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Air gap, Faraday cages and other safety measures for the super paranoid


Feeling like Edward Snowden and afraid that someone with serious tools might reveal your digital secrets. Don’t let them do it.

Having been reading our channel for a long time, you have probably already learned the basics of cybersecurity. You know even more than just the basics. But there are times when you still can’t stop fighting the feeling that it’s not enough.

At some point in time, when the state wants to compromise your computer and get information about your private life, it will find a way. You can at least make it harder for them to do so .

We have translated an interesting WIRED article describing extreme security tips, some of which even Edward Snowden used in his practice when he shared secret American intelligence data with journalists while in a hotel room.

This article is more general in nature. We really hope that you never have to resort to such extreme measures, but even if you do, these basic extreme security measures will help you protect your data.

Creating an air gap

The best way to protect your computer from being hacked is not to connect it to another computer. This precaution is called "air gap". In a world where almost every machine is connected to the Internet, this is not so easy to do. However, for important files (which store the Bitcoin cache and other secret materials) , working offline will be a real salvation from threats.

While any laptop allows the user to turn off communications such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the safest way to create an air gap is to turn off all wireless equipment, says David Huerta, digital security specialist at the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Even better, use a computer that does not originally have such hardware. Huerta cites the Intel Nuc, Gigabyte Brix, and other old Mac Mini computers as examples.

The only way a hacker is able to compromise an air gap computer is by gaining physical access to the machine. An attacker would have to go to the computer and plug in a USB drive or other type of storage medium.

The air gap computer works as a file browsing station, where you can view sensitive data and be sure that the machine will not be hacked. Huerta also recommends removing the computer’s hard drive. Instead, you can boot the system from a USB stick with the ephemeral Tails OS. It will help the user not to leave traces after using the computer. This also means that you won’t be able to store files on your air gap machine. This is what makes such a computer almost completely protected from any kind of hacker attacks.

Faraday cages

If you really don’t want to be tracked, turning off your cell phone won’t help. Security experts have been warning for years that sophisticated malware can use mobile phones to record conversations even when you think the device is turned off. You probably just think so, because hacker programs can create a fake phone shutdown and leave key functions active.

If you remove the battery from your phone, you can interfere with this kind of tracking. But for the iPhone and other mobile devices whose batteries are difficult to remove, there are special Faraday cages. These are special metal bags that block all radio frequencies. Put your phone in one of these bags and it will be inaccessible to anyone who tries to access it. It will not be possible to receive or send any information while the phone is in the "cage". Buying protective bags is easy: they are, for example, available on Amazon.

In a pinch, any secure metal box, such as a safe or microwave oven, will do. For example, Edward Snowden always asked visitors to his Hong Kong hotel room to leave their cell phones in the mini-fridge. Remember the fact that a Faraday cage will help hide your location from hackers, but it won’t stop attackers from recording conversations using your phone if it has already been hacked before. In this case, the phone will not send any data while it is in the cage, but will start doing so the moment it regains its Internet connection.

Laser microphones

If experienced hackers want to eavesdrop on your conversations, they won’t need a bug in your office or home. Instead, they may use an instrument known to the world as a laser microphone. It works like this: an invisible infrared laser shines through the victim’s window and is reflected back to the light sensor. By measuring any interference in the reflected light, the laser microphone can detect vibrations in the window pane and restore sound from the other side.

Such "laser eavesdropping" can be prevented by closing the window with blackout curtains or playing loud music during a private conversation. Some people also use special vibrating devices like this, which are installed on windows and prevent any attempt to track the vibrations of the window pane.

Throw a blanket over yourself and be safe

Of course, hackers can steal your passwords with malware or by hijacking the server you are using. But they can also just see your sensitive data over their shoulder as you enter it. When you think you’re under targeted video surveillance (say, in a hotel room), it’s worth considering a seemingly silly-sounding but effective defense: the actual "security blanket." Let’s call it the Linus method.

With your head and hands hidden, you can enter confidential passwords without the fear of a security camera watching you over your shoulder. Snowden illustrated this "blanket defense" technique in the documentary Citizenfour. There, he was shown throwing a blanket over himself to enter his password in a Hong Kong hotel room. He jokingly referred to the blanket as his "magic robe". However, if your password can actually be seen with a camera installed that watches you over your shoulder, you should seriously consider throwing a blanket over yourself.