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Cybersecurity Lessons from COVID-19

Most of us are experiencing the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our personal lives and employment. For the fortunate employees that have been working from home the last few weeks, the transition from working behind company firewalls and secure servers to working from your home office or kitchen table can be a challenge. For many of us, the adjustment is a daunting task, coupled with the chaos of balancing kids’ home school schedules, video chats, and navigating through multiple stores looking for toilet paper. There are a number of helpful cybersecurity lessons and tips to keep your data and business as secure as possible.

Basic Cybersecurity Lessons

Here are 5 quick cybersecurity lessons based on suggestions from the FTC:

Flickr.com/jeroenbennink

1. Keep your security software up to date. This includes antivirus applications, VPN or video conferencing software, your internet browser, and your computer’s operating system. These updates often eliminate recently-discovered security vulnerabilities, making you a harder target. Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky are all great options. If you want a standalone VPN, Express VPN is a great option.

2. Use unique passwords that are at least 12 characters long, consisting of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Never share these passwords with anyone, even coworkers who might say they need them to help out with a project.

3. Verify your home network uses WPA2 or WPA3 encryption. The encryption scrambles information, causing potential hackers to look for easier targets. Refer to our previous article “Digital Home Security: 5 Easy Ways to Protect Your Home WiFi Network” for a detailed guide on this subject.

smartphone cell phone wifi internet

4. Keep your computers, tablets, and phones password protected – walking away from your device without a screen lock will put you at risk if anyone gets physical access to it. That might be one of your children, one of their friends, service personnel, or a burglar.

5. Shred your trash – do not throw away anything with sensitive data that would allow someone to use the collected information against you. If someone went through your trash can, could they determine your bank, insurance company, kids’ schools, or any other details about your life or work? For tips on what to shred at your home or office, refer to this article from ShredIt.

Hackers have an abundance of tools to target complacent individuals that may believe sensitive data is protected. Various online tutorials and free software gives anyone the tools to target unsuspecting individuals for easy data collection. Bank account information, social security data, and other sensitive data can easily be collected by a motivated hacker.

Victimization & How to Avoid It

Cybercrime is more profitable than the global illegal drug trade, according to a study by Cybersecurity Ventures. The most common goals of a hacker are:

  • To grab enough personal data to obtain access to financial information to sell or use for goods and services
  • Obtain sensitive data to use or sell

Common mistakes to help avoid becoming a potential victim or easy target:

  • Reusing the same password for all accounts. Using “password123” for everything from online banking to your Netflix account is not a great strategy!
  • Keeping copies of Social Security Numbers, Drivers License photos, bank info, and tax documents on your computer can be potential targets – consider saving paper copies in a safe deposit box, fireproof safe, or encrypted file storage.
  • Assuming that a firewall, VPN, antivirus software is bulletproof. These hurdles are momentary obstacles for seasoned hackers that are motivated to breach their intended target. As with any other form of security, there’s an arms race between protective measures and the breaching techniques used to defeat them.

Spread the Word

In today’s challenging environment, hackers are getting faster and moving through various inventories of tools at their disposal. Some of us tend to be aware of our physical security and situational awareness, but we also need to consistently evaluate our digital environments with these cybersecurity lessons in mind.

Discuss these threats with your family members as well. You can develop good habits in your daily digital world – you might not expect it, but a spouse or teenager could inadvertently open your stable environment to an array of exploitation attacks on the same network. Discuss the danger of email phishing scams, catfishing, and the dangers of sharing personal data with anyone online – even someone they trust. You may think you are having a conversation with a friend online, responding to a coworker’s email, or participating in a harmless quiz on social media, but each of these scenarios could be a creative hacker fishing for information.

Further reading on cybersecurity lessons:

About the Author

Frank Aguilar has worked in a variety of industries over the past two decades, ranging from IT in the financial sector to electrical testing in the utilities sector. His array of hobbies include camping, off-roading, shooting, and tinkering with electronics.

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Eye in the Sky: The Basics of Home Security Cameras

In a day and age with such advanced technology at our fingertips, securing our most valuable assets, including our families, is critically important. If you don’t have some sort of home security camera system, now is definitely the time to consider changing that. Camera tech continues to become more affordable, and a decent surveillance or door-monitoring setup is far more attainable than it was just a few years ago. On top of that, there are many options that you can install by yourself with basic tools. Luckily for consumers, gone are the days of expensive monitoring solutions with monthly plans for a few security cameras and an alarm (and the sign in the front yard!). These days, it’s a buyer’s market. The ease of DIY home security has driven the price of monthly subscription plans down, so depending on which side of the deal you’re on, it’s always important to be intelligent about your options.

Mapping Out a Security Camera System

So, why take the plunge? Well, it’s not as challenging as it may seem. Some of the easiest targets rest outside of your home, so at a minimum, that’s where coverage should start. With the popularity of convenient home delivery services like Amazon Prime, nefarious “porch pirates” regularly steal packages from doorsteps. And if you don’t park in a garage, your vehicle is always a target regardless of its own security alarm. Starting here is a great way to monitor two critical areas that are a liability. In some cases, security cameras on your porch can pick up folks who may be scoping out the residence, stealing mail and packages, or even conducting surveillance on pets. As for your vehicle, there are many concerns outside of security. In the event of an incident while the car is parked, it’s always great to have footage for insurance agencies — whether due to storm damage, a drunk driver slamming into it, or, of course, theft. You can also double-up on the protection by installing a motion-activated dash cam in your car itself, hardwired to the battery so it’s operational when the vehicle is parked — we plan to address this topic in a future article.

Aside from the outdoor perimeter and the two aforementioned areas of focus, other critical zones are entry and exit points to the ground floor of your home, including entryways into the basement. If something bad happens, it’ll start and end at these places, so reinforcing coverage is a must. When selecting spots for security cameras, consider that outdoor cameras on exterior doors can be tampered with, so outward-facing cameras placed indoors is best practice. This also cuts down on cost, as all-weather outdoor cameras are significantly more expensive than indoor-only cameras.

Above: Externally mounted security cameras can be easily tampered with or disabled, so it’s wise to mount outward-facing cameras indoors whenever possible.

Beyond the obvious, there may be other indoor areas of the home that you’d want to monitor for both security and safety reasons. If you have kids at home, you may want something in their rooms to make sure they’re OK at night or while playing during the day. In addition to this, security cameras in various gathering areas of the home are popular as an added safety precaution for not only kids but also babysitters, repair personnel, or the occasional cable-guy.

Above: Another example of a readily-accessible exterior camera, which wouldn’t be hard for a criminal to cover or disconnect.

Aside from little humans and safety factors, it’s common to have a camera aimed at gun safes and ammunition. For many, a gun safe contains much more than firearms, including passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, and the like. Firearms are guaranteed to be one of the most desirable items in your home to any burglar, so it’s wise to have a multilayered protection plan for them when you’re not around. It goes without saying that you certainly don’t need blanket coverage of your home like a casino floor, but critical areas are just that, so it’s wise to protect them as such.

There are many ways to secure your home — strategically placed security cameras are one of the most simple and effective methods. They’re a good start, but they’re also far from an all-encompassing solution. Other aspects of a comprehensive home security system could include various elements of physical security, such as centralized burglar alarm systems, door position switches, window break sensors, and motion sensors. These can potentially report to the same system that monitors your security cameras as well — this expansion capability is definitely important when selecting a surveillance camera system.

Selecting the Hardware

Above: Wi-Fi cameras are simple to set up, but may be vulnerable to remote access by tech-savvy criminals.

Once the decision is made, where can you start shopping? There’s an overwhelming saturation of products on the market nowadays, making a purchase decision tough. The first, and perhaps largest, consideration is whether to go old-school or with new technology. The difference is simple. Older-style CCTV systems are just that — closed circuit television. This means no one can remotely view or intrude upon the system in any way, shape, or form, unless they gain access to it physically. These systems are still actually fairly expensive and send analog signals over coaxial cabling hardwired from a digital video recorder (DVR) to each individual camera, set up channel by channel — just like old televisions. As for storing video, it all depends on the hard drive capacity of the DVR. Just like an old DVR you may have had on your TV, if you have enough space for 30 days, you’d better save anything critical before it gets overwritten, because then it’ll be gone forever!

Above: With an old-school CCTV system, hackers are not a concern.

On the flipside, new tech is all over the place. Whereas I love the security of knowing no one could remotely hack my system, I’m no longer using a coax-based CCTV system. Instead, I’m using a network-based system on my home Wi-Fi. Granted, there’s a slight risk of your security cameras being hacked, but very few have the knowledge to do so — those who care to target you specifically, that is. These systems are typically much less expensive than analog systems, simply because less hardware is involved.

Digital systems can be wireless or IP-based. Your choice will depend on preference and pocketbook. The first is the simplest to install, and most home systems are set up this way due to the close proximity to Wi-Fi access points. These systems are controlled by an app or graphical user interface (GUI) and can automatically connect to cameras once you complete a few simple steps to bring them onto the network. Most notably, this is how Nest, Ring, WYZE, and other wireless-based systems are configured.

Aside from wireless, the other digital approach is to have a system of IP, or internet protocol, cameras. This is typically how large enterprise businesses or military installations configure their systems. These security cameras run on software platforms and large servers or network video recorders (NVRs) that offer data storage for 90 to 360 days of coverage, recording constantly or on motion only. The cameras can sometimes be wireless, but in most cases are hardwired to the servers via a network cable. The cameras are then assigned IP addresses (think 102.92.10.4 as an example) and added to the NVR. Although this is typically more secure than a wireless setup, the features (such as remote viewing) are the same, assuming that you can have remote access to the network where they’re placed via a virtual private network (VPN) or other method. These systems definitely run up in cost close to an analog setup, but are a far more modern and sophisticated solution — that’s why large enterprises have made, or are making the migration.

Based on the current trends and my experience designing and implementing various types of systems, wireless systems are currently the most approachable option for homeowners. A business or government organization can afford to employ on-site 24/7 security officers or surveillance personnel, but unless you’re a billionaire, this just isn’t feasible for a residence. Monitoring your security system can’t be your full-time job. Fortunately, a few key features can cut down on the workload involved with your system.

Important Home Security System Features

Be sure to select a system that has some sort of remote viewing capability on your phone, tablet, or laptop. In addition, set up email, text message, or app-based alerts if your system offers them. These alerts are hugely important to the homeowner, since after all, we don’t actively monitor our phone or computer every second of the day.

Above: Choosing a system with motion detection capability will dramatically cut down on the amount of footage you’ll need to sift through.

Typically, recording should only begin when the security cameras sense motion to save space and hassle. However, this can be a challenge when they’re outdoor cameras, or if pets or curtains move around inside of a home. To combat this issue, many companies have enabled artificial intelligence features in order to differentiate relevant motion from leaves or trees blowing in the breeze. If you’re buying a new system, look for this feature. As opposed to watching live feeds or scrolling through hours of saved footage, reviewing specific motion events is a very efficient way to ensure no compromise to security has occurred.

You’ve probably seen “pan and scan” cameras that sweep back and forth across an area. These can certainly be beneficial; however, due to their movement, they record continuously rather than selectively. To avoid storage concerns, it’s better to go with motion-activated fixed security cameras. Wide-angle lenses, high-resolution sensors, and camera positioning can alleviate concerns about blind spots and ability to discern details in footage.

Above: Mobile apps offer a convenient means of checking on your home while you’re away.

Another incredibly crucial feature isn’t only to have infrared night vision, but good night vision. A lot of camera manufacturers get this terribly wrong, so make sure that the reviews are solid on the system you’re scouting. A decent night vision system will be able to flip from IR to natural light conditions quickly without a lengthy “shock” or “wash” on the screen — for example, if you turn on a light in a dark room to investigate a disturbance. It should also have sharp edges around objects without distortion or visual noise. Get security cameras that have microphones for sound, both indoors and out. For indoor cameras, this can be great to hear kids, but it’s especially critical in the event of a burglary or home invasion. Key details of what’s going on can be picked up as evidence, which can be applicable to outdoor cameras as well, if one decides to go that route.

Above: Criminals often use the cover of darkness to conceal their actions. This is why an effective night vision mode should be a top priority.

Storing the Footage

Most of these features are worthless unless you have a reliable, easily accessible storage solution. For a homeowner, you can certainly rack up a ton of recorded events. This is precisely why selecting a home security system with local (SD card or hard drive) and cloud storage is important — even better that the cloud storage doesn’t involve recurring monthly fees! I strongly prefer a cloud-based system with a local backup recording option (such as the SD card). This way, if a data loss or a connection blip happens during an upload to the cloud, recordings will still be available. On the other hand, if your local storage becomes corrupted or lost, you’ll still have your footage on the cloud. Overall, a system that incorporates cloud storage is the way to go.

Above: Footage can be simultaneously uploaded to the cloud and backed up locally on an SD card.

Oftentimes, a week or so of free cloud storage comes with your product, which is usually fine for most homeowners. If you want to take things a step further, you can pay for more storage space, which the manufacturer hopes you’ll do. Or, if you’re a tech-savvy type, you can set up a home server to house your data locally. A backlog of 30 days of footage is generally more than enough, although some strictly controlled business and government applications require up to 90 days of saved footage.

Preventing Unauthorized Access

A main concern around all of the above internet-based systems is definitely security, or force protection of the data and system. To most, I’d say “have no fear,” but there are plenty of cases in which IP or wireless cameras get hacked and video feeds siphoned. Hopefully, you can avoid this by following a few best practices:

Above: Even if you’re not using Wi-Fi cameras, it’s critical to secure your wireless network with a strong password and encryption protocol.

Use the most secure Wi-Fi encryption: Make sure your wireless connection is configured with the WPA2-AES encryption protocol. This can be enabled on your home router, and most modern hardware will set it up by default. If you have an old router or home gateway, check it to see if you’re running an old, less secure encryption protocol.

Strengthen the password for your wireless gear: Don’t be the guy using “admin/admin” as the username and password on his router. Throw special characters in, use a long passphrase, and make sure it’s something that you can reset with a secure email address if you get locked out.

Check what’s on your home network: Using your router’s web interface or mobile app, you can view what devices are connected. If you happen to see something strange, be sure to look into it yourself or alert your service provider.

Don’t forget the actual cameras: If your cameras are connected directly to each other by Wi-Fi, rather than through your internet router, nefarious individuals can easily crack basic encryption and view live feeds, no matter how strong your Wi-Fi protection is. Make sure the password and security configuration for each camera is strong.

More WiFi Security Tips

Surveillance system vulnerabilities are far from the only reason your home Wi-Fi network should be secured. For five easy tips to protect your wireless network against common attacks, refer to our web-exclusive guide.

An Important Note on Backup Power

In my industry, cameras are no good if the power goes out, so we need an answer for that scenario. Homeowners may not have the luxury of a backup generator specifically for home security, due to the fact that such backups are typically used for refrigeration and heating or cooling the home. With that in mind, keeping your security system alive during long blackouts or periods of unrest could be the difference between safety and harm or burglary. During the Northeast blackout of 2003, many businesses in that region of the United States fell victim to looting and burglary when both analog and network-based security and CCTV systems lost power. This reportedly resulted in a rise in theft and property crimes.

Although it may be difficult to keep your system up and running during a long-term outage, it’s much easier to prevent this on a smaller scale. Most popular surveillance systems can be backed up by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). These systems are basically battery backups that automatically trigger, without lag, in the event of a power blip or total outage. A decent UPS used for computer systems can be connected to a DVR, NVR, or Wi-Fi router and cameras, typically starting at around $90. Granted, these systems may only be good for a few hours. Having multiple UPS units is a best practice, and can keep you up and running for over a day.

This is definitely a concern for enterprise-level controllers and homeowners alike, so if you’re so inclined, be sure to scout a good UPS system that can provide the electrical load that your system draws for at least an hour.

Awareness is Preparedness

Staying informed of potential home security threats, where they may come from, and how to respond to them are the first steps in making a short list of surveillance systems. Home security is definitely no joke in today’s landscape, and it requires careful forethought to set up your systems in an optimal manner. Taking the knowledge we’ve discussed and applying it to a setup that protects your most valuable assets — whether you’re watching live or not — can be tough, but you’ll be glad you did. There are many best practices for the operation of the system, but as an end user, it’s on you to make the decisions that work for you when selecting and setting up a system, monitoring and reviewing it, and taking corrective actions where you might have gaps. In the end, the result will be a robust security or surveillance system that makes you feel a lot better, no matter if you’re inside your home or thousands of miles away.

About the Author

Jim Henry is a physical security and surveillance expert who has spent his professional career working to keep people out of places they shouldn’t be and locating hard-to-find individuals. Prior to his current employment in the private sector, where he works in risk management, Henry was a government security contractor and surveillance investigator. Over time, he has built a diverse portfolio of countersurveillance, critical infrastructure protection, and cyber threat detection skills. Even though the specifics of his current work can’t be disclosed, Henry is passionate about topics such as emergency preparedness, family safety, and geopolitics.

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DIY Mask Material Experiment from Strike Industries

When it comes to protecting against COVID-19, the gold standard of respiratory protection is a mask that’s rated at N95 or better. However, N95 masks are also in high demand and short supply right now, even among medical and law enforcement personnel working on the front lines. This means that, as mentioned in the recent DIY mask article from No One Coming, we may forced to choose “the best of bad choices.” Still, this doesn’t mean that you should just grab a worn-out shop rag and wrap it around your face. Some kinds of household mask material are clearly better than others. Strike Industries set out to demonstrate this principle in a recent informal experiment.

Before we continue, we want to make a few things clear. Strike Industries is a manufacturer of gun parts. They are not medical professionals, nor do they claim to be. None of the following should be considered conclusive research or medical advice. This informal experiment was conducted to get a rough idea of the filtration efficiency of a handful of commonly-available household items, which might be used to make masks if no other supplies or purpose-built masks are available. The company wanted to gather this information to help its staff, their loved ones, and the gun community as a whole so we can all make better-informed choices in the event that we’re forced to make DIY masks at home.

The Mask Material Experiment

An N95 rating means that a mask is capable of blocking at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles during official test procedures. So, the obvious goal for any DIY mask material is to get as close as possible to this level of filtration, even if it can only be measured using a less-rigorous procedure. Strike Industries purchased a CEM DT-9881 Air Particle Counter to measure each type of DIY COVID-19 mask material at a duration of 60 seconds (2.83L of flow). The resulting filter efficiency was recorded for 0.3 micron and 0.5 micron particle sizes.

COVID-19-filter-experiment-01

In order to consistently attach mask material to the particle counter, the company modeled a custom material holder in CAD software, and used a 3D printer to produce the holder.

COVID-19-filter-experiment-02

Samples were placed into the holder, and held in place using four metal binder clips, as shown below.

COVID-19-mask-material-03

Tested DIY Mask Materials

Thirty different mask material combinations were evaluated, ranging from an ordinary cotton T-shirt to a 3M N95 mask. Many of these materials were tested in various levels of layering, since scientific research has shown that multiple layers of filter media can produce better results.

COVID-19-mask-material-04

Here’s a complete list of the mask materials that were tested:

  • Open air (control)
  • 3M N95
  • Medical mask level 3
  • V60 coffee filter – 1 or 2 layers
  • Swiffer Wetjet UPC 3700082729
  • Swiffer Dry sweeping cloths UPC 3700083060
  • Scott Shop towel UPC 5400075130 – 1 or 2 layers
  • 50% cotton 50% poly T-shirt – 1, 2, 3, or 4 layers
  • 100% cotton T-shirt – 1, 2, 3, or 4 layers
  • Bounty Advanced Kitchen towel UPC 3700074740 – 1 or 2 layers
  • 90% poly 10% Spandex T-shirt – 1, 2, 3, or 4 layers
  • Market Pantry White Coffee Filter No2 White – 1 or 2 layers
  • Dry Mop UPC 631517701939 – 1, 2, or 3 layers
  • Kirkland microfiber towels UPC 9661971316 – 1, 2, or 3 layers

Here are the results of Strike Industries’ experiment:

Unsurprisingly, the 3M N95 topped the chart with a 100% result, and was followed closely by the commercial medical mask at 98.49%.

The next runner up was a triple-layered stack of Kirkland microfiber towels, which produced a 92.94% result. However, the test log noted that breathing resistance is high, which might lead to leaks around the edges of the mask if it’s not properly sealed against the wearer’s face.

The second place for DIY mask materials was a triple-layered dry mop pad, which trapped 92.58% of particles during the experiment. The test log theorized that the static electricity effect of the dry mop pad maintained high efficiency despite this material’s low breathing resistance.

In third place was the Swiffer Wetjet at 91.39%, which features multiple layers of non-woven fabric and a strong static electricity effect. It is noted that breathing resistance was low.

Other Mask Considerations

Obviously, there are many other factors at play beyond the effectiveness of a DIY mask material. If the mask fits poorly, absorbs moisture quickly, or makes it difficult for the wearer to breathe, it may end up being impractical at best. The experiment notes stated that it may be best to avoid coffee filters, blue shop towels, T-shirts, and kitchen towels as a result of their poor performance compared to other materials that were tested.

It’s also worthwhile to note that the materials mentioned in this experiment will likely work best inside a stitched mask sleeve with a filter pocket, nose piece, and secure straps. This will allow the mask to fit the contours of the face and form a better seal. Mask holders should also be disinfected regularly to eliminate any residual particles.

Strike Industries covers a few other mask facts and tips in the following video:

Closing Thoughts

When Strike Industries reached out to us with this information, they clearly stated that they are not medical professionals and that this experiment should not be considered conclusive research. However, they wrote, “We want to have as much information to protect the staff and our loved ones. We feel we covered a lot of useful information, and we wanted to share with the gun community to spread the word on what you can decide to do to for yourselves.”

In an ideal world, we’d all have a huge supply of N95 masks set aside for times like these. But during the current COVID-19 crisis, we may be forced to turn to less-ideal solutions. In that case, it’s wise to carefully consider which household materials might serve you and your family best if you need to improvise some masks.

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