No one has ever been shot by a hacker who was breaking into their computer through the Internet. Not so for thieves coming in through the back door.
I wrote a piece titled No, Evil Hackers Aren’t After You, and promptly had 17 zillion readers (by actual count) get mad at me for not taking their security concerns seriously. I still think the idea of a giant robot eyeball on a flexible stalk growing out of your microwave oven is still a little silly, and I believe there are many simple, down-to-Earth security problems to worry about before you try to spot rogue CIA agents watching your house from a grassy knoll in Dallas.
- First, a brief note: I planned to write this follow-up a lot sooner, but I was sick. I mean congestive heart failure sick, hauled off to the ER for a nice vacation at Manatee Memorial Hospital, or as I sometimes call it, my second home. A lovely place, but you really don’t want to go there — even though they now have WiFi in all patient rooms so you can watch Netflix 24/7 (or whatever).
Back in the world of security, let’s start with your door locks. You have locks for your doors, don’t you? And you lock your doors when you’re either not at home or aren’t someplace where you’ll notice someone rattling that knob or handle, don’t you? Shockingly, unlocked doors are so common where I live, in Florida’s not-very-famous Manatee County, that our Sheriff’s crime prevention people say the majority of thefts from homes aren’t from break-ins but are done by people who try door after door, front and rear, until they find an unlocked house. Then, of course, they clean it out.
The most popular items with our local criminals (and probably yours) are guns. Computers, especially laptops, are number two. This doesn’t mean Mr. Wantzum Drugz says to himself, “I scored me a nice Glock 20 from the nightstand so I guess I don’t need to take that McBook Prose laptop from their home office.” No, Wantzum will grab them both. Your TV? HDTVs have gotten big enough that they are less popular with thieves than they were a decade or two back. This doesn’t mean your TV is safe from theft, just that your computers are even more likely targets.
In real life, which is more likely: Trumpmaster Putin’s minions using your TV’s camera to watch you watching TV or a crackhead coming into your house (through an unlocked door) to grab your stuff?
Yes. The crackhead — or more likely, these days, methsmokers or pillpoppers. But that doesn’t really matter. Thieves are thieves, and my doggie says she’ll bite them if they try to steal from us no matter what drugs they do or don’t use.
Thinking of which, police have said for many years that an alert dog is one of the best anti-burglar measures you can have. The point isn’t whether your dog will bite intruders, but that a potential thief hears barking and probably goes to the next house instead of trying yours. My dog doesn’t prevent theft. She just makes it more likely that thieves will go after your place instead of mine. Don’t want or can’t have a dog? Alarm systems are cheap these days, to the point where there’s really no excuse not to have one.
Okay, your dog is wary of strangers and you have a home alarm system (that you remember to set whenever you go out). Now you go leave your laptop in a carry case on your motorcycle. Not you, you say? A Secret Service person did this not long ago in New York. It got stolen, of course. The thief may not have gotten Trump Tower security information off of its hard drive because it was encrypted, but the agent still was out a laptop. Whoops!
Are your hard drives encrypted? Especially laptop drives? If you have data stored on your computers that someone can use to make your life miserable, including credit card numbers, an encrypted hard drive can save the day in case of theft. Using Linux is pretty good, too, since a passworded Linux install will foil most low-end thieves.
And Lock your car. Law enforcers all over the Tampa Bay part of Florida (and presumably elsewhere) say that even more common than thieves who jiggle house doorknobs, looking for one that isn’t locked, are people trying car after car. Some insanely high percentage of cars are left unlocked, say our Sheriff’s crime prevention officers — as in 25 percent to 50 percent in many cases, with church parking lots often having more unlocked cars than mall lots, which still have more than enough to keep a fast-moving thief happy and prosperous. Hallelujah!
Would you believe that guns left in unlocked cars are stolen so often that this is one of the biggest ways criminals get guns? Once again, computers are #2 on the thief’s desirability scale, but that’s plenty high when it comes to auto burglary swag. They need to be in the trunk or otherwise concealed in your securely locked car, with the car alarm set, assuming you have one.
I’ve been talking about nothing but physical security today. You can have the world’s greatest firewall, but if a side door to your server room is propped open because a lazy employee forgot to lock it after slipping out for a cigarette, your server room is wide open in the most literal sense of the word.
All security starts with the basics: secure your stuff, lock the doors, etc.
Online security concerns are real, even if I think some people worry too much about some of them, but physical security is overlooked far too often. Please don’t make it easier for thieves to steal your hardware than it is for them to steal data you send over the public Internet.
Robin “Roblimo” Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. Now he’s mostly retired, but still works part-time as an editorial consultant for Grid Dynamics, and (obviously) writes for FOSS Force.