OPSEC is critical for survival, and not just in a post-SHTF scenario, it’s critical even now. Operational Security or OPSEC is a term that actually originated with the military and it refers to procedures for safeguarding important information and activities that are necessary for successful execution of military missions.
So if you aren’t involved in the military, you may be wondering why you need to worry about OPSEC. So what’s the big deal?
If you are prepping, you’ve probably read about or heard other preppers refer to Operational Security (OPSEC). The term OPSEC has in recent decades been adopted by the prepper community and it means something really similar to the military definition.
OPSEC in the prepper community refers to the things you do every day in order to safeguard important information from those who might use it to gain access to you, your personal information, your property, and yes, your prepper stockpiles and plans.
This can be anything from:
(1) information you communicate via email or your cell phone or just by telling your friends, neighbors, etc. about your preps (COMSEC),
(2) data that could be intercepted during transmission (TRANSEC),
(3) stored data that might be accessed electronically via the devices you use (INFOSEC), and (4) most importantly information about you and your routines (PERSEC).
When it comes to prepping, you have to understand that there are many kinds of information and data can be observed, tracked, and found both pre and post-SHTF.
What you do or the way you Operate (OPSEC) and what you talk about or communicate (COMSEC) can provide someone the pieces to put together and figure out what you have, where it is, what kind of security they might be up against, and when you will be away or occupied so they can get it without interference.
A Day in Your Life PRE-SHTF
Imagine for a moment that you’re a thief and you’ve been staking out a specific housing development of very nice homes. You drive down the street trying to decide which house is worth the risk. It’s just after Christmas, it’s garbage day, and there’s a huge pile of empty boxes out on the curb in front of one house.
You pull over and park so you can make a list of the items you want to look for when you make your move. Looks like a pretty nice flat screen TV, one of those new flying drones, and somebody got a new telescope.
You make a few more notes about new items to look for once you get inside. Then you google the address of the house. Using access to public records, you can fairly easily obtain the first and last name of the property owner.
So now you have the name and address of the person who lives in the house. You head over to Facebook, search for the name and city and presto—up pops Mrs. Tell All Smith’s Facebook page.
From her Facebook status updates you learn that they are heading to the beach for 10 days and she can’t wait, in fact she’s counting down the days.
And now so are you. As you sit watching the house, the FedEx truck pulls up and drops off several large boxes labeled Wise and Legacy. Those are popular survival food companies, you make another note, that stuff sells like hotcakes at the local flea market!
As you check out the yard, you see a prominent security sign in the yard near the front patio. You make a note to save the details on how to disable that system later.
There’s no fence and you have a clear view of the dog house near the back corner of the home. You make another note to bring a tranquilizer laced steak with you when you hit the house the night after the Smith family leaves for the beach. You take a fake clipboard and carry it your hand as you walk around the house, just in case someone asks you what you’re doing.
You see the garden, solar panels, and rainwater catchment system. You make notes to bring a truck and some help because you’re pretty sure there will be gear, guns, equipment, and MRE’s in the house, all of which will sell great at the flea market in the next town.
So all that information and more was gained just by accessing information about you online and by observing your home for a few short hours. And, you can bet when SHTF, that would be thief will be one of the first ones to force his way into your home because he knows even if he takes what you have this month, you’re a hardcore prepper and you’ll definitely restock!
Things That Can Be Tracked or Hijacked
As I’m sure you’re already aware, when you email someone, you have to expect that at some point in the future, anyone could be able to read that email even if they weren’t on the original send to list.
Your emails can also be subject to confiscation and perusal by any government agency just like Hillary and so many others have discovered recently.
The same goes for conversations and text messages on your cell phone. You have to expect that someone with the right technology can eavesdrop on your phone conversations or access your text messages fairly easily.
We’ve all heard the story about the baby monitor that was hijacked by a pedophile who was then watching and speaking to the baby in the crib.
What you might not be aware of though is that in today’s day and age, your cell phone can also be hijacked even when you aren’t talking on it and used by someone to listen in on your face to face conversations. Some of the apps available can even hijack your microphone when your phone is turned off!
How many times have you been on your phone and downloaded an app for a game, for Facebook, or another app and gotten that message that says you have to agree to provide them with access to your contact list, camera, and microphone?
If you click agree, you’ve now given that app access to control your phone and you are trusting that they will ONLY use that access to do things associated with the app but that access could easily be abused by the wrong people.
Ever heard of Gyrophone? It’s an app for Android that actually converts your entire phone into a microphone by using the vibrations in the pressure plates of the phone’s gyroscope.
So if your phone is lying on your nightstand while you’re talking to your spouse, someone could actually be listening to your pillow talk! Your phone has a gyroscope if the screen rotates when you turn your phone horizontally. Watch this video for more:
If you’ve done any kind of shopping online or with the use of credit cards at all, you already know that information can be stolen in a multitude of ways, many times without the thief even needing to physically obtain your credit card.
A Day in Your Life Post-SHTF
Now imagine a similar scenario as the one described above only now SHTF, and our thief is someone who is desperate and hungry. They’re walking down the street trying to determine which house is worth the risk and which house might have food and supplies they desperately need.
What will they see around your house? If your house in the only house with lights on, they instantly know you have solar or even a generator. You are immediately a target above other houses on the street that are dark. In a post-SHTF scenario, think about what a potential threat would see, hear, smell, etc. about your or your home.
Does your house look abandoned like the rest of the homes on the street or can you tell it’s being cared for and someone is still living there? Pay attention when you’re cooking food because the odor of smoke as well as the smell of meat or other food cooking will draw desperate people from some distance away right to your home.
The same applies if you have to go out into a public area. Just because you have water, soap, and other supplies at home, doesn’t mean you should go to town looking all clean shaven and well dressed.
It’s going to be very important that you blend in with everyone else who is starving and seeking food and supplies.
Otherwise you become a target and anyone unsavory person who is paying attention will follow you right back to your house full of supplies.
Who Would Want to Know My Information?
Actually the answer to this question is very scary because there are a multitude of people out there who would want your information if it meant that was something they could use either against you personally or use to somehow benefit themselves.
Nosey Neighbors-In most cases, your neighbors want to know information about you simply to satisfy their own curiosity and need for drama. They want to know what you’re up to so they can be the center of attention at the next PTA meeting or their next morning coffee chat.
In many cases, your neighbor themselves might be relatively harmless on a typical day, but you have no way of knowing what information they share and WHO they are sharing it with.
You also don’t know what those neighbors will do when SHTF and they are desperate. Nosey neighbors and who they share your information with can actually be one of the most dangerous threats when it comes to your survival preps and planning!
Identity Thieves-You’ve no doubt heard about identity theft, it’s a very real threat for every single person who doesn’t take precautions to safeguard against it.
Identity theft has long been a problem when it comes to financial security and if an identity thief gets hold of your information, you are in for a long battle.
Thieves/Thugs-There are also other criminals, such as thieves, who will use information they gather about you, your family, or your home, in order to benefit themselves—as we described above by stealing your stuff or worse kidnapping your child, or attacking you physically or sexually.
These folks are definitely a threat to your survival during a post-SHTF scenario as they will be the first ones to visit your home if they get even an inkling of what might be inside.
Authorities--Depending on your past behaviors and other factors including who you talk to or email and who they might be talking to or involved with, there are authorities that could be watching.
This could be any authority from zoning trustees, to local police, to FBI/CIA, or even homeland security. They may not even be watching you specifically, but just watching everyone for potential red flag information or watching someone that you are unknowingly associated with.
Political or Religious Nuts—These are those people passionate (and maybe a little unbalanced mentally) who may target you if they gain information that indicates you are a threat to their cause.
They may be watching your OB/GYN because he performs abortions at the same location where you go for checkups. It could be they are watching you because of the political sign you allowed to be placed in your front yard or the rainbow bumper sticker on your car.
Terrorists—If you’ve been paying attention at all to what’s going on in the world recently, you know that terrorists are probably the most difficult to safeguard from.
They have already proven that they will target people in general based on their race, home country, or even randomly based on attendance at a specific event or location at a specific time. Their attacks are often unpredictable, random, and violent.
What Data Do I Need to Protect?
There are four basic segments to the overall OPSEC category:
You are probably the most familiar already with the procedures for INFOSEC or “information security”. This involves procedures to safeguard financial information stored on your computer hard drive, your personal electronic devices, notebooks, etc. such as:
- bank account numbers
- tax information
- social security numbers
- credit card account numbers
Personal Security (PERSEC) is a lot of what we talked about in the scenario above. The would be thief above was able to gain a lot of information about your family and home and the contents just by observing for a few hours.
The boxes in clear view at the curb, the dog house, no fence, the security sign, the FedEx shipment, all of this reveals information about you and your routines to the bad guy.
If he had observed over several days, he would know the car or cars you own, how old your children are, probably your dog’s name (you or the kids call him by name to come in from outside right?).
It’s the information about your lifestyle, your habits, your assets, and your routines. For those of us who prep and anyone who might want to steal those preps, it’s the information about the fact that you are stockpiling, how much you are stockpiling, and where it could be located.
It’s whether or not you have guns or other weapons in the house, and how many children you have. Please get rid of those family stickperson window decals, they’re cute and all but they can make you a target for pedophiles.
But even more dangerous is the information that you can reveal during a post-SHTF scenario if you aren’t careful about what you’re doing.
Communication security or COMSEC involves what you talk about or communicate to others outside of your immediate group. This includes information that you share via the internet, your cell phone or landline.
It also includes those casual comments to the cashier at the surplus store, bragging to your co-worker about how many guns you have, or telling your neighbor about how full your pantry is getting.
It might not be that neighbor or that cashier or co-worker that comes to steal your supplies when SHTF, it could be THEIR neighbor or THEIR co-worker who remembers them telling the story about the guy at the end of Route 66 who’s prepping for the End of Days.
Many preppers may be unaware that the prepper community is on the radar for Homeland Security (DHS) and that the intent to defend your family by force if necessary can be perceived by DHS as a threat to national security.
Internet websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and survival forums are a huge threat to COMSEC when it comes to survival preps.
If you brag about your preps and your plans during a SHTF event and you use an email associated with your real name and location, your COMSEC has been breached.
There are people who can find out where you are by gathering pieces of information from different places and then putting it all together to complete the puzzle of who you are and where you are located.
For example, if you use a username and email address to register for a contest, someone can search popular websites for that username. They may then be able to connect the username to your real name and begin collecting information about you from what you post online in other places.
If you use the same password to register for contest sites or prepper forums as you use for your online credit card or banking accounts, your financial information is at risk too.
Transmission security or TRANSEC is more complex. It refers to procedures for the actual transmission of communication. For military operations TRANSEC is particularly important during field operations.
There are specific procedures to be followed when soldiers in the field are communicating via radios with their base of operations to prevent eavesdropping and safeguard detection by the enemy.
TRANSEC procedures involve:
- Authenticating communications (making sure the person you think you are communicating with is the person you think they are)
- Imposition of radio silence
- Authorization codes
- Changing radio frequencies and call signs often
- Cancelling or modifying transmission patterns
For preppers post-SHTF, safeguarding this information might involve a plan to alternate which radio frequencies you use to keep others from overhearing messages, the use of coded messages and call signs to prevent anyone from identifying who you are, use of Morse code, hand signals, etc.
Vary Your Routines
Most people who are watching or monitoring you are doing so trying to gain information about you, about your family, and about your ROUTINES. They want to know your patterns of behavior so that they can then determine the best way to interject themselves and make their move.
Because watchers gain their information by watching your routines, one way to deter them is by making sure your routine is varied as much as possible, all the time. So when it comes to preventing someone from knowing your routines, unpredictability and chaos is a great weapon.
- Leave your house in a hurry occasionally even if it’s not necessary
- Return later or earlier than usual when possible
- Stay away for several days at a time
- Instead of taking your car, catch the bus, ride your bike, or catch a ride with a friend
- Fold up those empty boxes and put them inside the garbage bin or down inside another box.
- Ask for deliveries to be left in the back of your house or another location out of sight.
Don’t make it easy for someone who is watching you for several days or weeks to determine when you will be home, when you will be alone, or that you come out at night alone on Wednesdays to bring the trash bin to the curb.
Take Precautions with Electronic Information
- If you must post photos to the internet, of your preps or anything else, disable location information on your smartphone first or transfer the photos to your computer storage device and then open in an application such as MSPaint and then resave them. Following this procedure for photos removes all EXIF data including any information about your location.
- For contest registrations online, create an alternate email with a web provider such as google or yahoo. Then make sure you modify not only the password but the username also for any contest or site you register for. Come up with an easy way to modify it such as adding a different combination of numbers into the username each time.
- Resist the urge to “check-in” at the hair salon, or at work every morning.
- Don’t post details about your vacation plans to your Facebook status and wait to post photos of you on vacation until you’ve returned home.
- Make sure all of your privacy settings are set to limit access as much as possible.
- Consider buying and regularly using an RFID case and RFID blocker wallets to safeguard against your devices or cards being accessed without your knowledge.
- Avoid downloading applications that require you to give blanket access to features on your phone and carefully read downloading instructions so that you know what is being downloaded to your phone or computer.
- Use incognito browsing whenever possible, clear your internet cache and history regularly.
- Make sure you use generic email addresses to register for forums and contests. Whenever possible, don’t associate your real name or actual location with these email addresses.
- Change your passwords frequently and never use the same passwords for online activities that you use for your online banking or credit card accounts.
There is really no way to completely safeguard all of your information but there are certainly a lot of things that you can do to protect your information and details about your personal information, your financial data, and preps so that you can avoid being a target for as long as possible.
I think you get the idea. Don’t talk or behave in a way that signals to other people what you have in the way of supplies and resources. And that goes for right now, today as well as post-SHTF.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.