Book Review: Among Enemies Counter Espionage for the Business Traveller
It is not often that I find a book that I just want to read right away and put everything else in my busy reading schedule down for. In this instance I have to say that this book looked good right out of the gate for me so I put everything else on the back burner. At 150 pages give or take, it was a quick read yet quite informative on topics of espionage and counter-espionage tactics and techniques for the lay person. What really got me thinking though was that this book really could and should be a part of every companies security awareness program and not just for executives.
Of course with the prevalence of today’s electronic spying (by hacking or by outright hoovering of all data by nation states) one tends to think that old school HUMINT (Human Intelligence) is no longer as useful as it once was. This is not really the case though and I want you all to consider that as you think about your security programs or your personal security. Not everything has to be some technical HIDS/NIDS/AV/Firewall end run to get you into the network today and much of the time in today’s world you can see this at play with the simplest of attacks against end users with phishing and spear phishing. Truly the human element is the weakest and the most powerful at the same time when it comes to the success or failure of security machinations. In fact you will hear it often spoken as an aphorism of sorts but it is true that the “insider threat is the biggest threat” and it is literally true. This is where HUMINT is still useful in not only gaining access to a network let’s say, but also much more if you can leverage an asset into doing your bidding.
The book covers all the bases on how differing types of “collectors” aka spies both private and nation state can and will attempt to elicit, recruit, or blackmail the would be asset into working for them. Bencie also covers the issues of personal security around yourself and your technology that you carry (e.g. laptops, phones, tablets, etc) that are leveraged for theft and access as well. If a collector doesn’t need to recruit the target because the target left their laptop in their hotel room, on and logged in, well then no need right? Suffice to say that today we carry as much information and access on us as much as in our heads and this is what the industrial spy or nation state spy craves.
Now, one might at this point be asking one’s self “Well, what would anyone want from me? I mean, I am not that important, just a cog in my company that’s under appreciated, no one would send a spy after me.” … and you would be wrong to think this. Access is access and if a collector can get access to you and your technology (e.g.your network by hacking your laptop or phone) then they will. While there is a sniff test that a collector will make on people as they watch them, much of the math here is how vulnerable is the target and how easily could they be manipulated into what is needed to succeed. Bencie covers many scenarios that may seem like spy thriller pulp but take it from me, these things have happened and still do. In fact he uses real stories to back up the scenarios from the people that they really happened to. These are not just the things of spy thrillers and film and the general populace should be aware of this especially if they are on travel for work, more so if they are in a foreign country while doing so.
Finally though, as much as this book is something I am going to recommend to executives, I would also like to turn my eye inward to the community *cough* that I currently am in. That community is the information security community specifically. We INFOSEC people are probably the ones that I would consider to be some of the juiciest targets in today’s technical world where everything is network oriented. Whether you are a red team person or a blue team person, you all have information inside your heads and on your hard drives that the adversaries would love to have. As we are moving into the con season (Defcon and BlackHat to be specific) we all will descend on Las Vegas for serious convention learning and exchange of info… Oh who am I kidding? It’s a party festival of drunken debauchery and shenanigans right? If you have not considered just how many corporate or nation state collectors (spies) are also there looking at you dear con goer as a possible asset, then you just ain’t thinking straight!
I am hereby recommending that everyone going to these con’s read this book and take it to heart that YOU are a target at these two con’s if no other. Take heed of Bencie’s suggestions on controlling the drinking as well as what information you share with anyone. I also implore you to read and learn about the methods of elicitation that the spies use to get information from you when you may have no idea they are doing it. If you work in this field and you hold what we would consider secret information on the vulnerabilities of companies you have hacked in a red team event, or have been trying to remediate as a blue teamer, this book is important for you. But hey, Defcon is all a good time! Until you wake up in the desert with a note threatening to release the pictures of you to everyone unless you do what they say.
Go buy this book. Read it. Live it.
All business is warfare so don’t be the next dead foot soldier.