Finding a Secure Workspace

Recently, when working at a client sites, I’ve taken to occasionally using Windows to Go. This is Microsoft’s little-used secure workspace feature for Windows. It allows you to boot into a secure workspace located entirely on a USB key. This enables you to use Windows without relying on the operating system, applications, or storage on the host device. It creates a secure workspace on any machine that can boot from a USB drive without trusting the host machine. I have even devised a way to use a Virtual Machine (VM) in this workspace. Because the workspace doesn’t rely on the host operating system, the workspace on the USB drive isn’t at risk of compromise from a host machine and the VM protects the USB workspace. This saves me from constant use of my ‘Safe Mode on steroids’ or reinstalling Windows from a drive image on a client’s machine. However, it is too slow and requires too much effort to maintain. A similar live Linux USB seems to offer faster performance and it is easier to maintain the VM.

Defence Against the Dark Arts

I wander through the nether regions of the Internet and Dark Net looking for data to support my clients’ causes. This exposes me to severe risks from the nasty creativity of Beelzebub’s demonic gangsters and hackers.

It seems that a Windows system only lasts about 1/2 hour before getting infected without some form of anti-virus (AV). I regularly boot a clean live Linux USB, and then scan for viruses. This is like Safe Mode on steroids. In most instances, I find something malicious missed by the typical AV programs. However, this is only a temporary measure.

I am migrating to Linux for Investigative Internet Research because very little Linux malware exists in the wild. I only need AV on the Linux file server (or an email server if I had one). I do this because an infected Windows computer may upload infected files or an uninfected one might access infected files on the Linux machine, which then allows it to infect other Windows systems. AV on the file server isn’t protecting the Linux system–it’s protecting the Windows computers from themselves. I recommend the paid version of ESET Antivirus and Security Software as it doesn’t try to upsell you on other services.

The Old YouTube Scrape Trick

The Old YouTube Scrape Trick

Don’t be fooled by the old YouTube scrape trick. A scrape is an old video downloaded from YouTube which is then presented as a new and original eyewitness account of a different event.

Defeating The Old YouTube Scrape Trick

Amnesty International provides a handy tool called YouTube DataViewer.  Enter the video’s URL and it will extract the clip’s upload time and all associated thumbnail images. This data isn’t readily accessible via YouTube, however, this two-pronged approach allows you to identify the earliest upload, which is probably the original version.  Conducting a reverse search on the thumbnails often uncovers web pages containing the original version of the video along with other uses of it.

Operational Security Part 2: Commercial Self-Defence

Over at Canadian Security Magazine, my first article explained the nature of security intelligence (SI) and its OPSEC challenges. This second article explains the OPSEC challenges facing security intelligence in an iconic commercial enterprise or location.

Search Engines are NOT Neutral

If you believe that the search results from any search engine, let alone Google, are neutral and do not reflect the search engine’s owners interests and biases, then you are very niave or entirely delusional. To prosper in the ‘information age’ one must be skeptical, open minded, and use many search engines.

For example, Google monitors what we’re searching on and decides what search results are best for its own interests. In the USA, Google was the second-largest contributor to Obama, but Google protests that it doesn’t manipulate search results in his, and the democrat’s favour.

Some very enlightening information is now comming to light about how a small change the search algorithm may dramatically change the outcome of an election. I strongly suggest that you read Big Data Meets Popular Vote in today’s National Post.

Disk Encryption

TrueCrypt, the ultimate encryption freeware, abruptly announced that the software is no longer secure after Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. It was the most popular application of its type and it was widely to communicate securely and encrypt sensitive files or folders. Currently, the TrueCrypt home page advocates moving to Microsoft BitLocker.

Unfortunately, in the Windows 10 Home edition, the full-disk BitLocker encryption must use a Microsoft account and the recovery key needed to decrypt your drive resides on Microsoft’s servers. With this arrangement, theoretically, a third party could decrypt your drives remotely. However, Windows 10 Pro doesn’t have this restriction: you can use BitLocker with a local account and keep your key out of the cloud.

Under such circumstances, users should stay away from both TrueCrypt and BitLocker and shift to some other free file encryption software.

Veracrypt entered market within months after Truecrypt died and seems to be the best of the alternatives. There are other free TrueCrypt alternatives like AESCrypt, FreeOTFE, and DiskCryptor. Here are the download sites for the alternatives:

Finding Free, Forgotten, and Orphaned Sites

I often go looking for simple sites created by the subject of an investigation. These simple or forgotten sites often appear at universities, at ISPs that offer free web space, and on free web space servers.

Did you know that Google Drive has always offered to host basic web sites for free. This will continue until August 31st, 2016. Google Sites will continue, but these sites cost a bit of money to operate.

Others, like GitHub, offer a very similar service. Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service offers static web pages for free. Occasionally, I find sites that use Dropbox to host files used or accessed by a free web site. Sometimes I find a domain that forwards to files hosted on Dropbox. Dropbox isn’t the only service that can be used to offer a static web page.

To understand how this is done read How I moved my blog to Dropbox and How I moved my websites to Dropbox and GitHub.


Ashley Madison Hack

The Ashley Madison hack has a lot of people running around like a bunch of headless chickens. The simple fact is, you cannot trust this data. Let me explain why this data must be treated with extreme caution.

Registration was free but you needed to buy credits to contact other members. Stolen credit card numbers appear in the data. Nobody has verified the number of real and active accounts. The website would allow new accounts to be set up without confirming the email, therefore, anyone could open an account using someone else’s name and email address as a prank or out of malice, and of course, the hackers could add names to the list before publishing it. This type of malicious prank is truly viscious in the 79 countries where homosexuality is illegal. For example, in Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the punishment for homosexuality is death.

Here are my favorite headless chicken searches:



A lot has changed since I wrote Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research. For example:

• We are abandoning Windows entirely due to privacy concerns with the Windows 10 operating system
• We are moving to a process for conducting all IIR from a sandbox to protect our collection process, collected data, and privacy
• VPNs, Tor, VMs, and encryption are our new best friends
• The existence of Wi-Fi proves that the Devil wears a black-hat

Firefox’s Most Irritating Bug

Have you noticed in Firefox that you can’t scroll down through a web page whilst selecting text?

This problem is associated with Mozilla’s inept fiddling with the add-on bar. This bug was fixed once, but has re-emerged. There are convoluted solutions to this problem, but I’m not a convoluted type of guy. I found a simple solution.

The easiest solution is to install Status-4-Evar and you can then scroll whilst selecting text. Classic Theme Restorer may also solve this problem, but I haven’t tried it yet and I think you need to use this in a new, clean profile. To use a new profile, it’s probably wise to install ProfileSwitcher.

Google-Free Wednesday–Disconnect Search

Disconnect Search is a specialized VPN that lets you search privately using Google, Bing, and Yahoo search engines. They say they don’t log searches, IP addresses, or any other personal info.

Using Disconnect search, your ISP shouldn’t see your search terms as they don’t have access to your searches. Normally, when you click a result link, the site you go to may see your search terms, but Disconnect should prevent this. Search engines save your searches, which can be connected to your real name or IP address. Disconnect should anonymize your searches.

The 2nd Edition

I am currently writing the 2nd Edition of Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research. This is a lot more work than you might expect and it is occupying time I would normally spend writing blog articles.

Please bear with me. When I get to the editing stage of this project I will again have time to write more blog articles. However, I am still posting interesting articles, sources, and methods on my Confidential Resource Twitter feed @LocusCommunis.

Operational Security for Security Intelligence

The first of my 6 articles about maintaining operational security for the security intelligence function in the private sector is now online at Canadian Security Magazine.

King John’s Ontario

Ontario wants to launch the Administrative Monetary Penalty (AMP) system. It’s a cute name for an extortion racket.

AMP will treat Highway Traffic Act (HTA) offences as a tax that you must pay. The accused cannot contest the charge; only discuss the amount of the penalty or perhaps the number of demerit points. This discussion will occur online with an ‘independent arbiter’.

The arbiter isn’t there to provide justice. You’re already guilty—you can only discuss the amount of the penalty. The money goes to the municipality and the municipality employs the so-called ‘independent arbiter’. The independence is a fiction.

The entire thing is an effort to bilk drivers. The government knows we must drive vehicles to exist in Ontario. Economists call this an inelastic demand. In such a demand, the quantity demanded is the same at any price because we must have it, and therefore, it may be taxed at any rate. The provincial government creates this tax by replacing the judicial process with automatic convictions and arbiters with a quota to meet—true government efficiency at last!

In 2011, the Law Society of Upper Canada specifically told the Law Commission of Ontario that AMP was not appropriate for HTA offences. The Ontario Para Legal Association rightly calls this an egregious violation of our legal rights. In rebuttal, the Ontario government imperiously states that there was a six-week public consultation about AMP that ended a couple of months ago, but I never heard of it and I haven’t found anybody else who heard about it either–some public consultation that was.

This will cause a drastic increase in the cost of insurance for residents of rent-seeking municipalities, as they will acquire artificially bad driver’s records. The term rent-seeking isn’t typically applied to government but I don’t see any alternative. Rent-seeking is seeking to increase your share of existing wealth by using the political process while not creating any new wealth. A rent-seeking government uses its discretionary and legislated authority to extract ‘rent’ for its own benefit.

What economists might call ‘rent-seeking’ is a coercive extortion racket, plain and simple. King John would feel a deep kinship with today’s Ontario government, since this type of behaviour brought about the Magna Carta eight hundred years ago.

OPSEC & Social Network Sites


An investigator can use LinkedIn, Facebook, and other sites to build a profile of someone’s personal and work life, but like so many things in life, this is both good and bad. What might happen if it is done to your business’s employees? How might this hurt your company? Most businesses do not think about this and if they do, they usually consider key executives to be most at risk. This is entirely wrong!

Operational security (OPSEC) is the lens through which to view this risk. View each employee in terms of what he knows and to what he has access. This will change your entire outlook.

The janitor has keys and is in the building alone. Security guards possess sensitive information. The secretary to the VP of Marketing knows when you will launch a new product. Are you starting to get the picture? This leaves the problem of how to analyse the content of sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.


For example, Facebook identifies your friends and family, and where they live. It knows your likes and dislikes. It knows your travel destinations. It knows posting habits and posts to which you will respond. All of this creates an OPSEC nightmare.

The Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report lets you see what information Facebook knows about you and your friends. It yields easy-to-understand charts, tables, and graphs in a personalized report.

This needs the account holder to log into Facebook before it will run, however, this will not stop an industrial spy, foreign agent, gangster, or terrorist. In certain dark corners of the Internet, hacking a social media account will cost about $350. Changing the privacy settings is a meagre deterrent. With the hacked account and the Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report, the crook or spy has everything he needs to plan the compromise of an employee.

LinkedIn & Spies

Using LinkedIn, researchers found the personal details of 27,000 intelligence officers that the researchers say are working on surveillance programs. They compiled the records into the ICWatch database, which is searchable by company, title, name, and location.

What might a skilled researcher find regarding your employees?


The biggest part of dealing with this OPSEC risk is recognising that it exists. The rest of the solution involves a combination of strict social media policies, non-disclosure agreements, conditions of employment, and employment contracts coupled with employee indoctrination and training.