Well, this seems to be the season for “major” security breaches. There seems to never be a week in the last few months some retailer or government entity isn’t revealing how it’s been penetrated. Along with those revelations comes the torrent of critics who ask “How could this happen?” and proclaim “This is the worst thing ever!….Incompetence!….This is epic!” Please, note the heavy amount of snark and sarcasm there. As one of a few people who sort of gets security, I often find myself getting increasingly frustrated about the growing number of amateur critics who have in some way implied “expertise” on a topic few professionals in the industry actually get. So in an effort to educate everyone and to vent (okay, mostly to vent), I’ve decided to do a piece on the myths surrounding security. Bear with me. If it feels like I’ve kicked you in your stomach, good – that’s why I’m doing it.
- Physical security is easy. Sigh. This is the most upsetting and doggone frustrating statement a security professional could hear. Contrary to popular belief, security is not easy. It’s pretty hard, actually. There’s a lot more that goes into security than just bag searches, menacing guards, cameras, and alarms. It encompasses multiple disciplines which contribute to the security mission. They range from everything from the information security to operations security to risk management to executive protection to physical security to personnel security to personal security. All of them bring something unique to the table. Each is an integral part of the total security package. It takes a professional versed in all of them to be able to deploy the package seamlessly.
- Anyone can do security. Ugh. Wait, no. Double – ugh!! Not everyone can “do” security. As I stated before, it’s hard. It’s not rocket science but if the only thing you’ve ever protected in your life was a bike in a bad neighborhood, you may not be as qualified as you think to speak expertly on matters such as the security surrounding rather complex and sensitive facilities as the White House or military bases. I know I just made a lot of folks in the DC press conglomerate very unhappy. So let me explain. You can have all of the facts on an issue but still not get the nuances behind how to properly execute an effective security plan or understand the stark realities those facilities face. As a matter of fact, there are people in the job who barely get some of these concepts which explains why so many security plans fail.I’ve been in this industry for 14 years and there are things I’m learning every day. I am no “expert” and I often eschew any effort to attribute me to that title. It is also my suggestion, given my background, if I admit to knowing far less than most “experts” with less experience are willing to, then maybe you should be questioning their “expertise” as well. Think you can “do” security? I’d happily place you in charge of physical security at the White House which receives MILLIONS of visitors every year and hosts the most targeted human being on the face of planet Earth. Good luck.
- There’s entirely too much security for this. Another sigh. Seriously, folks. Unless you’ve walked in the shoes of the person who designed the security apparatus for that facility or worked in a similar post, you may not understand the thought-process behind how security is set-up there. In order to better educate most folks who are not familiar on this topic, I’ll take a moment to digress and speak on the mission of security and how it is often set-up.Security’s primary mission, no matter the discipline, is pretty much the same minus some semantics. It is to detect, deter, delay, and destroy. There are professionals who will undoubtedly find issue with my choice of words here. My message to them is clear – I get it but let’s think more figuratively. While it is optimal in security to see the threat before he arrives, that may not always be the case. In fact, there is very little empirical data to suggest much of what is done in physical security actually deters the truly dangerous threat. However, what is quantifiable is delaying and subsequently disrupting or destroying the threat’s ability to continue their actions.
|A great example of classic defense-in-depth
Finally, let’s examine what drives most security plans. Much earlier, in another post, I wrote extensively about risk management which is a process by which security professionals and their stakeholders ascertain the level of risk they’re able to maintain and the mitigators they plan to deploy minimize the risk. As you can imagine, this process is what most security plans are derived from. Within those plans, therein lies the basic outline of how most modern security is implemented – defense-in-depth. This is best explained by asking you to imagine an onion. As you peel the skin on any onion, you’ll note the various layers contained. Security is much like that. Every protected resource has an outer layer of protection which supports the inner layers. The close you get to the resource, the more intimate the security. Imagine the White House. The far most outer layer of security there could be the scores of CCTV systems found all over the DC area. From there, the security mechanics become more intimate with their resource. Stop laughing. I hear the jokes. Serious. Stop it. The inner layers encompass a new level of protection more closer to the resource than the next. See, I cleaned it up for you.
- The security guys just need to do a better job. Really? Like seriously. What qualifies you to make statements like that? Have you examined the actual, no-kidding threat intelligence or data to understand the nature of the adversaries those “security guys” may face or the countless attacks which get thwarted. A great example of this is a conversation I had recently with a political website editor regarding how the United States Secret Service would be better served by doing a “better job of managing its fence” rather than deploying checkpoints further from the ones already at the gates closest to the White House. I strongly disagreed not because I love checkpoints (I don’t – see my thoughts on crowds) but because I understand (because I’ve actually done executive protection and physical security versus offering critiques about something I only read about) what drove the US Secret Service to acknowledge they were considering checkpoints. You would be remiss as a professional not to consider them as an option. I think we would all do a lot better to understand the difference between a consideration and an implementation.
- I have a PhD so I have the magic ability to know all things related to security, though, my PhD is in an unrelated field or I’ve written books non-security professionals think is dope. I won’t waste a lot of time and space on this but this is a growing issue throughout social media. Stop it. There are few things more irritating than to be dismissed by an academic or author who thinks their degree or books written provide them with omnipotent ability to know everything they need in order to criticize security. As I’ve stated before, you’re probably extremely smart in your area of expertise. This does not lend itself to transference into what I’ve done for 14 years. Sorry. But that’s the truth. Again, I don’t know a whole lot and there are guys in my field who are far more impressive than me. That being said, read this and #2.
- You say tomato and I say TOH-MAH-TO. Same difference. No, it’s not the same. In security, certain terms do matter. They really do. For example, I had a very good conversation with a national security pundit I follow on Twitter, Joshua Foust. Joshua is smart when it comes to matters of national security and almost ties John Schindler in trolls except Joshua doesn’t have a parody account yet and his and John’s tweets are thought-provoking. That being said, our discussion this morning was about the efficacy of passport revocations. Joshua intimated revocations made jihadi terrorists stateless people. I find that most people confuse revocation of passports with revocation of citizenship. The two sound the same but are vastly different both in mechanics and impact. However, because they sound the same they are often confused. We saw this when Snowden’s passport was revoked. People claimed he had been stripped of his citizenship, although he never formally renounced his citizenship nor did Congress or the President revoke it. In fact, the passport revocation is nothing more than a travel restriction. You’re allowed to travel to other countries as long as your country provides you with a valid passport. If your country revokes your passport, you’re no longer able to travel and can only come back to your home country.Joshua would later admit the semantics were different and we both agreed there were mechanisms already in place with respect to fugitive warrants and the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation. Neither, from my limited knowledge, have been integrated when it comes to jihadi foreign fighters. Something, I’m sure the President and other leaders are seeking to change because the inherent value of Western foreign fighters for groups like the Islamic State is their passports. Western travel documents can gain you access to a variety of countries, if they’re not revoked or cancelled.
- I could take down security anywhere and I could break in there if I wanted to. Okay, that sounds very cool. I’m sure you could. However, taking down an unarmed security guard because he’s 75 years old with a bad limp is vastly different than being faster than his radio and being tougher than the eight burly deputies who will respond. You might also be able to break into a facility. That’s also great and amazing. However, keep this in mind – sometimes breaking into a facility has more to do with luck rather than skill or technical acumen – remember one of the latest White House fence-jumpers was a toddler. In other words, the sun shines on a dog’s rear every now and then. You also may not be as lucky as you think.
- OMG, this breach was the worst breach EVER!! Stop. Full-stop. Don’t move. Breaches happen all over physical security for a variety of reasons. Some are preventable, sure. Some are not. Some occur in ways professionals never thought of. Some occur because the security manager and his/her stakeholders accepted too much risk. All I ask is that before you roll up a physical security breach as the worst ever, analyze not only the breach but the totality of circumstances. Some people are making a big deal about the recent White House fence-jumper who made his way “into the White House”. I’ll take a moment and explain why this is wrong.Yes, the White House fence-jumper recently made his way to an inner layer of the mansion. Keep in mind what I said about layers. Here’s something most critics won’t acknowledge mostly out of ignorance. The doors, which I have pictured below, are actually an entrapment area. Wait. What? Yes, the North Portico doors are indeed an entrapment area. What does that mean? Simply put, the exterior doors remain unlocked so exterior personnel (security and non-security) can enter through them and gain access through the second set of doors which remain locked and more than likely, guarded by on-duty US Secret Service Uniformed Division personnel. In other words, someone or something would need to verify your credentials before allowing entrance into the interior.
|The diagram of the White House showing the doors.
|The North Portico doors UNLOCKED. But do you see the doors behind them?
Scriven, how does this change the fact that he should have never gotten that close? It doesn’t. However, it’s always best to remember while this is the first time someone has made it to those doors, there have been other more egregious breaches. Thirty-three others, to be exact. Remember when the airplane crashed in the White House lawn? I digress. Did the USSS accept too much risk by keeping the doors unlocked? Sure, but I’m also aware these doors were probably unlocked more for convenience for certain non-USSS personnel. How do I know that? Because I’ve done something similar in a variety of security situations. So what does this little exercise tell us? First, it tells you I have entirely too much time on my hands and I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Second, it tell tells you exactly why layers exist and whether they function properly. In this case, a few layers were breached but the resource was secured by one. Third, a lot of people are making wild assumptions without having read the official report nor has there been an accurate articulation from which direction the jumper entered or whether he had been observed (my guess is he was). Also, some of these same people make all kinds of weird guesses about the nature of security at the White House based on rumor and what television and the movies convey. No, the President will not firing an RPG at multiple jumpers next time.
Finally, it teaches us the value of relativity and complexity – this was bad but was it the worst? It’s all relative. Seriously, can you imagine managing the security of POTUS and his/her staff and guests AND the most iconic tourist attraction in the Western world? It poses some SERIOUS security challenges which are countered every single day, mostly with zero incidents. If this was the “worst”, then the Secret Service did an excellent job of containing the threat.
- Security is pretty simple. I can’t even.
- The Israelis do it better.
In my current occupation, as an investigator, most of my day is spent on social media. Much of that time is used figuring out who the account belongs to in order to make contact with the user for a case I’m working on. In security, we’re often monitoring social media to gain some insight on kinetic events in our areas of operation. In either case, we run the risk of finding out the users of theses accounts being dead with little information given as to who may be using the account in their stead. I found this infograph here and sharing it on this space to help other practitioners.
Social media can be a great thing at times. It can connect you with other professionals, allow you to sound off on things in our industry, advertise your services, and even give you new insight into security matters. However, it can also be a very dangerous tool. Countless times, I’ve seen security professionals realize this inherent truth much too late. In every social interaction, there is an implied trust with our fellow netizens they will abide by certain unspoken “rules”. Often, they do but more than often, they do not. I’d like to share a few rules that can help mitigate the risks associated with combining your personal and professional social media personas.
- Be humble and listen to everyone’s opinion. There seems to be a rash of security professionals who believe the best way to interact with those who disagree with them is to be brash and rude regardless of the interaction. Sometimes, it calls for being a bit brash and rude. However, I find it often does not. Don’t make being adversarial a part of who you are on social media. You could potential “scare away” potential clients or employers. Don’t be “that” guy. Seriously. If you don’t want discourse, then social media is not the place for you. Chances are just because you’re awesome in what you know doesn’t mean you’re awesome in all things you claim to know. Sometimes, other folks have legit ideas we can learn from. You don’t always have to be right. A simple “I never thought of it that way” goes a long way.
- Keep your “circle” small. A while back, I went to “private” on all of my social media accounts. Why? Am I talking secret stuff I don’t want others to know? No. I just realized how much better my social media experience is by keeping my audience relatively small. Think of it like how you rate schools based on student-to-teacher ratios. Do you really want to have to interact with 90,000 people you don’t know? Also, by keeping your “circle” small, you pick the people you want to interact with. There’s a danger here, though. By being selective, you run the risk of limiting the amount of data you receive and it can enable subjectivity to some extent. With that being said, I’ll add my next rule.
- Interact with people who provide value and not an ego boost. When I went “private”, I noticed I was far more selective and I tended to interact with people who “liked” my comments less and interacted more. There’s a trap by having loads of people “like” everything you post. It can lull you into a false sense of security that you’re a “big deal” and immune to legitimate criticism. Remember, this is the Internet. Just because you say awesome things does not mean people think you’re awesome. You will make people upset sometimes. That’s life. Some attacks will be personal. That is also life. Deal with it. My mother provided me with the best sage advice I’ve ever heard and will never forget – “Not everyone that smiles at you is your friend and not everyone who frowns at you is your enemy.”
- Don’t say or do anything on social media you can’t tell your mother or boss about. Seriously, you can limit half the drama that comes your way by just abiding by this simple rule. More professionals get involved in more drama online than they should because they forgot this. What does this mean? Don’t write checks with your status updates your career and personal life can’t cash.
- Keep it real. I’ve written in the past about “experts” and how often it is easy to confuse real expertise with implied expertise. If you’re really knowledgeable about something, feel free to talk about it like you do. If you’re not, then take it easy and try to “stay in your lane”. Many people find themselves in trouble when they forget to do this. Why? Everyone wants to be popular on social media and you don’t get to be popular by staying in your lane all the time. Remember what I said about getting too many followers and “likes”. Again, don’t be “that” guy. When I’m talking to people on social media, I try my hardest to be upfront about what I know based on my experiences and from other sources. If you follow me on social media, you’ll often read me telling people what’s in my lane and what is not. I find when I do that, I receive much better interaction with professionals and I learn quite a bit more than I preach.
- Don’t make your social media persona to be something you are not. The downfall of many professionals on social media can be traced back to forgetting this rule. Quite a few security practitioners seem to believe in order to have value, they have to inflate who they are or what they’ve done in the past. More often than not, they’re found out and revealed without prejudice. You don’t have to fake a degree or have an awesome job title to provide value in your social media interactions. I’m more impressed by a person who is totally honest about being a janitor and knows a lot on a topic versus a janitor who pretends to be an “expert” security “guru. As I always say, “Game recognizes game.”
- Use your manners. My advice to son is always, “I get more from pleases and thank-yous than I have ever gotten with a frown on my face.” A simple “Thank you for the discourse” or an apologetic private message for an overly snippy comment has provided me with more value than my stubborness to concede a point ever has. With that in mind, as with everywhere you go in life, there will always be jerks. Try not to be one of them if you don’t have to. Sometimes, a situation online may call for you to be one. I suggest resisting the temptation to do so and simply either ignore the other party or “block” them. This is the Internet and there are tools available wherein you can choose to be a jerk or not. At one point, my mother was a preacher’s wife which is position replete with jealousy. She always told me, after an encounter with someone who she knew didn’t like her, “Baby, sometimes, you gotta kill them with kindness.”
- Some things are better said in-person. This is too easy to explain. Keep private things as private as you can because once it leaves your computer, you have lost complete control of it. If I’m in charge of human resources at a company you applied to or I’m a prospective client and I noticed your social media accounts are chock full of indiscretion, you’re probably not a person I want to hire and for good reason. Whatever your intent was will not matter to someone who decides your fate with the click of button without having to ever talk to you.
- Never trust people to keep things private online. Salient advice I received from a friend once – “This is the Internet, nothing is as it appears.” People are inherently untrustworthy. Why? Because they can always make disadvantageous decisions regarding you online without your knowledge and consent. There is very little you can do about this except following this rule. As the old adage from hip-hop goes, “Never trust a big butt and a smile.”
- You don’t have to be first to speak during a crisis to have value. The first time I became popular on social media was during Christopher Dorner’s rampage through Los Angeles. I made a few points which were re-shared a lot. After that, it seemed like every other crisis, I was being called on to give my opinion. Not too long after that, I did some introspective thinking and realized I was being wasn’t always being called on to give my opinion or insight – I was seeking it out. I had fallen into the trap. Why is this bad? The reason I took the time to think on this topic was I noticed I was sharing incorrect and highly subjective information. In other words, I was misinforming people. My “circle” was kind and quietly called me on some of it. Here’s what I learned: Being first, often, means being first with the wrong information and relying on firsthand accounts. Anyone involved in the intelligence community will tell you how this leads to a degradation of analysis and eventual disregard of the analyst responsible. Take your time and give your insight when it’s helpful.
Day after day, on social media and elsewhere on the Internet, there are lots of folks who are seemingly shocked every time a bad guy shows up and acts like a bad guy. Seriously, how many times have you read or seen “I can’t believe Suspect A was able to murder all of those people” or “If only they (security) did XYZ like I thought of during a conversation with my veterinarian who may have been in the military, that bad thing wouldn’t have happened”? I see it quite a bit and frankly, I’ve decided it may be time to finally add my .02 about it.
Those of us in security who have spent some time studying “the threat” (insert whatever scary bad guy you’re dealing with) understand what few who haven’t studied it don’t. No matter how awesome your protective measures are, they do little to mitigate (and certainly not “prevent”) the attacker unless you start thinking a bit like they do. Herein lies the fatal flaw of most “white hats” and even some “grey hats”.
- You think of attacks in ways that you would conduct them. No offense but if you’re protecting yourself against robbers but know relatively little of them, you may be looking to deploy solutions which don’t work against that threat. One of the most painful things any security professional can hear when doing a site survey with a client from the client is “If I were the bad guy, this is how I would do it.” More often than not, it is not how the bad guys would attack. Think security cameras in homes. Most people will deploy a camera at home with the thought the camera provides an extra layer of protection when in fact it doesn’t. I have known several victims of home invasions who either had cameras installed or had an alarm sign out front. These are two commonly deployed deterrence tools that we know don’t work. Instead, focus on the problem as if the bad guy would ignore the deterrence measures (because he will because we have little proof he won’t) and proceed with the attack and use things like cameras as after-incident mitigation tools to catch the perpetrator later.
- You think of your threat as one-dimensional. Most good guys see their threat based on commonly accepted precepts of what the threat is and how he has attacked in the past. Just because the bad guy only hit you or the other guy using one vector doesn’t mean he won’t try something different later. A great example of this is 9/11. Prior to the second World Trade Center attack, there were common beliefs that terrorists were only capable of performing certain kinds of attacks. What no factored in was changing realistic threat capabilities. In other words, we assumed the threat wasn’t evolutionary in his tactics. Seriously, who could’ve imagine having to protect a building against two near-simultaneous aircraft crashes? Perhaps we could have had we accepted the idea that as we change so does the threat.
- You think the threat is omnipotent and omnipresent. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a threat. I do it sometimes. This is a natural defense mechanism after an attack has occurred. Why? No one likes to have their vulnerabilities exposed. After every mass shooting or act of violence that makes the news, we assume every venue that is like the one that was attacked is also vulnerable and being selected as the “next” target for another perpetrator.
I remember fondly working on 9/11 on a small Air Force base on a perimeter patrol. What I recall the most are the initial attitudes people had of al Qaeda. We believed this one attack displayed a level of sophistication unseen by them before on US soil could be replicated on a massive scale. Every Muslim, ignorantly, was assumed to be a sleeper agent waiting for cues from “Muslim HQ” to attack us wherever and however they chose. The months and years ahead showed how far from the truth that was. Imagine how many countless resources were expended before we realized the fallacy behind this assumption.
- You think your attacker “chose” you for a variety of reasons he didn’t. People almost always assume an attacker chose to attack them or others for reasons they didn’t. Rape is commonly thought to be a crime of lust because good people believe sex is the only reason you rape because it’s the end-result. However, most criminologists and psychologists would agree rape is a crime of power. I would argue the majority of crime takes place for this very reason. Terrorism occurs because of this as does murder (what’s more powerful than ridding yourself of someone permanently), drug dealing, fraud, and a host of other crimes. You’re either fighting to obtain it (i.e. steal it from someone else) or committing crime to become more powerful. This confusion could possibly explain why most crime “prevention” measures based on policy fail at alarming rates – we’re clueless on what truly motivates people to attack us.
- You assume because you haven’t seen the threat, he must not exist. Whether we see the threat or not, we should never assume he does not exist. While the threat can’t be everywhere every time, the threat can still be very much. Never assume the absence of threat means he or she isn’t going to show. You still need to adequately protect your assets as if today is the day you’re going to be attacked. Remember, the attacker chooses the time of attack. You choose how well-prepared you’ll be when it happens.
I’m not proposing anyone go out and hire a red team. I firmly believe one of the reasons we, often, fail so miserably at security sometimes is due to our natural inclination to think the bad guy thinks like we do when they don’t. So how can we fix this?
- Study your adversary. Seriously, pour over any open source intelligence you can on your threat. Read the paper and look for crime stories. Pick up a police report or two on similar venues like yours. I’ll leave how you conduct your research to you. Just do it. Stop assuming blindly how the attack will go down or even who your adversary is.
- Consider hiring folks who can think like attackers. I’m not saying you hire criminals but red teams hire specialists who can mimic attackers. Choose folks from a variety of backgrounds to round out your security team. By the way, by “background”, I’m not talking education. I mean pick a team with a variety of specialists.
- Test your systems with exercises. The only way you’re going to learn is by testing how well your security program holds up against an actual attack. Consider doing this with little to no notice and have an after-action or “hot-wash” debriefing with your red team and affected staff right away. Finally, fix the vulnerabilities as soon as possible.
- Reward outside the box thinking. When I was a young boy, I recall my fondest memories were playing games like “hide-and-go-seek” with my friends. The guys who were the most creative were the best at this game. Why? Because they were unpredictable. I’ll leave how you choose to reward these folks on your own. Just do it.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I run into stores that have decoy cameras in lieu of real cameras. I also can’t tell you how many countless times these same stores get robbed. Buying a decoy camera, in my opinion, are invitations for criminals. This is not to say most criminals can’t tell the difference between fake and real. This is to say that many of these businesses and homes that utilize decoy cameras don’t quite get what kind of mitigators they need to adequately protect themselves and their assets.
The added statistic at the bottom of this photograph is especially troubling because it dupes customers into believing they have added another layer of “security”. This is correct in some respects. Remember what I said about “security” being a goal and less of an action? The problem lies in exactly the same place issues of semantics in security are – it relies on data that is either incomplete and more than likely, irrelevant to their protection needs.
We all know cameras serve a variety of purposes other than video surveillance. We also understand some vendors and property owners either have poor tools or are so under-trained they may as well not have a camera. However, when an incident happens, the last thing property owners want to tell the police and insurance companies (worse yet, a jury in a civil liability trial) is they thought a decoy or non-operative camera offered better protection.
If you’re a property owner and considering one of these decoys, turn around and invest in a camera system you will monitor and maintain. If you’re a pro, call these out and the dangers behind using them.