Over the next two days, I’m sharing a special interview that features Doug Casey and his colleagues on the latest crime wave that’s sweeping the globe.
Below, you’ll hear from John Hunt, an MD and coauthor with Doug of Speculator and Drug Lord, and Durk Pearson, bestselling author and former rocket scientist and aerospace physicist. They recently sat down with Doug to share their best tips on how to protect yourself against the growing cyber-threat.
I think you’ll find their ideas interesting and timely…
John: Equifax hacks, Russian hacks, and political hacks are all competing with the Kardashians for primetime news reports. Let’s focus on something that might actually matter to each of us and that we can do something about: our own personal cybersecurity.
Durk: Computer security is a lot more important than most people realize. Absent precautions, it’s like if you had a stack of $100 bills and left it on the sidewalk in front of your house. If someone happens to stroll through your neighborhood, he can just pick them up.
Likewise, most people have no computer defenses at all. You have more than $100 bills in that computer. You have your future money too, and your credit.
But you can become resistant to this. It’s not an impossible task. Remember the old story? You don’t have to run faster than the bear. You just have to run faster than the other guy. And that is surprisingly simple.
John: So what do you advise that everyone should do now?
Durk: First know that if you live in a gated residential community, you have a very low chance of being robbed. But the internet is as if everyone lives in Watts in the 1960s, or South Chicago now.
John: You have to build your gates and walls.
Durk: Right. Now, you don’t have to be a perfectly hard target. There is no such thing as a perfectly hard target. The CIA got hacked for a lot of their extremely dangerous hacking tools which are now out in the public domain. If the CIA can get hacked, believe me you can get hacked too.
On the other hand, all you have to do is make yourself a much harder target than the value of what people can get out of you and you’re going to be left alone. They’re going to move on to somebody else who isn’t as tough. Which is most everybody.
John: Why are some of the phishing scams so blatantly stupid? Like a Craigslist price of $2,307 for a 2013 BMW. It’s obvious to anyone.
Durk: “Oh gee, I’m a Nigerian prince and I want to move $50 million to America and I’ll give you half of it if you help me.” Why are people trying a scam that’s so stupidly obvious?
The answer is very simple: These are competent and professional fraudsters. If somebody falls for the Nigerian prince thing, then they’ll be stupid enough to give the fraudsters their Social Security number, their bank account number, and their password.
With the Nigerian prince scam, the fraudsters get rid of the 99% of the people that aren’t that stupid right away.
John: Ah. The more inane the fraud pitch is, the better the fraudsters target their market to the stupid. Doug, what’s your definition of stupidity again?
Doug: Stupidity, like intelligence, comes in a number of flavors. The most common definition of stupidity is “of low intelligence” – but that’s rather circular, like saying “slow” means “not very fast.”
I like to define “stupid” as the ability to see the immediate and direct consequences of actions, but the inability to see the delayed and indirect consequences.
Like most criminals, black-hat hackers never see the long-term consequences – like being hunted, being held in contempt by most of society, and probably landing in jail. Or indirect consequences – like destroying their self-respect. Among other things.
An even better definition of stupidity, applicable both to those who respond to the Nigerian prince scam as well as the Nigerian Prince himself, is “an unwitting tendency towards self-destruction.”
Even when criminals score high on IQ tests, they still fit this definition. So while computer criminals are undoubtedly smarter than street criminals, they’re still rather stupid in very important ways.
Durk: It’s relatively easy to protect yourself from being financially harmed in a hack.
The first rule here is, don’t let a million different companies have your credit card number. Almost every company is perfectly willing to deal with a debit card rather than a credit card. If you keep a small amount of spending money in a debit card account, then that’s the most you can lose. And if it’s not your fault, you’re probably going to be made good.
Second, you use encrypted wire transfers with your bank to make deposits. You see that little padlock up on the address line on your browser that says https rather than http? That’s an encrypted link.
Just make sure that you or your browser entered your bank’s internet URL. Don’t click on an email link that appears to have come from your bank, because it may be a fraudulent phishing email that takes you to a URL with an https connection and a padlock that is NOT really your bank but sure looks exactly like your bank’s internet page and likely will have a confusingly similar URL!
The next step is to keep your attack surface to a minimum. An attack surface is the path that you could be attacked through. For example, the more companies that have your credit or debit card numbers, the bigger your attack surface.
When you buy something on the phone, tell them, “I don’t want my credit card number or debit card number being kept permanently on file. I just want to do this one transaction with you and don’t want to set up an account.” It’s in their computer and memory just long enough to clear with the bank or the credit card and then it’s gone. If the company then gets hacked, you are safer.
There are only two places that have my debit card number permanently on file: PayPal and Amazon. Both of those are really serious about security.
John: But the bad guys can be mighty sneaky.
Durk: Yes. Clicking on an ad can load malware onto your computer if you’re not careful, especially if you use Windows. With a Mac, Gatekeeper will ask for your password, warn you that you are about to load an un-vetted program, and ask if you really want to do this.
Some of those ads are little more than a pixel in size. Companies that are selling ad space on their websites don’t do anywhere near what I think is adequate to check out the advertisers. If you use Adblock Plus with Firefox, you are protected because you will never even see the ad, let alone be able to click on it.
Also, you want a more secure browser than something that’s provided by Microsoft or Google. They’ve got a file on you that’s bigger than the FBI, NSA, and the CIA put together.
Every time you do a search they’ve got your IP address – that is your internet protocol address which identifies you uniquely – and they also have years and years of tracking every search you’ve ever done, what you search for, and what you clicked on after you did the search.
That is a vast amount of information. With that information and a bit of computer intelligence, they can figure out that your daughter is pregnant before you know it yourself. Deciphering masses of disparate data to allow for conclusions results from the availability of these dense patterns of information, in what is called the matrix effect.
Microsoft and Google both make more money off of your personal information than they make off any products. The last time I looked at the contract for Windows 10 for individual users, it was 140 pages long. Buried inside there’s a section that essentially says, “All information on your computer belongs to us and we can do anything with it we want.” You agree to this by checking a box that you never read.
Any time you do a Google search they’re harvesting information from you. They’ll sell it to anybody. They’ll sell it to the FSB/KGB, the DEA; they’ll sell it to the cops. If you’re getting a service for free on the internet, you need to know that you are the product.
John: And they can sell this information to burglars who are local to you?
Durk: Not intentionally, but yes, and these burglars then know what you drive, where you drive to and when, where your home is located. They know you’re asleep at 3 a.m., they know you have a Ferrari, they steal your Ferrari out of your driveway.
John: How do you avoid this?
Durk: In the case of Windows, there’s a free program you can get called ShutUp10. It reduces the amount of information getting delivered back to Microsoft from your computer.
You need to keep that ShutUp10 up to date because Microsoft keeps changing the spyware they put on your computer. It’s a constant race. The web has turned into a massive theft of personal information used for marketing purposes.
Also, when doing searches, go to – a ridiculous name, I know – DuckDuckGo.com. They’ll forward your search to Google and Bing and a whole bunch of other search engines, but they won’t forward your IP address, and they won’t keep a dossier on you and all your searches.
Oh, incidentally, don’t use Facebook. Don’t use Twitter. They make all their money by selling your personal information. Just don’t use them.
John: My son told me that travel booking sites substantially raise the available rates for flights if they see you shopping around for a specific trip. Indeed, it happened to me two days ago. I searched a fare three times during the day. The third time, the fare jumped up threefold and stayed high from then on. I thought I had missed out on a good fare.
My son told me to try browsing incognito. Google Chrome has an incognito mode: <Shift + Control + N> turns it on. I turned it on, searched the flight again, and the price for my flight was the nice low one that it had quoted me initially. Sneaky.
But I wonder if I can trust Google Chrome’s incognito mode for long.
Durk: Google Chrome will still fink you out. I use Firefox, which has an incognito mode, with the extensions NoScript, Privacy Badger, Adblock Plus, Cookie Controller, and Random Agent Spoofer. Note that you do not have to restrict yourself to one browser when price shopping for expensive items.
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Also be sure to check out Part 2 of Doug’s interview tomorrow, where the guys discuss other ways to start protecting yourself from hackers.
How to Beat Cyber criminals at Their Own Game, Part II
As the world becomes more connected thanks to the internet, it also becomes more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Each day brings a new threat. And protection becomes even more indispensable.
Today, I’m sharing Part 2 of a special interview on this topic featuring Doug Casey, John Hunt, and Durk Pearson. (If you missed Part 1, catch up here.) Below, the guys share some specific ways to protect yourself from hackers…
Durk: I really think that it should be open season on black-hat hackers. In the physical world, I’m in a “Castle Doctrine” state. If a burglar breaks into my house I could shoot them dead, perfectly legally, when they come through the window. Unfortunately, under the Federal Law, you don’t have the right to do that to a cyberthief. So I really do not advise hacking the bad guy.
Passive defenses are great and they’re ethical. Like I said, you don’t have to run faster than the bear. You just have to run faster than the next guy and that’s really, really, really easy when the most common password is 123456.
John: Nonetheless, it would be fun building a team of mercenary vigilante white-hat hackers, combined with a secretive on-the-ground force, like the A-Team. I wonder if it could be profitable.
Doug: I really like the idea of fighting fire with fire. But, as Durk said, there are dangers. It would take a real expert to launch a counteroffensive.
Could it be a profitable venture? I think so. All the people who’ve been hurt by criminal hackers would likely put up a bounty. Or buy insurance for the future from a computer “A-Team.” Or a Paladin, like in Have Gun, Will Travel.
The problem is mostly the legal system in today’s world. You’d be accused of vigilante action, and would likely be prosecuted much worse than the actual criminals.
Durk: There are a million black-hat hackers, all smarter than most people, out hacking right now. You’ve got to do something about it. If you use Firefox, with Privacy Badger, NoScript, Cookie Controller, Random Agent Spoofer, and Adblock Plus, you’re in better shape than 99.9% of the population, right there.
Next, you turn up your firewall on your router, DSL, or cable modem to maximum, and you turn up your software firewall to maximum, and you give up chat and instant messaging. Turn off the ability for an external signal to wake up your computer.
If you did just these simple things, you’d be safer than 99.9999% of users. Bad guys realize that you are a hard target and say, “I’m not going to waste my time on it.” Remember, you don’t have to be more secure than a bank because you don’t have anywhere near as much to attract the bad guys.
John: These interventions would have protected Hillary Clinton’s server?
Durk: From what the media says happened, yes. But, actually, I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s server was hacked. I think that what happened is a guy who had administrative access to that server walked in, stuck his thumb drive in the USB slot, downloaded everything, and walked out with it.
The timestamps of when the files were recorded are consistent with exactly USB 2.0 loading speeds – much faster than I would expect the DNC to have for their outbound internet email pipe.
Doug: All we really know about that episode is what we read in the press. And I have very little faith in either the competence or the integrity of the average reporter or editor today. Many of them are leftist ideologues who’ve picked up lots of bad ideas in journalism school. We’re no longer living in the era of H.L. Mencken, or even Clark Kent.
The government understands the importance of the media for swaying public opinion. They’ve largely compromised the major media. I treat the media as entertainment and propaganda, not information.
Durk: Believe me, Russia did not want Trump elected. Do the math on oil prices and you see that US fracking costs Russia $180 billion a year, almost 10% of their GDP due to fracking’s dropping crude prices by $50 per barrel. Hillary would have stopped fracking. Trump supports it and wants to deregulate.
So, really, why would Russia want Trump in office? Out of anybody who might have gained from such a hack, who’s a world-class hacker? The answer: China! They’re also the world’s biggest importer of oil: 8 million barrels a day. China is saving $400 million a day because of Trump’s election. They’re perfectly capable of hacking the DNC, giving the information to WikiLeaks, and making it look like the Russians did it.
By the way, oil prices being low is a good thing: Iran is able to afford a lot less terrorism than it used to afford. There’s a lot less money going to Hezbollah, to Hamas, to Al-Qaeda, you name it.
John: Doug, at one point, Durk told me that police steal $2.4 billion a year in the US via seizures and asset forfeitures. More than all burglaries combined. Cybertheft can be an even bigger concern. But all this protection can interfere with convenience.
Doug: Sure, it’s a real problem, and following Durk’s advice makes sense. But let’s not forget about the biggest thief that we each contend with every day: the taxman.
I’m not just amazed, but disgusted, at how the average American has come to believe the state has a right to his property. He doesn’t dispute their right to his income and property; he just kvetches about the amount. And then he whines about how government is “inefficient” – which is certainly true.
Thank God it’s inefficient, and we don’t get all the government we pay for. I’d say about 90% of government spending is totally wasted. Government theft overwhelms the amount stolen by private thieves.
John: How do you keep your stuff secure, Doug?
Doug: It’s not easy in today’s world, where privacy is an illusion, and secrecy is probably illegal. And the way laws and penalties are today, your right to any property is increasingly tenuous.
To start with, I use this ancient contraption, called a landline phone, whenever possible. It’s not secure from the NSA, but then what is?
I only just bought a cell phone a couple of months ago. I used to have one when they were the size of bricks, but I didn’t like to feel tethered to it. Now people are umbilically attached to the things. I only use mine when there are no alternatives. It’s mostly an expensive paperweight.
Cell phones are convenient, and increasingly necessary, but they’re also a huge danger.
John: Doug, you recently had a visit with John McAfee, a cybersecurity expert famous for creating the first computer anti-virus software. What did you take away from him about cybersecurity, and the future of privacy?
Doug: We spent a lot of time together. For one thing, he pointed out that mobile phones are much easier to hack than computers. As a trivial demonstration, in a couple of seconds he placed a call to my cell phone from that of a person with us – without her knowledge – hacking her phone with his.
Computer security? Fuhgedaboudit. He can tell what keys you’re using to encrypt outgoing messages, and can read the screen of any computer to see the incoming message.
My takeaway is that the advice Durk is giving – basically keep a low profile and don’t be stupid – is about your best defense in today’s world. Try to limit your use of electronic devices – although that’s getting harder to do.
John: Well, with the Equifax hack, each of us can have our identities stolen quite readily. It seems rather ironic that in order to be aware that our identities have been stolen, we have to interact with the same company that put us all at risk.
Durk: It is much worse than that. To check if you are affected by the Equifax hack, you have to enter your last name and the last six digits from your Social Security number. NoScript informed me that Equifax sends this information through Google!
They don’t warn you about that. They don’t promise that Google won’t sell this information. It would take very little time for Google’s computers to guess the first three digits, too. Outrageous!
Doug: I don’t do any computer banking. I stay off of social media, which is basically a waste of time anyway. I’m not likely to buy another new car, because they’re totally computer controlled and hackable. I don’t participate in surveys or opinion polls. And, most important, I’m diversified politically and geographically.
When I’m in Argentina, I can access all the latest modern tech, but it’s also much, much easier to cut myself off from it. If you live exclusively in the US, Canada, or the like, you’re a sitting duck in an electronic pond.
John: Thanks, gentlemen.
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