You’ve examined a variety of attack vectors and ways to close them off. In observing their patterns, you’ve learned the weak points that are exposed inherently online, and thus require intervention.

You’ve learned that any software or operator handling your communication controls it. Information security comes down to breaking this hold. To do that, you either excise intermediaries when that is possible, or you encrypt your connections through them when it isn’t.

In the process, you also discovered that humans are bad at devising truly random outputs, so you can’t assume that passwords your brain thinks up are random enough. Our most glaring weakness is our tendency to trust our instinctual assessments automatically. This normalcy bias also lowers our guard when people request sensitive information.

Category 2 adversaries are nothing to sneeze at, but their resources are finite. If you armor up enough, they will give up, and move onto an easier comparable target.

In confronting the threat of category 3, everything you have learned ratchets up to a whole new level of paranoia. Category 3 adversaries have functionally unlimited resources for pursuing top targets.

Often called “nation-state actors” or “advanced persistent threats” (APTs), they have tax revenue, national sovereignty and the law behind them.
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First, the guidance in this part of our series almost certainly doesn’t apply to you. You may find it interesting, and you probably will gain from it. However, statistically, you will never face this level of threat.

If for some reason this guide does apply to you, you are going to need significantly more help than I can provide. At present, I would fail at fending off a nation-state. I don’t know anyone who could resist one for more than a month or two, either.

Rather than taking this guide as the authoritative word on defense against nation-states, use it as a jumping off point for further research. I recommend studying the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense manual next, followed by the Open Source Society University degree track.

There are many more worthy resources you should consult, but these are a modest start. As the volume of information implies, you need a thorough computer science background to stand a chance.

Second, even if you practice only the techniques that this piece presents, your operational security (OPSEC) must be impeccable. That is, you will probably fail.

OPSEC is your discipline in following the security controls prescribed by your threat model. As I noted at the outset of this series, security comes at the cost of convenience, and when you are facing the ultimate threat, the sacrifice of convenience is total.

That’s why the best OPSEC practitioners keep their pursuers at bay only for a few years. So, have a contingency plan for when you fail. Only you will know what that looks like.

So who does this installment apply to? National security or international affairs journalists, for one. This goes doubly for those reviewing classified information or sensitive sources. Secrets are invaluable to nation-states, and they will stop at nothing to hunt down those that leak out.

High-profile political dissidents also can find themselves in nation-states’ crosshairs. These dissenters advocate policies that governments view as extreme enough to justify silencing by any means.

Finally, military technology researchers should anticipate category 3 attacks. Nation-states compromise engineers developing sources of military or economic advantage all the time, so they can glean a copy of the work and level the playing field.

Trust No Ones – or Zeroes

It’s important to understand “trust” in computing. Here, trust is bad. Specifically, trusting something, like hardware or software or the entity that maintains it, means you have to trust it with handling your data. In a trust relationship, you can’t defend against whatever you’re trusting: You can only hope it doesn’t betray you.

Instead, adopt a no-trust posture. Without trust, you don’t have to trust some entity that touches your data. You reach this posture by implementing measures ensuring you’re not harmed if the entity tries undermining you.

End-to-end encryption is an example of obviating trust. A VPN, for instance, renders an ISP incapable of snooping on you, so you don’t have to trust it.

To stave off category 3, the number of entities you trust must be zero.

Your Adversaries Are in the Army Now

Government adversaries are extremely dangerous because they bring a government’s resources to bear.

They have enormous budgets. Deep pockets allow APTs to staff dedicated agencies with hackers. They can afford expensive toys, like supercomputers for brute force attacks, or zero-day vulnerabilities (found on the gray market) for crafting custom exploits.

2 thoughts on “How to Stay Safe on the Internet, Part 4: Fighting the Power”
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