Archive for the 'Private Investigator' Category

OPSEC & Social Network Sites

OPSEC

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.

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?

Solutions

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.

Damnable Hyperlinks–Part II

In my last article on this topic, I asked the following questions:

  • Should you include a warning about following links in your reports?
  • Should you include a warning about visiting URLs in reports?
  • Should you remove the links?

My answer is yes to all these questions. The content at the linked sites may not only change–it might plant malicious code on any computers used to visit it. This is more common than most private investigators recognise or admit. My research computers are almost immune to this but most other people do not go to the extremes that I do to avoid malicious code.

I do not like sending Word documents to clients. I much prefer sending PDF files. Unfortunately, much of my work is part of larger projects and the Word file allows a client to incorporate my work into other documents.

Sending Word documents has many risks but doing so is unavoidable in many cases. This leaves the investigator in a tight spot if he does not warn the recipient about the risks associated with visiting the links in the report. In addition to written warnings at the start of all reports, I now remove all links using Ctrl+Shift+F9. After being duly warned, to go to his doom, the reader must do more than just click a link.

I now include the following warning under the heading of Security Warning.

Warning about visiting reported links and URLs

All Universal Resource Locators (URL) or hyperlinks (links) cited in this report only report where we found data. We do not attest to the safety or security of any internet site or URL. Nor do we evaluate the security implications of visiting any URL.

Do not visit any cited URL or link without understanding the security risk of doing so. We only report the content associated with links, URLs, and Internet sites. You may compromise the security of your computer system and network by visiting URLs or links in this report.

If I recognise a site as an attack site or one that includes dubious code, I do report it, however, I have never had a request from a client that we evaluate the security risks of the sites from which I collect data. If I received such a request, I would turn away the job, as I do not have the expert staff to perform such complicated work.

Self-Destructing Cookies

Maintaining privacy during online research is as important as avoiding malicious code. Privacy begins with properly configuring the browser and installing the best oddons (for Firefox) such as HTTPS Everywhere and Self-Destructing Cookies (SDC).

SDC establishes a new cookie policy within your browser. It automatically removes cookies when an open browser tab no longer uses them. With this installed, cookies only identify you while you actually use them and they cannot stalk you across the entire web. It detects tracking cookies by their behaviour and removes them immediately—it doesn’t use a blacklist. SDC complements blacklist-based solutions such as Adblock and Ghostery. It also allows you to whitelist cookies from sites that you trust. Just remember, SDC’s whitelist is stored in site preferences. If you want to keep the whitelist from session to session, you must adjust your settings if you selected Clear History when Firefox closes. SDC does not work at all in private browsing mode.

This is a moderately complicated addon that requires the user to understand browser settings and how the browser handles cookies. Reading the addon documentation is required.

ProfileSwitcher

Normally, I don’t use different browser profiles because I might confuse profiles and make a mistake. ProfileSwitcher might change that.

This extension makes it easier to use different profiles in Firefox and Thunderbird. I have installed it successfully in Firefox and Comodo IceDragon, which is based on Firefox.

It adds two items to the File menu to start another profile or the profile manager. From the extension’s preferences, you can choose what to do when you launch another profile. It allows you to choose to close the profile in use or not and if you choose to run the profile manager in safe-mode, the current profile will be always closed. In the options, I set it to display the current profile in the status bar. This allows easier control over the profiles than using the clumsy process offered in Firefox.

On my dedicated research computers, this seems to work quite well. It works in a Virtual Machine (VM) and closing the profile running Hola seems to stop Hola in its tracks.

Accessing Geo-blocked Content with Hola

Many websites confine access permission to specific countries. If you live outside the US, you may get this a lot.

There are three ways around this. The first is using a VPN. The second is using a third-party DNS server. The final method is Hola.

Hola is the easiest method. It comes in the form of a very intrusive browser extension that is free and easily installed. It is available for Chrome and Firefox. Just click the Hola icon in your browser’s toolbar and select a country. It will route your browsing activity through IP addresses in that country.

Remember, I said this thing was intrusive. If you are a professional investigator, you must always keep the rules of evidence (S. 30 & S. 31) in mind. Your computers must be free of malicious code or code that could change the content of the collected evidence. I always run Hola on a clean machine that is separate from other evidence collection. If you use Hola to collect evidence, then you will have to be a very good Internet Eyewitness.

My first objection to Hola for investigators is that it is only available for Windows, Mac OS X, and as an app for Android devices. It is easier and quicker to create a clean machine with Linux.

Secondly, Hola sends your web browsing through other servers. More importantly, it uses your computer’s idle bandwidth for other users. Sharing bandwidth with other users exposes your machine to outside threats other than the websites you visit. I have seen  DNS Spoofing when using Hola that does not happen when using other methods. Unfortunately, you have to prepare for this if you want to route your browsing activity through other locations and not pay anything.

Third, you must disable Hola when not using it. Install it in a separate browser. For example, if you use Firefox for most things, then install Hola in Chrome to access geo-blocked content. When you are finished using Hola, close the browser.

Finally, you must really spend some time rehearsing the visual, logical, and reproducible nature of your testimony. If you do not, then you will not be able to reproduce the process of collecting the evidence in court. Explaining how Hola works is not something I want to do in court if the other side is sharp and scrappy.

Even with all my reservations, I still use Hola, particularly for reconnaissance prior to using other collection methods.

Why I am Never Wrong

You might think the headline was written tongue-in-cheek. You might be right, but you lack relevant data upon which to draw that conclusion.

Nobody pays an investigator to collect data. You earn the big paycheck for interpreting and analysing data.

You must quickly collect data from a variety of sources knowing their content, date-range, and how this data relates to the matter at hand. Next, you must summarise what you find. Then, you must interpret how this data might add to the progress of your investigation. Finally, you must analyse the new data in view of how it either supports or refutes your mandate, objectives, or hypothesis.

If you start with a logical mandate, objective, or hypothesis, and collect relevant data upon which you apply a reasoned analytical process, then, based upon available data, you will never be wrong either.

Online Resume Searches

If you are doing a background investigation, then the subject’s employment history is important data. Here are a few sites where a subject may post a resume.

Of course, the first stop is LinkedIn to start getting a handle on the subject’s employment history. Next, go to indeed.com for the US and ca.indeed.com for Canadians. Use the advanced search and enter the subject’s name in the phrase search. Then do the same for all of the words of his name.

Odesk.com is for hiring freelance professionals. Use the search box with ‘freelancers’ selected and search the subject’s name.

Resumebucket.com is an interesting site. I often get better results using the Google site: command and the person’s name than using the site’s search facility.

Beyond.com requires an account to search or you may use the Google site: command with the subject’s name.

You can also search the relevant local craigslist site and use the search facility to search the subjec’t name in quotations. Sometimes you will find brief resumes for people seeking work.

The monster.com job sites have a lot of resumes but you have to pay to search them. If you do enough searching then this is worth the cost.

Quotes, Citations, & Markup

When collecting data for a report, I come across data in a multitude of markup formats. A markup language is a format for annotating a document in a way that is distinguishable from the text. Each markup language has its own syntax. The differing syntax between languages creates a problem when I need to extract quotations, create citations, and create appendices. What I need is a program that can understand and convert document text annotated with different markup languages.  It must handle footnotes, tables, definition lists, superscript and subscript, strikeout, enhanced ordered lists, and the render the text into a form usable by MS Word. It must also translate math equations into something useful.

If you have been struggling with this too, try a programme called panddoc. This programme will take a while to learn, but once you have experimented a little, you will learn how to solve most of your markup-to-report conversion problems.

Wearable Cameras

Wearable cameras have some utility for the investigator. Here are three that are at the leading edge of this trend.

Narrative Clip

This has been around for about one year and it is about the size of an iPod shuffle. the newest version has an eight megapixel sensor and a wider angle lens with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that allows using your mobile phone as a remote to control or you can transfer photos over Wi-Fi. The camera battery lasts for 30 hours and when you charge the battery with your computer you also offload the photos.

It doesn’t take video, just still images, but you can expect that to come in the future.

Logitech Bemo

Logitech is better known for its keyboards, mice, and webcams. The Bemo is between wearable cameras and larger devices such as the HTC Re. It includes a clip, but its video must be activated by holding down the button. Part of this may be due to the product’s relatively slow Bluetooth connection back to the phone, a design that yields better battery life. The Bemo captures 8 megapixel photos and high-definition video.

HTC Re.

This company is best known for smartphones.  The Re is larger than the Bemo and lacks an integrated clip, but HTC has some accessories that allow it to be worn. In addition to video, also captures the highest-resolution photos at 16 megapixels and it has a wide-angle lens. The Re is always on and ready to capture as soon it’s picked up. It has a time-lapse mode to create a video made up of a day’s worth of stills without one having to be there.

None of these devices have a screen or flash and  video shot in low-light may be blurry or grainy. They all connect to a smartphone which makes it easy to handle the captured images and video.

Drowning Quietly

I recently investigated the circumstances surrounding a drowning death in a commercial property. The most disturbing and contentious thing was that several people didn’t recognise that a person was in need of assistance and drowning.

The witness statements to that effect were the cause of a lot of avoidable unpleasantness. Most people don’t understand that drowning people rarely splash about, wave, or scream for help. This only happens on television and unfortunately, that is where most people get their impression of what drowning looks like.

The article, Drowning: A Deceptively Quiet Event, represents a good summary of my report on what a drowning really looks like.

Drones and the PI (UK Edition)

Back in November I wrote about the Drones and the PI and the Canadian Air Regulations.

In Britain, the Civil Aviation Authority has approved three companies to provide training for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operators who fly UAVs weighing less than 45 pounds.

Upon completion of the training, the pilot must provide the Civil Aviation Authority with an explanation of how the drone will be used and  provide proof of liability insurance. Then the pilot may receive flight permission, with a few stipulations. Generally, those stipulations are that they must fly in the line of sight and not within 50 meters of people or buildings. UAVs weighing over 15 pounds must get clearance from air traffic control and those under 15 pounds may operate freely in airspace that isn’t congested, such as near airports.

This seems to rule out their legal use for surveillance and security purposes.

How to be a Facebook Spy

If you need access to someone’s Facebook profile this is how to accomplish that task.

Set up an appealing Facebook account, then request to be friends of some people friended by the subject. Wait until some of them accept your friend request. With mutual friends in hand, request to be the subject’s Facebook friend. The subject will see that you have mutual friends and he should accept you as a friend. Then you have access to his profile, photos, postings, and perhaps you may find what you need. However, there are a few legal issues to consider.

If you are an Investigator, and your subject is represented, then asking permission to see his or her page is contact with a represented litigant. In Canada, if the opposing litigant is represented by council, then you may not contact him or her in person, by telephone, or electronically. In most cases you have to ask to be listed as a friend to view the subject’s Facebook page. Doing this will be considered improperly making contact with the litigant and whatever you find will be deemed inadmissible.

However, what you find in Google, other search engines, and unrelated Facebook pages may be used as the basis for a motion for the production of the subject’s entire Facebook page as happened in KOURTESIS V. JORIS (2007) O.J. No. 2677 (Sup. Ct.).

Productivity in Perdition

As I make my way through the infernal regions of the Internet, I have had to start using new tools. The most disconcerting form of torment has been the change to Linux to avoid malicious code. This has forced me to start using alternatives to Microsoft Office for some work.

There is nothing more disconcerting than changing word processing software. Nothing is in the right place and productivity decreases dramatically.  I’m not sure which of the two flavours of the open source alternatives I like best–I lean towards LibreOffice at this point.

Some people who don’t really work for a living will say it’s stupid to try to attempt to use Microsoft Office on Linux, but they don’t have to quickly produce reports on a daily basis. I have tried running MS Office 2010 (32 bit) with some success using Wine. This makes report creation easier and faster. However, this isn’t as stable as using LibreOffice–but that’s perdition for you.

Survival in the Netherworld

Over the last couple of years we have seen a trend developing in the nether regions of the Internet that is changing how I conduct research. This netherworld is populated by malign crooks who create sites loaded with malicious code.

I now conduct a lot of research using fresh installs of Linux and the programmes that I need for each job. I conduct the research from behind my own anonymizing proxy and an assortment of VPNs. Browsers operate in a sandbox to prevent movement of malicious code from an attack site to other programmes on my machine.

This is a nasty environment. It takes time and experience to operate in this infernal region. In two years I have learned a lot, but most of all, I have learned how little I really know. The crooks are much further along the learning curve in this environment.

Finding Deleted Tweets

Paper.li is a web service that let’s members create a daily newspaper of sorts containing their favorite material that they then sharing it with their followers. Here are some points that the investigator should note:

  • A lot of content of these papers comes from Twitter.
  • These papers are archived.
  • Twitter users sometimes delete Tweets
  • Deleting Tweets on Twitter are not deleted on sites like Paper.li

Paper.li is a content curation service. A Content Curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online. These sites are a good place to find content deleted from the originating social networking site.

If you go to Paper.li and use their search feature, you won’t find anything unless your search is for the title of a paper. Their search doesn’t look within individual articles.

To find mentions of content from Twitter, or any other content, use the Site: operator. When using this search strategy, search by the Twitter account’s name and the user name (@username) along with any keywords that might apply to what you are looking for.