21 Feb 2015
Operational Security is a military term and is commonly abbreviated as Opsec. Opsec has plenty of real-world value and should definitely be a skill you add to your daily living toolkit.
At its most basic, Opsec means you don’t tell people what they don’t need to know. How does this apply in normal, daily living? Let me count the ways.Opsec is why you shred your personal documents, especially the ones with bank account numbers, SSNs, credit card numbers, and other ID numbers. Carelessness with this information leaves you and your family open to identity theft.
Opsec is why you may want to use two credit cards. Your Visa card remains in the real world only and your MasterCard is used only online. This does mean having to keep track of two credit card bills. It also means that if mysterious charges appear (such as $5,000 for airline tickets to Jakarta, which happened to us years ago!), you may have a better chance of figuring out where the card got compromised. You can cancel the dead card and still have a viable card while waiting for the dead card’s replacement.
Opsec is the reason for paying cash. Not only do you tend to spend way, way less (improving your chances of Financial Independence) but you and your spending habits can’t be tracked, nor can your accounts be hacked. It is both interesting and informative to look over various card statements and see how your movements can be reconstructed. You bought gas in Hershey, Pa., again in Roanoke, Va., and then in Atlanta, Ga., all in the space of one day? Followed by a hotel room in Atlanta? Meals along the way? That was one incredibly long day you spent driving but you did start at 5 a.m. according to the time stamp on the Hershey gas receipt. Who are you going to visit down south? Your credit/debit card receipts give a lot of information away.
Opsec is the reason you may not want to use EZ-Pass. Every time you pass through the scanner, a snapshot of your movement is taken. This information, taken together with your credit card statements can show clearly where you have been and when.
Opsec is the reason for spending your cash in the real world as opposed to using credit cards in the on-line worlds. The more you shop on-line, the more the on-line world knows about you, your family, your tastes, and your spending habits. Buying a case of diapers at Amazon leads to plenty of targeted ads for your new baby, whether you want them to or not. Buying a case of diapers for cash at Wal-mart leads to a case of diapers and no-one knowing anything at all about potential new additions to your household.Opsec is the reason for being careful about on-line searches and trying to keep your computer clean of cookies that track your surfing behavior and sells it to marketing companies. In the absence of enforceable regulations, companies are free to root about in your searches, looking over your shoulder as you surf the net, and offer ads that match your behavior.
For example, over the summer, I had to sell a junk car. A few casual on-line searches led to constant ads popping up on unrelated sites about selling my junk car. It was creepy, knowing that someone was watching me. I ended up going local, which got me more money and less oversight from Big Brothers.Opsec is the reason for being careful with social media. You should never, ever consider anything you put on-line as being private. It is up for all the world to see and it is up forever. Your drunken party pictures? Future bosses will see them. Your out-of-town plans? Potential burglars will see them. The party you only invited some of your friends to? Your other friends know you didn’t want them. Your anti-government diatribes? The NSA sees them. The NSA is probably seeing this now, but I am a tiny fish in an ocean of chaff. Opsec is the reason you don’t have loud conversations on your cell phone while out in public. You know, the ones where you discuss your child’s drug use, your angry divorce, your cancer treatment, your upcoming vacation, or your scandalously behaved minister. Nor do you place orders using your credit card, reading it out loud both to the telephone operator and everyone else in earshot.
Opsec is the reason you empty your mailbox promptly and always stop the mail and the paper when you travel. Or, you have a trusted neighbor pick up your mail and paper when you travel. Either way, you don’t let mail and papers build up, alerting burglars to an unattended house.
Opsec is the reason for a post office box in another town, when you really don’t want that vicious ex-husband to find you.
Opsec is the reason for being careful what you order on-line and have delivered to your home. Your postman knows perfectly well what magazines you subscribe to, what catalogs you buy from, and who writes to you. If you regularly order stuff, then the UPS guy and the FedEx guy start getting an idea of what interests you too. In fact, the U.S. Post Office has a program that law enforcement agencies can request (with a warrant). The postman records the return address and any other identifying information for each piece of mail that is sent to your home. Then the mail gets delivered to you, as always. You, the recipient, never see a single difference in your mail delivery. The report on who sends stuff to you then goes to the law enforcement agency who requested it. Pay cash locally and no-one knows what you buy or who you buy it from.
Opsec is the reason why you break down the boxes that your big screen hi-def TV came in, along with the boxes for ammo and guns, fancy gaming platforms, new high-end computers and anything else that signals “I got good stuff so rob me!” Break down and dispose of those boxes; don’t leave them at curbside sending signals you don’t want to send.
Opsec is the reason you don’t leave mail with the address visible in your car. Addresses can be correlated with license plates giving a potential identity thief more information about you.
Opsec is the reason you ask for identification of anyone entering your home to do work on it. Opsec is the reason you stay and supervise those workers. Are most contractors, cable installers, furnace repairmen, electricians and plumbers as honest as the day is long? Yes, they are. But if you get a dishonest one, you won’t know until its too late. You may also get a “surprise” visit from a man who says he’s from the utility, sent to check out threats. What he’s really doing is checking out your home and your valuables.
Opsec is the reason you don’t show pictures of your arsenal and your year’s supply of food around. There are people out there who consider your preparations as a reason they don’t have to make any of their own. They will just come to your house and take what they need.
Opsec is the reason you close your shades and drapes every night so people walking by don’t see into your house, noticing what you have waiting to be stolen. Opsec is the reason you have sheer curtains at every window so no one can see in during the day. Opsec is the reason for the 6-foot chain-link fence surrounding your property that is lined with an 8-foot hedge of yews and thuja. No one can see through that hedge to your extensive food gardens, tilapia ponds, rain barrels, chicken coops, and bicycles.
Opsec can make it difficult to discuss preparations for an uncertain future. You don’t want to spell out exactly what you have done and what you own, lest unwanted persons show up on your doorstep with their hands out. But you do want your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to be as prepared as you can get them to be. The best way around this is to talk about disaster preparedness, sustainable hobbies, and Financial Independence. These topics can lead the recipient, slowly and over time, to being better prepared themselves. Look for teaching moments using current events, novels, and movies. “Boy, I sure don’t understand why people who live in earthquake zones don’t store water and canned food and own working generators.” That sort of thing.
Opsec means thinking, every day, do I want the bigger world to know this part of my business. If you don’t care, then go ahead and talk! If you do care, then shut up. Good opsec isn’t always easy but, like any other skill, it can be learned. Eventually, it becomes a habit, a good one, and one that helps you live safer.
Next Week: Buying A Home