I like to use the metaphor of growing a flower to discuss the issues of OPSEC. It works on a couple of levels and I hope it can help delver my points. You can’t use the same tools to grow a flower in the dark that you might normally: sunlight, access to water, fertilizer. You are human. You have needs. You need to eat, you need to sleep, you need to have a reason to do things that you do. Like the flower in the dark, our OPSEC may restrict our ability to feed our human needs.
Psychological human needs often get in the way of your operation.
- Self worth
The first step is recognizing that these are real, useful needs, and they should not be denied. Next we should figure out how to feed them. There are really two ways of looking at the situation to help you deal with them: Plan to ensure these feelings never happen or plan how to deal with these feelings when they happen.
I’ll discuss some of the issues as well as some recommendations but as you’ll see, my recommendations are in direct contrast to a good OPSEC plan. The first concession you need to make is that feeding these needs may negatively impact your OPSEC policy, but not feeding these needs could have much more serious consequences.
The Drought of Loneliness
Depending on your OPSEC and operation, you are lonely. You sit in your cheap flat, with your secure computer, and nobody knows that you exist.
Let me feed my ego a little bit and disclose an anecdote. I’ve spent weeks in locations not being able to communicate with anyone. If I am able to communicate, it is high latency and multiple days before a response. The lonleiness creeps in and as any tech savvy person in this decade does, they reach online for contact. A chat on IRC, darknet forums, whatever.
For me, the loneliness breeds different feelings; depression, laziness as well as a myopic focus on the task at hand. When you have nothing else to do, you go to work. Take care of the operation. Plan, review, and plan some more. There’s nothing else to do.
If your operation takes up a lot of your time, that’s a good way of keeping your mind busy but if your plans have lots of periods of inactivity, and you must wait for things before you can continue; you can’t be constantly watering your dark flower. This is when the lonliness creeps in and its best to recognize that this will happen and think of ways of fixing it.
Here are some suggestions that work for me and hopefully you:
- Meet people in an agnostic setting such as a book club, pub, or sporting event. Be weary of topics and information that are discussed but if you need human interaction, this is a good way of doing it.
- Find an out-of-band low latency communication network. Connect to IRC or Twitter from an Internet cafe. Ensure you’ve compartmentalized everything properly and you’re not using the same network connection as your main operation, but if you need to talk to someone.
- Make a friend. Yes this sounds simple or scary depending on the person but meeting a friend or partner you can confide in helps a lot. They might not be able to come over and visit you and you might seem like you’re a very private person to them, but sometimes having a short conversation about the weather is all you need to remind you that you’re connected to the rest of the world.
- Attend a public event. I’ve found that even if I’m not interacting with people, being a fly on the wall at a very large event makes me feel less lonely. Even a bit of eye contact helps make you feel better.
- Phone hotlines. I’ll be honest, I’ve never done this but a friend suggested it and swears by it. They suggested a suicide hotline but I feel that’s a bit crazy especially as these services are designed to track your location. Phone sex services are usually expensive too. If you can find some kind of free hotline service that lets you use your burner phone, maybe this is something for you.
The Sunlight of Self Worth
We know that your ego can get in the way of your OPSEC and all you can do is recognize that, be as disciplined as possible, compensate for what’s missing, and continue on. Your self worth is an inner conversation that defines you as a person. What are you good at? What are your best traits? Do you have a place in the world where you can deliver these skills?
You’ve likely met someone that has an inflated sense of self worth. They’re pompous about every thing they do and they aren’t afraid of sharing it. Understand that these people are trying to feed their self worth and the more obnoxious they seem, the more starving they are for external validation.
You may not be one of these people now but as your flower tries to grow in the shade, it will miss the warmth of the sun. You can’t just show off your operations in the light of the day or on a clearnet site. You can’t post on Reddit and read through the comments]to see if people like you.
Maybe you can. But let me say that in my experience, if you start questioning the value of your operation or your own personal self worth, you will start making concessions about what you’re willing to do or share to try and feed it. You’ll start thinking about chatting about it on IRC or Twitter and looking for something. Understand that searching for external validation is normal but make sure you stay vigilant about your OPSEC.
It’s hard to provide generalized recommendations for you. This is a question about your own personal feelings, motivation, and operation. Here’s again, IMHO, some things you can try:
- Make a blog! A bit tongue-in-cheek but if I’m honest, the entire purpose of this blog is to help me stay vigilant with my operations. The positive feedback is what keeps this going and at least makes me feel like I’m useful. I am in fact at this moment, attempting to feed my self worth. :)
- Meet like-minded peers. The term “community” is often nothing more than a circle of like-minded people aimed at validating each others' sense of worth. Join a community. Find people that do what you do and make some responsible disclosures while maintaining your pseudonymity.
- Share your results with the world. If you have an operation with an output that could improve the world, share it. Watch how good it feels to see that other people appreciate the effort you’ve put in.
- Be honest about your operation and if you really have come to the conclusion that it’s not worth your effort, shut it down. Do so in a controlled way.
Feeding Your Motivation
Don’t underestimate the need for motivation. At the beginning of your operation you will be very motivated. You’ll have goals and aspirations and you’ll be truly excited to accomplish your tasks. Without proper maintenance, these feelings fade.
In the best case, the result is that the operation expires. You don’t continue. It atrophies and you let it die but there are no real risks in you doing this. Some operations aren’t as lucky. If you don’t maintain the operation or shut it down cleanly, you put yourself at risk. What happens if someone finds out your ran the operation years later? Is there anything that might identify you?
Motivation is what feeds your dark flower. Without enough motivation, you will simply not grow, become stale, and eventually wilt away. How can we stay motivated:
- Start an operation, and write down exactly why you are doing this in the most detail possible. Yes this is a risky proposition but if you can keep it secure, it can serve as an affirmation on the days when you’re questioning whether you should be doing what you do.
- If your operation is related to some moral or ethical motivation, review the reasons you chose to do this. Read articles and papers about what made you want to do this in the first place. If you’re a hactivist, remind yourself of the bad things and why you’re trying to be on the good side.
- Limit outside influence. In contrast to the last suggestion, don’t read anything. Don’t let articles, comments, or TV shows suck out your motivation.
If you think all of these suggestions and discussion does not apply to you, let us at least agree that our physical and psychological needs are paramount. If you’ve spent hours on securing your laptop, network connection, and built an OPSEC policy, spend a few hours thinking about the meat bag that’s actually running your operation. I hope that this serves as a reminder to not only plan for the technical details, but also find ways to grow your flower in the dark.