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


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 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 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 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.

Murder starts with your Mouth

The excellent book The Dark Side Of Man reports that David Luckenbill studied all of the murderers in a California county over a 10-year period and asked them why they killed their victims. All the death row inmates interviewed listed one of only two reasons for killing:

  • 34% said they killed because the victim challenged the killer’s authority
  • 66% said they killed because the victim insulted them in some way

What matters is the criminal’s perception. If he perceives a challenge or an insult, he is more likely to kill you.

This information provides a basis for planning a strategy for dealing with criminal violence.

Understand that the criminal is not operating under the same moral imperatives as his victim. A large proportion of violent criminals are psychopaths without any empathy for their victims. Never think, “He won’t shoot me because I wouldn’t shoot him in the same situation.” You would be wrong and this will cost you your life.

False bravado will also get you killed. Criminals learn to quickly judge people and use that judgement to manipulate them. Your bluff will be transparent and you will experience a violent response to your challenge.

Never insult an attacker. There is a big difference between screaming “GET AWAY FROM ME!” and screaming “GET AWAY FROM ME YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” Insulting an armed criminal will not yield positive results.

Be especially cautious during the times when the criminal is under the most stress and be chose your words carefully, especially at the early and end stages of the attack.

Develop a verbal response for the most likely scenarios you may face rather than thinking on the fly, just say exactly what you have practiced. Your script should avoid any challenging language or insults. Deliver your script in a calm monotone even if you are planning violent resistance. Surprise is a very potent weapon in your arsenal.

If you are in an environment that exposes you or your staff to the risk of criminal attack, then The Dark Side Of Man is a book you must read.

Know your enemy and plan to prevail.

Drones and the PI

The use of an unmanned aircraft (UAV) or drone to conduct surveillance is contentious public issue when government does it. When the private sector does it, it is particularly contentious.

As a speaker at a training event in Toronto, Ontario, I was asked about using UAVs for surveillance. This surprised me, as these were experienced private investigators. What follows was my answer to these questions.

If a private investigator intrudes into an area where the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy and takes pictures and video, then that material is likely to be excluded by any court in Canada. The investigator must respect the Criminal Code as well as all municipal, provincial, and territorial laws regarding trespassing and privacy. The investigator may also face criminal charges or civil suit. A civil suit will name everybody even remotely associated with the sordid affair. These consequences pale in the face of what will happen next.

When a UAV is used for work done for hire and reward, as in a private investigation, a Special Operation Flight Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada is required. Aeronautics Act defines hire and reward as “any payment, consideration, gratuity or benefit, directly or indirectly charged, demanded, received or collected by any person for the use of an aircraft.”

The Canadian Air Regulations (CAR) Section 602.41 states that no person shall operate an unmanned air vehicle in flight except in accordance with a Special Flight Operation Certificate. Any violation of the CAR may result in substantial penalties: up to $5000 for an individual and $25,000 for a corporation. The UAV operator bears civil liability if property damage or injury occurs. If the video or image evidence was gathered in contravention of CAR do you think any court would allow the material in evidence? If the court did allow it, would the rest of your evidence be credible?

It takes 20 days to get a SFOC for each flight. Do you think the Transport Canada would even consider giving a private investigator such a permit? Can you plan your surveillance 20 days in advance?

In the U.S.A., commercial operation of a UAV it is still illegal. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering allowing commercial UAV use in 2015.

Site Investigation Tools

When you start to investigate a particular Internet site, I suggest you begin with these resources.

Domain Dossier Investigate domains and IP addresses. Get registrant information, DNS records, and more—all in one report.

InterNIC Public Information Regarding Internet Domain Name Registration Services

Network Solutions’ Whois  Search multiple top level domains at once to see if the domain name is in use. I use it to find the domain name in other top level domains.

Convert Host/Domain Name to IP Address and vice versa  Find the IP of a host machine (convert host to IP) or domain name (convert domain name to ip address) or find the name of one of the hosts at an IP address (convert ip address).

Using Traceroute Learn how to use and interpret traceroute results.

Additions thanks to Kirby:  Provides lot of information, but most importantly, it identifies other users of same Google Analytics account and all the sites using that account.  Sometimes shows older servers, which is useful when website has upgraded to cloud service or CloudFlare.