I’m packing for a trip and came across this article about RFID blocking wallets and such:

The Skimming Scam: RFID-blocking wallets can work. But do you really need one?

They block RF signals from reaching passports, credit cards, and other contactless data sources that can, in theory, can be accessed remotely by anybody nearby with the appropriate reader. I have a bunch of shielded stuff, and I use it. Why bother?

“What’s less clear is whether RFID skimming is a threat worth worrying about in the first place. For all the hype about the theoretical danger, there have been few if any reports of actual crimes involving RFID skimming. The technique appears to be far more popular among security researchers than it is among thieves, and for good reason: There are much easier and more effective ways to steal people’s money and data.”

I don’t think they are completely a waste for average people, but it’s certainly a marketing thing for the manufacturers. I do it because I’d rather share less data than more and, more importantly, because I hang out in places with security researchers.

Now I do buy bags with security features, many of which come with RFID blocking pockets. I like that they do, but it’s the other locks, clips, security straps and so on that are the reason I’m willing to pay more for them. (I look for them on sale or discontinued.) These kinds of physical security features are the primary interest, and are absolutely worth it for me.

And I thought a single highly disturbing security story was enough for one day. I’m not even all the way through reading the article from The Intercept about how GCHQ and NSA have the keys to decrypt a huge swath of the world’s mobile phone communications and I have the urge to throw away all my computers and hide under a rock.

The Great SIM Heist: How Spies Stole the Keys to the Encryption Castle

Normally I’m not prone to hyperbolic statements like “There is nowhere to hide” but for people who use any communication technology it’s more and more true. You are being monitored and archived. Maybe you are boring and uninteresting to government spooks. At the moment. Maybe forever. But how does it make you feel knowing that could, by deliberate action or entirely by accident, change at any time? It certainly doesn’t make me happy.

I woke up this morning to see that an actual computer hardware manufacturer has shipped machines with actual deliberately included “To improve customer experience” adware that compromises SSL for the user. Because capitalism, I presume.

Even with my non-expert understanding of digital security, reading this researcher’s discoveries was terrifying. And the manufacturer is claiming the impact is minimal because “Superfish was preloaded on to a select number of consumer models only.”

So far I haven’t seen cries of “just re-install the operating system from a trusted source.” Perhaps they are out there and I’m (thankfully) missing those kinds of people from my social media sphere. These are low-end machines intended for average users. And while I can’t comment on how it is in PC-Land, certainly for OS X users the process of re-installing a clean operating system has been made absurdly difficult. I don’t even always do it these days. But this surely points out that I should.

So this came out today:

“Severe” password manager attacks steal digital keys and data en masse

There are lots of nifty helpful password manager tools out there, that will seamlessly allow you to create and use your passwords across all your devices. I don’t use any of them.

I do use a password manager (DataVault, if you are interested.) It has some nifty cloud features that I ignore. I sync by WiFi, on my local network. Only. I had problems with the browser integration, so I don’t use auto-fill. I go to the app, find the password I want, and copy it.

It takes some effort, but it’s not going to be compromised by someone’s poor site security. It’s not that I think all those other people are bad programmers, it’s that they are people and they are programmers and bugs and other problems happen. Even without the slightest bit of poor coding, there could be a weakness in a 3rd party library, operating system, hosting service, or other thing the system is dependent on.

If you think I’m a horrible Luddite disparaging the wonders of modern hosted services, Spouse keeps his passwords as a text file saved in his system keychain and only accesses certain sites from his primary laptop in a secure location. Another perfectly acceptable solution.

Folks who follow me elsewhere have already heard this, so I won’t repeat the whole sordid story. My wallet was stolen on the bus yesterday, by a pair of men who trapped me so I couldn’t move and then unlatched my designed to be secure bag.

What they took was the wallet that had my stored value transit pass, cash, and various random items. A different wallet, in a zipped pouch and tethered to the inside of my bag by a cord, was in the bottom of the same compartment. That has my credit cards and ID, and was not taken. I shouted down the thief and got my phone back, which was much more important to me, but it was less immediately obvious that the transit wallet was also missing.

The cash is long gone and cannot be recovered. The access badge has been invalidated and replaced, as has the transit pass. (I wonder if it wasn’t used because it was a very, very old one: differently branded but still functional. The agency can’t invalidate a card until early the next morning.) Of the remaining stuff, there were business cards, postage stamps, a few “buy 10 get something” cards, and other things.

It’s the “other things” I wonder about. There were business cards with my phone number and mailing address. Credit card receipts, maybe an old doctor appointment reminder or two. None of which I would, by my usual practice, dispose of without being destroyed.

What else? Well, I don’t remember. Sometimes I write notes on scraps of paper and shove them in there. Occasionally I’ve had documents I need to carry copies of. A few months ago the stack was getting pretty hefty and I cleaned it out, but who knows what I was carrying around yesterday.

The good stuff:

The bag, a Pacsafe shoulder bag, worked, for some value of worked. The thief got it open, but it took effort.

The inside bag (another Pacsafe, yes I like them) was further inside and less easy to grab. This is where all the really important stuff is, the strap is clipped to the inside keyring so it doesn’t come out easily.

That both these bags have RF blocking pockets didn’t play a part in this crime, but I have them anyway because it’s an easy thing to do. (Both wallets were RF shielded, and the access card was additionally inside a shielded envelope.)

Now what?

Don’t discount purpose-designed physical security. The police said I should have had my bag at the front of my body, but if you’ve ever carried a cross-body bag you know they bounce around. And being trapped, I could not move it to a safer position. But the latch made it difficult enough to open that I knew immediately what was going on.

Don’t carry things you don’t need. That’s an obvious statement, but as a realistic matter not exactly what it sounds like. I don’t know anybody who routinely selects only the cash or cards they expect to need for the day to put in an otherwise empty wallet. It’s a good technique for special occasions (clubs, festivals, some kinds of travel) but hardly reasonable every time you walk out the door. What that does mean, is clean it out once in a while if you tend to collect junk in your wallet. Don’t keep any sensitive information you don’t absolutely need, like a Social Security card, passcodes or passwords, and account numbers.

Protect different things in different ways. I have the transit wallet and phone easier to access because I need them constantly. The second wallet is harder to get to, but I need it less. The larger, more secure, compartment has things even more a problem to replace like keys. (I have duplicates of frequently used keys on a chain in an outside pocket.)

I’m not hopeful that I will ever hear anyone was arrested, much less convicted. My fellow passengers were yelling at me because confronting the thief was holding up the bus. Not a single person volunteered assistance or information. The bus driver was spectacularly unconcerned (annoyed was more like it) at being informed I had just been robbed on his bus. The video cameras may or may not have worked, and my attempts to confirm the bus number with the transit agency have so far failed. (I did write it down at the time.) The nearby police officers told me I had to go to the main station some distance away to file a report.

So here I am, out $80, a wallet I custom made, more money and time in replacing stuff, and a case number that will likely never see the light of day. Oh, and yet another anxiety attack after dealing with it all.

I read an article this week about identity theft by theft of personal information by employees. That’s been going on for years (likely how my Social Security number was compromised) but now the increase in linked data means when something fails, more goes down with it.

Here’s the article:

Can we trust anyone with our personal info?

That made me consider something I’ve been doing when I travel domestically: I don’t use my Drivers License as an ID. It has my address on it, something the person at the security checkpoint has no reason to know. Since I already keep all my travel-related documents/cards together in one place, I just grab that and use my passport. Sure, someone could still look up my address if they had access to the right database (an airline employee certainly would, not sure about TSA.) But it wouldn’t be just sitting there for anybody to see. (In my case they would only get my mailing address, but still.)

And now, since I have the Global Entry card, I use that because it doesn’t show my birth state (which can be used to validate other information like certain Social Security numbers.)

Dear Every Product Marketing Team in the World:

when you try to convince me I need to be able to access my toaster from anywhere on the Internet, this is what I hear:

Hacker taps into baby monitor, shouts at sleeping infant

A family’s baby monitor is compromised by someone who uses it to look around the room and shout at people. And, btw, the manufacturer designed the device such that all logs are lost when powered down.

All software has bugs. If you are lucky, the manufacturer has a process to try to find and respond to those bugs as rapidly as possible. It can never be as rapidly as necessary, however. Choose wisely what you put on the network.

My slow-motion password change-a-thon was interrupted today by a much-anticipated package. I ordered some stuff, and it arrived right on schedule. Yay!

My stuff is great, but I want to mention a little something about the packaging. This seller recycles all sorts of packaging, a good thing. But certain things should not be recycled.

Here is what was on the back side of the printed-out shipping label:


Yup, that is a page from someone’s personal credit report. (Amex tried to sell me that service as well, but I’m not interested in paying for it.)

It doesn’t have a Social Security Number or address, but a full name and details of several credit accounts. Maybe the sender is fine with that. But it’s not stuff I would want floating around. And it’s now going straight into our shredder.

I’ve been meaning to mention this, but with my declining use of Facebook I didn’t have an example to show. This happens all kinds of places, but I’ve found Facebook to be one of the worst offenders.

So someone posts a link to something you want to read. Being a little paranoid, you copy the link and paste into your other browser.


But what is all that junk? Some of it is tracking, so Facebook can tell what you clicked. Maybe it’s just the source website and not you personally, but you can’t tell. The rest is character encoding that obscures matters even more.

For some reason this happens to me even more with mobile browsers, where the lack of tools makes it annoying to escape.

First, get rid of the character encoding:

Eric Meyer’s URL Decoder/Encoder

Go to that page, paste your junky url in the text box, and click “Decode.” There you go, actual readable text. It’s a bit of JavaScript that converts the encoded characters back to normal ones.

Next, copy just the part that is the actual url and paste that into your other browser. If you can figure it out, at any rate. This example is pretty simple, it’s everything from “http” to just before the “&”. In http-speak, the & means the stuff after are parameters. Maybe you need them to find the right page, but a lot of times you don’t. But they sure are handy for tracking stuff.

So when you get down to it, the actual thing I wanted to read is at


If I were so inclined, I could write a little script that would strip off all that other stuff. Ideally, it would be something I can host on a trustworthy server and would semi-automatically load the desired page after deciphering the location.

I read an article this week, and thought of it last night when I was at Bed Bath & Beyond, a chain housewares store.

Has Privacy Become a Luxury Good?

It was a last-minute thing and I didn’t happen to have one of the discount coupons that occasionally show up in our home mailbox addressed to “Neighbor.” So I paid full price for something I might otherwise have gotten a discount on.

But at the store there was a sign saying I could send a text message to some number and get a discount coupon on my phone. If I’m not going to give them my mailing address for one, I’m certainly not giving them my mobile number.

So I didn’t get the discount. It might not seem that way at first, but it’s paying for privacy too.

Another way to handle it is like “my” Safeway loyalty card (or the phone number linked to it, anyway.) A friend signed up years ago, and since then several of us have used the same phone number to access the discounts at the store and she gets any associated with card activity. I’ve used that phone number at stores all over the place (including Canada.) Sometimes I give that as my phone number when I have to provide one for a store account (like Fry’s rain checks.)