Spies Among Us


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Hacking, blackmail, intimidation; these are allowed, to a degree, by the state, but not in the civilian world. The vast difference between what is permissible for state versus private intelligence begs two vital questions: How worried should we be about former government intelligence experts operating in the civilian world?


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And, when the government no longer bears ultimate responsibility, who is watching the spies? Appropriately enough for a murky world like espionage, there are no concrete answers. According to Gary Ruskin, former director of the Center for Corporate Policy and author of the study Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations , we have very few hard facts regarding private intelligence. Everyone A Beautiful Perspective spoke to for this report agreed the impact of intelligence veterans in the civilian sector is hard to gauge. Ferraro of ForensicPathways, does not feel former spies pose any more of an immediate threat now than they ever did.

He said he has been contracted to teach espionage skills at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers and has organized many undercover operations for private actors.

Ferraro believes that the legal protections afforded private citizens, and the lack of sweeping governmental powers—lying to an FBI agent is a crime; lying to a private investigator is not—makes many former intelligence agents less effective when they step into the civilian world. Melman believes laws aimed at curbing civilian espionage are unnecessary. Furthermore, both Melman and Ferraro believe that the fact this article and others like it exist is evidence that former spies are not a lurking menace.

It would be difficult to write laws protecting single actors or nonprofits from being legally spied on without violating the First Amendment.

The same techniques an ex-CIA agent may use to dig up information on an environmental activist group could be used by an investigative journalist looking to expose a sweatshop. The consensus among the sources for this story seemed to be that the rise of corporate spies is not dire enough to warrant potential First Amendment rollbacks.

Spies Among Us - Ira Winkler - Bok () | Bokus

More exposure to sunlight may turn out to be the best protection. There are real concerns when powerful corporations and powerful people access the skills and abilities of former government intelligence experts and the turn them against potential victims of a crime and whistleblowers. Not only did they find a bunch of exposed cable wires which could have easily been cut , but they also saw that all the computers had been left unattended with usernames and passwords taped to their monitors.

In part three, Winkler offers ideas on how to tighten security in your business and in your life. To take precautions against hackers, phishers, spammers, and the like, he suggests a checklist he's dubbed "Ira's Four Golden Rules":. These rules are common sense "technical countermeasures. Use defense in depth that ignores the hype and is based on the conscious acceptance of potential loss. This way, you and your organization can keep your information reasonably secure for a reasonable cost.

In Part 2 of Spies Among Us , Ira delivers six case studies based on his experiences as a security tester. These are real-life stories of successful espionage leveraging the spy techniques from section one. Ira explains how the vulnerabilities were exploited so the reader understands ways to prevent, or at least detect, when it happens to them.

As you read these stories, or hear Ira tell them, you may swear it is your own company that was attacked. Each case study demonstrates the systematic, repeatable process used by spies to exploit expected vulnerabilities.

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These are employed by Ira as a security tester who simulates real-life espionage attempts against corporations. He walks you through the steps he took to gain access to internal facilities, systems and data, time and time again. He covers many technical and social engineering techniques that still work a dozen years later.

Ira ends each chapter with an in-depth discussion of the vulnerabilities exploited and ways to prevent it. This is of immense value as a learning tool.

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The last section of the book provides depth on ways to stop the spies from successfully infiltrating your organization and your life. Chapter 12 contains simple, low-cost countermeasures that should be in every organization, but sadly, still are not. Asking the right questions, like these, helps balance the risk-benefit equation. While these are still in use today, our technology and the processes used by spies to break it are much more advanced. All awareness training must be made personal and apply to everyone hearing it.

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It must be ongoing and almost ubiquitous in day-to-day operations. Ira concludes his book with a call to action. The amount of risk you accept should be a conscious choice, which requires actionable items to address each risk.

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He once again provides basic steps to begin developing a security program. Now that many organizations have one in place, this may be too elementary for seasoned security professionals. However, the ideas are a good reminder of security fundamentals that are often missed, and thus exploited, by the Spies Among Us.


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  • He succeeds in doing so. Ira wonderfully uses stories to make his points on how vulnerable we are and how simple it can be to thwart the spies. Readers should look beyond the dated technologies mentioned in the book to the timeless philosophies and concepts explored by Ira. These are the ideas every security professional needs engrained in their being. In speaking with the author, he is in the process of updating Spies Among Us , which will only make this book more of a classic in security literature.

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