I was in a charity shop in Peckham a coule of days before the new year’s eve and was flipping through the pages of a history of MI9. There I came across a diagram of the Escape Knife (or, escaper’s knife). As I’d lost my trusty ol’e Leatherman due to some haste and stupidity on the way to the airport a while back, I was in the market for a new multitask tool thingamajig, and I also like things that come with a bit of history to them. Also, it just seems like we’re living in an era where having something on hand called an “escape knife” seems more handy. Image searching the diagram and name, though, tells me that things things aren’t in production any longer, and buying one vintage runs in around the £1,200+ range. So I’ll pass.
But I like the mandate of MI9, which was basically to help people escape or evade fascists by designing tools, researching technology and developing tactics. There still seems to be a need for these things.
Sort of like during the bulk of the 2000s, I’m hearing more people grumbling about needing to escape Trump’s America, though this time around it sounds like the real challenge for more people will be getting into the U.S., rather than getting out. But still I see people looking for ways to emigrate to Canada, Europe or even to UK for some reason, though I’m not entirely sure what they’re specifically hoping to evade by coming to Brexit Land.
So, first the bad news: There is no escape. We’ve all entered ‘The Man in the High Castle’ alternate reality together. The good news is that there is a wealth of how-to guides, manuals and resources created by and for people living or working in closed and closing societies on how to do any number of things, whether its communicating privately or anonymously, looking up information without leaving a data record behind, how to meet discretely, how to store personal information securely, how to detect if you’re being followed and lose who’s following you, etc. and etc. To learn how to do things things, the first thing you need to do is accept that you’re now living in an emerging closing society. It’s okay, you actually have been for a little while now, you just didn’t have a fluffy-haired soon-to-be-president, orange twat reminding you about it in a daily barrage of poorly-thought-out Twitter outbursts. Until now. Welcome to now.
You had been warned. Maybe you didn’t care because it still seemed like things were being run by people who could string a coherent sentence together. Maybe you took the warnings seriously, but didn’t think they’d ever apply to you. Apparently, when your side loses an election, they don’t switch off the massive, legal-grey-area global spy network when they pack up and move out.
“It is possible that I will end up living like the dissidents who I defended from foreign dictatorships for so long. I will talk in coded terms, as I have started to do already. Did you think it was a coincidence that I published an article about Elijah Lovejoy, a journalist who sought freedom for all and was killed by St. Louis mobs, right before the election?” — Sarah Kendzior
People who had previously felt like they were fairly garden variety mild political opponents to the establishment may now be qualified as proper dissidents. The First Amendment right to religious freedom might not really apply to some people for the next few years. If you conduct research in certain scientific fields, you may be under increased White House scrutiny.
The U.S. may not be closed, but it’s closing in. Here’s are some resources that may come in handy if you’re going to be on the wrong side of the emerging situation…
Surveillance Self-Defense Against the Trump Administration, by Micah Lee, is what is says in the title. Here’s a great tech starter for avoiding mobile and web tracking, securing your communications and your website (if you’ve got one). If your a Signal app user (hint: you should be), also be sure ro read Micah’s pro-tips on using it; This is the “missing manual.”
Penetration Testers’ Guide to Windows 10 Privacy & Security is for you if you are going to use Windows 10, not that I’m advocating that sort of lifestyle choice. Get ready to spend some serious time with Andrew Douma’s how-to post, which is far more readable than any actual Microsoft documentation might be.
draft_encrypt-email-guide-10-2016 is a group edited guide on getting into sending and receiving encrypted emails using PGP. It’s spearheaded by Matt Mitchell, who will be porting it to Gitlab and Medium once the gang are done fidgeting with it. However, it’s already far more readable than a number of other attempts. I’ll update the links here when it’s moved to it’s finalized home.
How can I use my mobile phone more securely? by yours truly, can help you get your mobile phone under control, or at least understand how little control you have. Remember: You have control over whether you carry it when you don’t want a record of your travels. You can control what you don’t say or type in it. That’s your control.
Data at the border is another one I hacked together, about the data you carry with you, and how to keep it from being exposed, through theft, confiscation, in a search, etc.
Surveillance Evasion, by Ami Toben at protectioncircle.org will help you understand what’s needed to evade hostile physical surveillance when traveling between Point A and Point B.
How journalists and activists can have a safer physical meeting with a source, by Security First Co-Founder Rory Byrne will show you how to have an off-the-record meeting with the aim of staying off all the records.
How journalists and activists can identify and counter physical surveillance, also by Rory Byrne, is similar to Ami Toben’s guide, though with some very different insights, offering a set up tactics and behaviors that can throw off a tail.
Is S/He an Informant? A Ten Point Checklist by by Ret Marut on behalf of activists allegedly impacted by undercover infiltrators in their groups is still going to be useful if you’re going to be organizing in 2017-2020 America.
Think You Can Live Offline Without Being Tracked? is a short FastCompany interview with various privacy experts, that will give you some idea on the near impossibility and/or depressing reality of trying to sustain such an existence for a long period of time, which is why I trend more toward episodic tactics and throw-away plans. Spoiler: When an article ends in a question mark, the answer is usually ‘no.’ The Lone Ranger lived his secret identity and had just the one friend. Don Diego de la Vega kept his anonymous Zorro persona compartmentalized and so could still throw swanky dinner parties. Be Zorro.
Plan, prep & test
Whether you are just one or some, you need to know what you’re going to be doing and what kind of trouble it could entail. These will help…
The Risk Assessment toolkit by Security in a Box is a good place to start.
The Secure Communications Framework by Tim Sammut remains one of my favourite guides to assess which tech and methods you should be using, and what kind of extra support you might need.
Risk Assessments and Communication Plan templates from Rory Peck Trust can help you articulate and keep a file on what the likely problems will be and how you’ll cope with them.
SAFETAG, developed by Internews, is a professional security auditing framework using a mix of penetration testing and risk assessment methods that are useful for smaller organisations and groups who face adversarial conditions.