Tag Archives: security

Thoughts on Taser C2

Disclaimer: While I believe the Taser is not a product I would own or rely upon for my safety, I am NOT an expert. All of my information is based off the product marketing material, the Taser website, and conversations with Taser users (LE, instructors, etc). You should do your OWN research and make your own choices. The following rant is entirely geared around my own assessment for my own situation and the single case cited in the rant. YOUR situation is entirely different and thus my rant probably does not apply well to you.

Tasers are less lethal weapons. They are not 100% safe (safe being nonlethal), and cannot be. Any weapon capable of incapacitating someone in a semi reliable manner has the chance of killing. This should be drilled into anyone’s head before they use a weapon. If a suspect dies from a tasing, it should be reviewed in exactly the same manner that using a firearm would generate. Lethal force is lethal force, regardless of whether a suspect was shot, tased, or brained with a baton. “But I used a taser!” is not and should not be a defense. Mind you, I’m not saying an officer or non-LE person is automatically in the wrong if any suspect dies (regardless of method used), far from it.

Personally and professionally, I find Tasers to be not a good product. Not from a “don’t tase me bro” anti-police way. Bit of background, I’m a “security specialist” in a generic sense. Information security, IT security, physical security, etc. When I look at something, I ponder all of the strengths and weaknesses.

One day an acquaintance asks me about Tasers. She works with a lot of cash and occasionally has to transport it. Her company allowed and encouraged carrying a Taser. She asked me what I knew about them. Aside from learning about them in a basic sense back in the military along with other less lethal weapons for crowd control, I didn’t know much. Thankfully, there’s a EMS/fire/LE/etc supply store across the street. So I went across the street and learned more about them.

First off, two models. LE and a “civilian” model, the Taser C2. (The clerk didn’t like when I joking pointed out that police are civilians too, which was even more amusing.) I didn’t ask too much about the LE version, as my acquaintance was interested in buying one of the cute looking C2 models. The civvie model is light, curvey and non-threatening looking. It’s called the Taser C2, and is visually packaged to express the impression of “consumer electronics” instead of weapon. But hey, that’s just aesthetics. Nothing wrong with that. So let’s move on to why it’s a bad product that is dangerous to the user.

It fires a single cartridge costing $25, which contains compressed air, wire, barbs, etc. And allegedly some kind of micro-ID thingies that can potentially be used to identify a perp as well as the owner. There is no OEM training cartridge for the civvie model. Which means you CANNOT safely test the device unless you’re handy with electricity and know how to safely ground something conductive. There is no way to turn off the juice, so it is risky to test the Taser on anything that is conductive and improperly grounded. Besides it being insane to never being able to safely test and practice with an allegedly life saving device, why is this worrisome?

If you did not read the manual, did not test the device and need to use it in self-defense, you will quickly learn that you have been hauling around a $350 ish paperweight. See, the device needs activation.

I swear to the gods, I am not lying. A weapon that needs permission before usage. I find the concept horrifying, personally, but I guess certain folks would love it. Here is the proof: https://activate.taser.com/c2activation/ You must pay an additional fee for a private company to conduct a background check. If you do not pass or don’t activate the product, the Taser C2 is disabled. If the person processing the request makes a mistake or the necessary IT equipment malfunctions, you are out $350 for the device and another $10 for the background check. Since it is a private company, there is no oversight or accountability laws to govern its background checks. And since you can’t safely test it, you have no guarantee that your unit will function as it is needed to function. If you somehow can safely test the unit, it is $25 per functionality check.

Why is this? So if a felon buys a Taser, he can’t use it. Yes, that is the company’s exclusive justification for such a radical product flaw. Because no felon would lie and give false information to Taser’s activation folks, or pay someone else to activate the Taser. Felons are known for their scrupulous honesty and for never lying to suit their own needs.

Let’s ignore the fact that you also handed over your name, address, driver’s license and other deeply personal information to a company. An identity thief’s dream. I wonder how much they pay their data entry clerks? Enough that they wouldn’t be tempted to earn some side cash selling your information? This also assumes the company will not give out your personal information or sell it. Let’s also ignore the deeply offensive treatment of their customers. Each and every customer is treated like a potential criminal at best, and like a mindless child at worst. It is their company, and they can make a buck however they choose.

Well, let’s move onto usage. The design is only practical if you have one attacker. It converts to a “stun gun” if the cartridge is expended (and the unit is not disabled), which is a nice thought and only slightly less useful than having a heavy rock. It allows you to zap a person up to 50 times. But the official usage doctrine for the C2 is to press the button (the C2 model gives shocks in 30 second durations), drop the unit, run to a safe location and call 911. So following that logic… the manufacturer specifically suggests the unit is near useless against more than one aggressor. Unless you carry multiple Tasers, of course.

A $2 knife is starting to sound like a more durable, better designed and significantly safer weapon. I’d buy my acquaintance a full auto MP5 and pay an insane retainer to the sharkyist defense lawyer in the region before I could in good conscience pick up a Taser for her. Hell, I’d buy her a rock before I’d buy her a Taser. Thankfully, the tasteful PR DVD included in the product packet was enough to convince her that they are a really bad idea. It’s a dangerous, poorly designed, and hideously expensive weapon with limited functionality. She’s leaning towards a Keltec or a XD compact.

Physical Security Countermeasures

Doors

The three most common ways of illegally entering a house is kicking in the door, breaking a window and drilling.

Doors are the usual way of entering and leaving a residence. They should and do receive a significant amount of attention, but oddly, 90% of doors are poorly secured. Most doors sold in America frankly suck. They are either metal or wood. Ironically, solid wood doors are usually the more secure. Most wood doors are not solid one piece construction, but often cheap relatively soft light wood with an appealing veneer. Any wood door with deep sections cut out of the door for aesthetic purposes is not recommended. Most residential metal doors are a very light gauge steel of dubious quality. They are near universally hollow or foam filled. At the moment, there are no brand of doors that I would unhesitatingly recommend. It’s usually cheaper to make your own. Laminate a few sheets of decent gauge sheet steel, optionally adding insulation between layers. Glue on wood veneer for pleasing aesthetics. Use three or four decent hinges and the door should still open rather cleanly.

Even with the generally poor quality of locks on residential homes, often the locks are stronger than the door and door jamb. The most common occurrence when a door is kicked is for the latches of the doorknob and deadbolt to rip through the thin surrounding material or for the lock to rip through the door. There is a very simple and relatively inexpensive solution. Reinforce the door jamb. I highly recommend DJ Armor (http://www.djarmor.com), but other cheaper versions are better than nothing at all. Your reinforcement kit should include decent gauge metal to go on both sides of the door and a U shaped square of metal to go around the lock.

Here is a somewhat cheesy video demonstrating the product:

One thing that door lamb reinforcing kits will only somewhat help alleviate is a splitter. Basically, imagine a car jack, turned sideways. You crank the jack until the frame is warped and latches are no longer protruding into the door frame. The only solution is to have heavy structural material around the door. Good brick, strong stone, cinder block or concrete. It’s not widely used, as it’s not quick, requires specific equipment, very noticeable and not very subtle. There is a relatively easy if inconvenient solution, a cross bar on the inside of the door that well connected to the frames. It’s not a likely threat, so the solution isn’t really recommended.

If you wanted to be cost effective, you could install a more robust jamb reinforcement setup on one door and devices like “Door Club” (or any other door brace) on any other door. Door braces are pretty simple. You install a device that prevents the door from opening whatsoever when installed. They vary in quality, but they’re pretty cheap and work “well enough” if the door is reasonably well constructed. Downside, of course, is you can’t open the door from the outside and you have at least one hole in your floor.

A very obvious problem is any openings (or potential openings) within arms reach of the locks. Windows, especially. Same theory applies for mail slots, wide gaps between the door and frame. If this applies, buy and install a double cylinder deadbolt. This is a keyed opening on both sides of the door and no latch to automatically open the door. Many such deadbolts include a special “inside only” key. Most people just hang it across from the door, but well out of reach. This is a perfectly valid solution.

If the door surface is flush to the door jamb, it’s easy to shim the door. aka, the old credit card trick. Don’t actually use a credit card. A bendy piece of metal works better. You use it to trip the latch and make the door think it’s currently open. If this is truly problematic, you probably want a different door or door frame. A field expedient solution is to install metal slab covering the latch area. It can be sawed with relative ease, but it’d stop or slow a shim which ordinarily take seconds. Do not use a lever doorknob on the inside of the door if at all possible. They are significantly easier to manipulate with a wire or whatnot.

The most simple and cheapest way to help secure your door is the hinges. These are often overlooked. Use some form of security hinge. Non-removable hinges have a set screw to retain the pin that is only accessible when the door is open. Safety stud hinges have a chunk of metal that sticks out of one side of the hinge to a corresponding hole on the other side of the hinge. If the pin is removed from a safety stud hinge, the door cannot be opened due to the interfering stud. Crimped pins are riveted into place and the pin is not removable. Hinges, even really secure ones, are very cheap. $10 for top of the line hinges is not uncommon. Go insanely speedy on hinges, they’re very often overlooked.

Garage doors are another lovely weak point. Change any remote garage door opener from the default combination. Remove the emergency pull rope on the inside of the door if practical. If not practical, shorten it and do not put it in a loop that is easy to snag with a shim. When you are leaving for an extended period of time, disable the garage door opener, disengage the mechanism, and use at least one padlock on the door on the inside. I personally recommend securing any door between your garage and your house like an external door, but most people do not.

Ok, enough of that. Now onto the fun stuff, locks. If you want to go the cheaper route, buy any doorknob you like and install a very good deadbolt. You don’t want to reverse that. Doorknobs by their nature are easier to attack. For cheaper doorknobs, you can remove the handle with a set of pliers or a small sledgehammer, then use a screwdriver to turn the door mechanism. Even the best doorknobs are vulnerable to this, just requiring significantly more force or time until failure.

Deadbolts. I really, really recommend an Abloy. Obviously, I’m really into lock picking. I have never, once heard about someone picking or bumping an Abloy. Not even dubious second or third hand accounts. The only weakness I’m familiar with is a specialized drill head sold in Europe to licensed locksmiths, which is obviously and definitely not a “nondestructive entry” method. Conventional drills will work. Eventually. If they don’t burn out the drill…

Now, again, you get what you pay for. You can go with an Abloy cylinder in a third party deadbolt case, which is cheaper, $120 at http://www.bayarealocks.com/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=87 and is a ANSI grade 2. Or you can go whole hog, ANSI Grade 1 http://www.bayarealocks.com/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=28 or http://www.bayarealocks.com/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=28 Or you can take a step down and go with a Medeco. Medeco is first tier and it’d do you just fine. It’s used at the Pentagon, White House, etc. But it’s significantly less secure than an Abloy. Medecos are vulnerable to bumping. They are/were King of the Mountain, and folks REALLY threw themselves at it. The result is “Open In 30 Seconds” which is an entire book entirely on cracking Medeco locks. I don’t really recommend the BiLock deadbolts, though it is considered a first tier product. All three would do you just fine, I’m just being a security geek and pointing out theoretical attack vectors that are possible but pretty highly unlikely.

If you do go with an Abloy, you can almost always get your locks same keyed at little to no cost. You’d probably want that if you get a new knob set along with a new deadbolt. One bit of warning, GET EXTRA KEYS. If you lock yourself out, your locksmith is going to alternate staring at the door and staring at you. He’s expressly NOT going to be able to fabricate keys for you. That’s kinda the whole point. Oh, bonus, Abloy keys are interchangeable on the same platform. You can get any number of deadbolts, door knobs and padlocks keyed to the same key with ease. It just has to be the same line of cylinder. Elite, Protec, whatever.

Now let’s jump into the ultra paranoid realm for a second. I’m not advocating any of these, as it’s seriously overkill for any home. First is shielding. Even the best locks are vulnerable to denial of service attacks. Usually juvenile delinquents that insert glue into a lock. To prevent denial of service attempts and even more drill resistance, you want to combine an Abloy and a Drumm Security Geminy Deadbolt Shield. With a high performance drill, you might drill through both in roughly… hour or two. Mind you, that’s with the best drill and bits. A regular handheld? I dunno, eight or nine hours if at all. For even more security, Abloy offers various levels of key protection. For an extra couple bucks (per key, not per lock), you can buy a different key profile. If you bought this, only the original vendor and the factory have the replacement keys. No other vendor or locksmith could reproduce your keys. The vendors and factory would only release new keys under very strict procedures. Defense in depth. You could install a door jamb reinforcement kit on a bedroom door, and a no-key latch-only deadbolt. If someone were to break in, you’d gain extra time to secure weaponry or dial 911. Also, it is possible to remove peepholes from a door and install one in the opposite direction.

That’s enough on doors. Now onto…

Windows

First rule. Film all accessible windows or glass. If it’s on the ground floor, definitely film. If it’s on the second floor… Strongly consider it. I strongly recommend ShatterGARD (http://www.shattergard.com). Other security films may or may not be just as good, thoroughly review before purchasing. I extremely strongly recommend getting it professionally installed. It’s really easy (slap on, mist with liquid, squeegee) but you really don’t want to blotch the job.

Here is a mildly cheesy video demo:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_H_SNdO4_s

Windows are hard to give specific advice, because they greatly vary. Consider installing real locks on the windows. You can improvise on a temporary basis by cutting some wooden dowels to size to prevent the windows from being jimmied open while you’re gone. These are excellent: http://www.esmet.com/tufloclocks.html

You could get by with any hasp and a padlock if you wanted an ugly but efficient install. Line up the hasp, use a magic marker to fill in the holes, remove hasp, drill a thin pilot hole, line up hasp again, inject in some glue, drill in nice deep wood screws of good quality. Cyanoacrylate is great, but you need to move quickly and it’s very unforgiving of error.

Full length door windows = bad. Very bad. Immediately install a double cylinder deadbolt. Even a kwikset double cylinder deadbolt would a thousand times more secure than a single cylinder Abloy deadbolt in this case. You could film the door window and it’d be ok (but not good). Consider reinforcing the window frame. I’d recommend, if financially capable, eventually replace that door. Don’t even consider a door brace for the door with a full length window. If they can SEE the door brace, they’re going to go through the glass.

Conclusion

Work from the worst problems to the mildest. You do one bit at a time if you’re financially limited or pick and choose if you feel any of the above is overkill. Just always remember, physical security is only as strong as the weakest link.

Regardless of your cash level: Wooden dowel the windows when you’re gone, secure garage when you’re gone, immediately and without delay install double cylinder deadbolt if you have glass near the deadbolt. Security hinges are a must and dirt cheap.

Travel

I was reading Dark Arts for the Good Guys, as linked to by Ms. Tamara K..

Pretty good advice. Thought I’d toss in my own 2 cents on world travel.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, stick to tourist areas. Not “edgy” tourist areas you can brag about. Normal, boring, pretty tourist areas. Don’t go visiting areas outside said tourist areas. Most second or third world countries have tourism police and have a very vested interest in protecting foreign tourist trade from petty criminals. Not you personally. The tourist trade. Most likely, prices will be more than double in tourist areas and you won’t get an authentic experience. So what? If you’re on vacation, you’re burning cash anyways. Authentic experiences suck. Go with the Disney version. Less poverty, less bad food and food poisoning, less lack of hygiene, and the drinks taste better.

Hire a guide. Preferably a reputable guide connected to whomever booked your trip. Said guide will fleece you quite nicely. You’ll go to places where the guide gets a kickback or has a “friend” running the place. So what? If you hired the guide from someone reputable, they don’t care about the guide personally, they just want reliable service. Honest service is not required, so long as it’s not too bad for business. If you pick carefully, having a guide will make your trip significantly more enjoyable. When I was in Bulgaria, I hired an assistant history professor from a local university to give myself and my associates a tour of various historic places. Worth very penny, as I happen to like old castles and whatnot.

While I was in Sofia, I hired a guide/transport/fixer to take me to clubs, mafia casinos, black markets, etc. Not smart if you’re by yourself. Acceptable if you are with three other soldiers and you’re not all complete muppets. Just make sure one of you remains sober at all times and doesn’t drink or eat anything with the rest. Yes, the movie clique of doped drinks does happen. Or you could be ordering bad food or drink, requiring one person to not be projectile vomiting to make arrangements for a medevac. I made up for the costs of my guide by having someone who could haggle in the local lingo when I bought the mandatory useless crap to send back to friends and family in the States.

If your guide is giving you the creeps or bad vibes, ditch them immediately and get another. Your hotel should be able to swing you one in a pitch. Don’t ignore your instincts. On the other hand, be nice to your guide and don’t treat them like a serf. Gifts aren’t a bad idea, but use good judgment.

Don’t bring anything that cannot be replaced overseas. Your wedding ring? Leave it and swap it out for a cheap fake. Same for your watch, wallet, favorite briefcase, everything. Take everything you need out of your regular wallet and transfer it to another thinner wallet. Should just be ID, cash, two credit cards max (unless required for some specific purpose), limited number of checks (NOT the whole friggin book), etc. If your wallet gets stolen or misplaced, best to minimize the damage. Have cash. Keep some in reserve, but not an excessive amount. Don’t wear any jewelry made of gold, silver or precious stones. Not even fakes. Empty your luggage before packing. I mean, completely empty and quadruple check it to make sure it’s really empty. Put everything in your luggage in plastic baggies, smallest ones you can effectively manage. Try not to be clever and hide anything in your packed socks while travelling. After you land? Sure. Going through airport security? Not so smart. Write down all of the important information and phone numbers onto a cheatsheet. Photocopy it. Put one in your wallet, one in each piece of luggage, and put another spare in your carry-on. Include flight numbers, hotel, emergency contacts, embassy info, phone numbers for everything important, health information including blood type and allergies, insurance info, etc.

Carry some trade goods. Cigarettes are the best. Marlboros or Camels are prefered. Don’t go with anything fancy either. Batteries, semicheap watches, LED lights, etc are all good. Don’t carry too many on your person at any one time. Leave the majority of it in your luggage. Two or three packs of smokes on your person will likely get you by. Don’t use booze as a trade good. Don’t even think about touching drugs. It’s either really cheap crap or laced with something you don’t want.

If you are travelling on business, refuse to go unless the company coughs up for travel insurance, kidnap/ransom/extortion insurance and the services of a security/medical company. I have comprehensive membership through International SOS. Corporate membership is dirt cheap (relatively speaking), and can get the company a nice break on their insurance premiums. If you’re going to a country that has even the remotest possibility of going south, do not go without all of the above. Your company may already have it in place. If you’re going on vacation, strongly consider shelling out for it. If you’re going domestic, Western Europe or Australia, it’s not really needed. Anywhere else? You really should spring for it. It’s dirt cheap compared to your life.

Lastly, but not least, do some research on your destination. Learn as much of the local lingo as you can, even if it’s just a handful of memorized phrases. Look up the country on the State Department’s website, google around, etc. While it may be considered overkill, some companies do provide more detailed information. International SOS includes this in their membership, but companies like StratFor or Jane’s Consulting also have very useful information.