a security presentation for my bank's board of directors. I showed them a picture, then extracted a message that said something to the effect of, "Give Chief Instructor A Raise for Saving Your Butts!".  I got both a chuckle and a raise!

Anyways, it works, and is very effective.

>Old School Codes - ITS Tactical wrote an article on this subject that is one of the best I've seen.  Take a look-see.  The important thing with this system is that it must be established before you need it.  What is nice is that, if you do it right (like not re-using the keys or sharing them with others) the code is unbreakable.

Accept The Challenge

Use this time right now to develop a PACE-based communications plan.  Make it for simple local emergencies and for TEOTWAWKI scenarios.

And practice what you've set up.  Start texting once in a while.  Get an inexpensive pre-paid phone and give it a whirl.  Set up a Skype account and make sure your computer has the necessary parts (speaker AND microphone) to be able to make calls.

Practice with your tools before you need them.

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Copyright 2010 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.


Anonymous said...

I cannot think of a use for an anonomous prepaid cell phone. I have worked in the computer field for 45 years and I could encrypt my files if I wanted to but I don't have anything to hide. I fear the failure of the encryption programs more then the possibility someone might see my data. If TSHTF and the cell towers go down I will simply do what I would have done 20 years ago when no one had cell phones. I am just not that dependent on these things. If my friends and family are far away and in trouble what am I gonna do over a cell phone to make that better. In fact the ability to commiserate will probably only distract me from my own problems. Except to use a cell phone to call 911 ( which presumably won't do me any good in a real SHTF situation) I don't need it and it is a distraction not an asset. I leave my phone turned off for days and weeks at a time and wish I could do the same with my home phone. I don't even like the message system on the phone and I'm thinking of disabling it. If I'm home and answer the phone then we can talk and if I'm not then what the hell it probably wasn't important anyway. If the SHTF (a real SHTF not a Katrina) all your electronics are gone, done, finis. Might as well start weaning yourself now.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, well, to each their own, I guess.

Reliable communications have always been required for any society to thrive. From the runners of Marathon, to the Pony Express to what we have today.

I would rather have too much information than not enough.

The links I provided at the beginning of the post get more into the big disaster scenarios you're discussing.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree that reliable communications are essential for commerce. But for most of us they are a diversion. Children send 1000's of text messages a month and fail to do their algebra homework. So did this vast communication system help them or hurt them? 99.99% of the private phone calls I hear people make are about gossip, troublemaking in families or simply distraction from whatever should be done. I actually used the phone for a useful purpose since I made that first post, I called the pizza company and ordered a take out. This saved my 20 minutes. So indeed phones are useful but I still love it that mine is shut off. It is so quiet I can actually think and do things I'm interested in without distraction. I feel the same way about most technology. I have a GPS and basically it is so faulty I no longer use it. I have a compass in my fanny pack and would never take a GPS into the wilderness. If you get somewhere deep in the forest by a GPS and it quits on you how do you get out? With a compass it requires an actual real world understanding of where you are and the batteries never go dead. Obviously I like/love my computer in fact I have three of them. I bought my first computer in 1979 and I used my first computer in work in 1964. But I expect that if the SHTF my computer will be useless to me. I do have a small PV system which can provide a little light and run my SW radio and it can run my laptop easily but after the SHTF my energy would be spent elsewhere. Almost all of the high tech devices will be of limited value after the SHTF.

Jack said...

Anonymous web surfing 101:

1. Any computer you use at home has an IP that leads right to your home address.
2. Any computer you use has a MAC address that is associated with your surfing profile and IP address.
3. Any computer you use tries to detect the internet via the last several connections it used. So, if you go to Starbucks, your computer will try to detect your home wifi, leaving a trace that will lead directly back to you.

So, if you try to surf anonymously anywhere with your normal computer they can still track who you are and what you have done on the internet.


1. Go on Craiglist and buy a cheap used laptop with a broken hard drive. Turn off your cell phone, meet the seller in an anonymous place, wearing glasses, a hat/long sleeves/long pants, etc., walk there, pay with cash, and don't give any real personal info.
2. Use a bootable CD/DVD with a Linux operating system to bypass the hard drive. This stops the computer from remembering anything you did, and it won't try to detect/connect to any previous internet connection points.
3. Disable the on-board wifi device and purchase a substitute with cash. (The network card has the MAC address)
4. Use a removable thumb drive to store any info you want to keep or transmit.
5. Never use or power up the anonymous laptop from any place connected to you, like your home or work.
6. Be aware of cameras at the wifi location, your identify-ability (i.e. pay cash for anything, not CC), your vehicles visibility, and the need to change your pattern so you cannot be tracked/intercepted.


Because most pre-pay cell phones also require an internet log-in to re-deem minutes.

Because most encrypted e-mails can be broken, and the e-mail package includes the IP address, which may or may not be encrypted.

Because who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, yep, non-electronic based tools MUST be a part of any preparedness plan. I have compass' in my car, my BOB, my GHB and quickee fannie pack.

For planning purposes, I assume I will be left without electricity, so I have all of our plans, maps and assorted information in paper form. It's the old, "Hope for the best, plan for the worst."

Jack, you're more paranoid than me! I like that!

Great, great information.

Anonymous said...

Jack; what you said is mostly correct but my question to you is why do you care? If you are a terrorist or international jewel thief then "maybe" they could catch you in this way. But with 10 trillion messages over the internet everyday they aren't looking at you. Yes I know that there is a alphabet agency that has access to almost all communication lines and super computers to search for specific things. But trust me they are not looking to see if you prepped more then you should have or bought some gold. So why would you care? Seriously! What would you use that anonomous prepaid phone for that required you to go to these lengths? I cannot think of anything I do that "shames" me or is illegal. Sure I have looked at porn and even looked at cartoons of allah. But I just don't get it. What are you worried about?

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, I'll let Jack answer for himself, but I'm going to give my reasoning: It is as simple as protecting my privacy.

I don't have to be doing something illegal to cherish and protect my privacy. I'm a strong believer in the concept of rights we don't exercise tend to go away.

Look at this article (h/t to Western Rifle Shooters Assn for the link) -

He had no obligation to answer the feds questions to re-enter the US. All he had to do was prove he was an American.

Take the time to read the comments and his follow-up post as well. Many of the commenters crawled up his butt because he had the audacity to exercise his rights.

We have the right to privacy via the 4th, 9th and 10th amendments, but we've become so docile and compliant, we readily forfeit them.

What is sad and disgusting is the steps we must go through to protect and exercise this right.

Anonymous said...

I went to that site and read his comments and I have to say he wasn't very convincing. I have been through customs many times in the last 50 years or so and I have always been polite and answered their questions. In Australia recently my wife and I were singled out for a pat down. After the lady patted down my wife and looked through her carry on I wstepped up and raised my arms ready for the pat down. The woman politely said that female officers were not allowed to pat down male travelers. I was disappointed. But at no time did I feel like sticking y finger in the eye of the officer as the blogger did (verbally). Why?? What did he gain? Do you REALLY think he got some rights back acting like a complete slob? There is a reason why they ask these questions and it isn't about denying you 4th amendment rights. If anything I would prefer our borders be tightened not loosened.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, if you prefer to bow to government bureaucrats exercising rights they do not possess, feel free.

As he noted, why he was overseas was none of their business. He met the letter of the law to gain entry to his own country.

Am I reading your response as saying, "If you have nothing to hide, answer their questions"?

There is a reason why they ask these questions and it isn't about denying you 4th amendment rights.

Tell me, after they verified the information he provided (customs declaration and luggage search), what was the reason for their question? How could them knowing if here were there for business or pleasure have made our borders more safe?

Or do you believe that their asking of the question was justification enough for him to be compelled to answer?

Jack said...

Who is this guy Anonymous? He sure has a lot of negative energy. If you want to be anonymous, at least put a fake name so we can keep track of which anonymous is which, jeez!

I wrote a long discussion about how I feel about privacy, but Blogger ate it, so here is a condensed version:

1. Privacy is one of the natural rights that every human has. They are not given by any paper or government. Everyone has them, and my post is an effort to ensure everyone has the ability to use their natural rights.

2. My advice is to find/create your anonymizing tools, but don't use them until you need them. Using the tools will just leave traces that could eventually compromise your anonymity. Keep the tools off site in an EMP proof container until a trigger event occurs and you need them.

3. History is replete with examples of the loss of freedoms, property, and/or rights due to no fault of the victim.

4. To know what will occur in the future, look to the past. The past may not repeat, but tomorrow will rhyme with history.

5. Examples of past trigger events:

- U.S. Civil War in 19 Century.
- KKK and local governments killing, maiming, burning, hanging, based on race and association, during later part of 19th and first 3/4 of 20th Century.
- Corporations/FedGov vs. union organizers in early 20th Century
- Restricted rights during WWI & WWII
- Internment camps based on race in the 40's
- McCarthyism in the 50's
- Anti-war protesters and civil rights organizers vs. the FedGov in the 60's and 70's
- Watergate 70's
- Iran-Contra 80's
- 9/11
- 9/11 overreactions by the FedGov (Patriot Act; FedGov assassinations of U.S. citizens via drones, hit squads, etc; FedGov torture of prisoners, including U.S. citizens; FedGov unlimited wiretapping; further restrictions of 1st and 4th Amendment; militarization of police; etc.

6. Example of potential future trigger events:

- Assassination that causes national race riots.
- Martial law
- Economic crisis
- Terror strike
- Social collapse
- Food shortages
- Weapons confiscation
- Wars in U.S. or overseas
- EMP, nuclear or solar (your anonymous tools can now become your primary tools when all your other tools get burned).
- Etc., Etc.

Because who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Anonymous said...

In this particular instance I think your position is wrong. Customs does indeed have the "right" to ask you question. Hell! I have the right and you have the right to ask questions why wouldn't anyone have that right? Furthermore customs and border control are necessary and constitutional. Now, we can all act naive about this if you want to but everyone knows that in 98% of the cases you can tell when someone is lying. Even babies can read adults faces they recognize fear and happiness, etc. When the customs officer asks you questions they are making a decision in the least obtrusive way if you should pass through or go through a more thorough process. You cannot believe they don't have the right to look through your stuff, look at your papers and ask questions! This is their job. This is EXACTLY what should be happening at our borders. IF this was done more effectively in 1999 when the 9/11 bombers entered the country the WTC would still be standing. The 4th amendment protects you from "unreasonable" search and siezure. Can you possibly believe asking simple questions at our border is "unreasonable"? Would you have NO protections at our border?

Chief Instructor said...

Jack, I hear ya. I don't know if examples such as those you gave will happen again, but what I do know is that they've happened in the past.

As such, I plan for it. I don't sit around quaking in the corner, but like self-defense gun use, I am prepared should the need arise.

Anon, No, as an American citizen, they DON'T have the right to ask me questions after I have proven my citizenship.

Your presumption and apparently that of US Immigration is that I'm guilty, and have to prove my innocence.

Unless I have given some sort of "reasonable cause" for them to further their interrogation after verifying my citizenship, they ARE infringing upon my rights.

It is just like DUI checkpoints. I am simply driving down the road, and a government agent has been given the legal authority to question me with absolutely no probable cause. No swerving, no accident, no nothing - other than being on a "show me your papers" public road.

"It's to keep society safe". Excuse my language, but BULLSHIT! You don't destroy the Constitution in the name of safety.

Also, don't confuse the process for citizens versus non-citizens. Citizenship has value - well, it's supposed to have value. The second your feet are on American soil, your Constitutional rights are back in service.

All of them, including the right to privacy as guaranteed by the 4th, 9th and 10th amendments.

Greg D. said...

Two cans and a string, just remember to keep the string taught and speak clearly.

Anonymous said...

You are confusing the right to not answer or respond to authority with their right to ask questions. Clearly they have the right at a border crossing to ask questions even of a citizen. As a citizen you have an absolute right for re-entry to this country but that does not mean they shut their eyes. Their job is to look for suspicious activity and asking questions is the first line of defense. Citizens often commit crimes; smuggle drugs, sell secrets, etc. It is clearly the job of customs and immigrations to make a good faith effort to determine that no crime has been committed and that you are not a threat to the country. I simply do not see your arguement that we should go naked at the border or that somehow this is in the cnstitution.

Jack: Your long list of past trigger events is a hodgepodge of events that have no meaning together. For example: In the 19th an 20th century a lot of people were hung by mobs who were not black. It was not uncommon that people took the law into their own hands. Not all people hung were innocent nor were they all deserving of that treatment. But mindless mobs do awful things. The internment camps may indeed have been unnecessary. But there were for a fact spies and worse in the larger group of people who were interned. There was a very real threat that Japan would invade the West coast and that they had people in place to help them. It is only in retrospect once everyone is safe that internment looks so bad. Watergate was blown out of proportion for political reasons. Ditto for Iran-Contra. As for McCarthyism-Reread your history. McCarthy was right. The real crime there was the Democrats shutting him up and allowing another 30 years for the spies to do their work. As for 9/11 torture; As I understand it 3 men were waterboarded and they gave up information that saved lives. Waterboarding is uncomfortable but NOT torture. In fact most U.S. special forces undergo waterboarding so they do not fear it. As for the 9/11 event itself. Surely you are not one of those "truthers"!!!
You need a much more realistic list.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, what they don't have the authority to do is to detain and harass American's that are asserting their rights.

But that assertion of our rights has now become legal grounds for the government to presume our guilt. We have become so domesticated and docile that Constitutionally refusing a request from a government agent has become grounds for the government to exercise its "probable cause" powers.

That frightens the hell out of me.

Clearly, you're OK with that, and your mind won't be changed. Enjoy your life amongst the sheep.

Anonymous said...

I do indeed believe that the customs and immigration have the right, the obligation and the authority to ask questions to look through your stuff and to detain you if they have a suspicion that you did something wrong. I believe it is constitutional and that even a conservative Supreme court would uphold it. Without the ability to control our borders we would not be a country.
I think you confused the right of re-entry of a U.S. citizen with some idea that customs has no right to ask questions and look at what they are bringing in. The individual in question who made a big stink at the border was a childish fool. He didn't assert his rights he merely acted like an ass which got him more well deserved attention. The very fact that he brags about it in his blog proves he doesn't get it.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, LOL! Way to dodge the issue. They have the right to verify your citizenship and to search your stuff when re-entering the country. Nothing more. That's never been disputed. Read the law cited in the post to which I linked.

The point I made - and of which you are very aware - is that once the verified US citizen has met their legal requirements, they do not have to answer any more questions, and the government agents have no authority to harass them after that point. Asserting your rights does not grant the government the power of detention and harassment.

And the last time I checked, there is no law against acting like a foolish, childish ass.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm dodging the issue. I really do believe that customs does indeed have the right to ask questions and detain you based on suspicion. In fact I think our customs and immigration laws and enforcement does not go far enough. I would require every package, every shipping container, everything coming into this country to be looked at by customs or other authorized individuals. I think everyone coming into this country should be required to have a visa and be photographed and finger printed to verify that they are who they claim to be. I think our physical borders should be so tight that no one can pass without being confronted by a border guard and anything less then 100% is unacceptable. We probably have 30 million illegals from all over the world not just Mexico and not all of those 30 million came here for the jobs. We probably have more sleepers in this country then in all the motels in the U.S.

Jack said...

Anonymous is just another hypocrite neo-con fascist trolling the internet. He acknowledges and defends every illegal and un-ethical thing the government's ever done, while at the same time denying any ill intent of the government. Fortunately the Tea Partiers, Constitutionalist, Libertarians, independents, and real Republicans are getting fed up with the POS neo-cons and realizing how much they are hurting this country.

Predicting a huge loss for Democrats and neo-con Republicans this November. Hopefully it will make a difference.

Anonymous said...

I cannot be a neo-con because I have always been a conservative. Perhaps you aren't aware of the definition of a neocon. I consider myself a tea party member and look forward to the election in November.

Chief Instructor said...

OK, I'm done with you. I smell a troll.

Anonymous said...

I am not a troll we simply disagree on this issue.