Most of you probably don’t know that my day job is an instructor of digital security tools, techniques, and procedures. The company I work for provides training to a variety of military and intelligence activities. I am extremely lucky to have my job because I absolutely love what I do. I love teaching, and I love the topics that I teach.
In fact, my job grew out of my passion for digital security. I was hired, mostly on the basis of a blog I started five years ago. Most of you probably aren’t aware that I’ve also written two books and co-written three more, all on the topics of digital security and privacy. Most of these books have become dated and taken out of print, so I have begun work on an updated book called Digital Self-Defense. Below is an excerpt from the introduction, explaining how I came up with the title.
This book is very much geared toward the layman – not the security enthusiast (though the enthusiast will find something there, too). Though not many people in the self defense community share my enthusiasm for digital security, I believe the two are linked. Without further ado:
I titled this book “Digital Self Defense” partially because of my ties to the so-called “self-defense” community, a group of trainers, bloggers, authors, and very serious students that take self-defense with an extreme level of seriousness. As a marginal member of this group, many of those with whom I am friends and to whom I look up to as self-defense experts have seriously disappointed me. Let me explain.
The self-defense community is one that approaches the defense of one’s life with the total seriousness it deserves. They attend hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of classes to improve their technical and tactical mastery of firearms. The range of shooting classes some individuals attend is astounding.
At the most basic level, nearly all will seek to attain their state’s concealed carry permit. This usually involves sitting in a classroom for several hours. Sometimes it is followed by a range qualification. And of course, it is usually accompanied by the purchase of a firearm. A few of these individuals will become enthusiasts. They will take their skills to an incredibly high level.
The skills a basically competent self-defender is expected to learn include basic marksmanship (which itself is a delicate ballet of a number of discrete skills including stance, grasp, sight alignment, sight picture, and trigger manipulation), drawing from concealment, recoil management, reloads (which come in a variety of “types” including slide-lock/emergency reloads, tactical reloads, and speed reloads), clearance of the various types of malfunctions one is likely to encounter, and strong-hand only/weak-hand only shooting. And that’s just to achieve basic competence on a single firearm.
Most self-defense enthusiasts will also desire to achieve mastery with a rifle or shotgun (or both) for the defense of home and hearth. While some skills learned in their journey to handgun mastery are transferable, there are a lot of new skills to be learned. This requires additional training. At a very mature level on the spectrum, some in this community will also decide they need some additional skills. These include legal training to equip themselves for the aftermath of a self-defense event. Many will seek training in the use of less-lethal force and sometimes “de-escalation” or “verbal Judo.”
But it doesn’t end there. A select group of self-defense experts (those willing to leave their comfort zone and exert themselves physically) will also seek to become highly proficient at unarmed defense. They might spend several hours a week, maybe for years, in the dojo to prepare themselves. They may also attend a number of very specialized classes covering the employment of weapons in a ground-fighting situation, or fighting in a particular style.
I am not making this list in an attempt to make this community look bad. Quite the opposite! I have attended many of these classes including handgun and rifle classes, knife defense classes, and legal classes. I have not attended nearly all the things I would like to, and admire those who have achieved a higher (and in many cases a significantly higher) level of training than mine. But there’s a cost to all that training.
Attending classes is expensive. Tuition can range up to $1,000 or more, though most classes are under $500. As noteworthy trainers don’t travel everywhere, travel and all its attendant expenses are frequently involved. And then there is the big money pit: equipment. This is an area where no one has a problem saying, “buy the best stuff you possibly can!” The “best” stuff, or even acceptably good stuff costs a lot of money. Firearms (hundreds to thousands of dollars), ammunition (hundreds of dollars per year), support equipment like magazines, holsters, magazine pouches, aftermarket sights, handheld and weapon-mounted flashlights, etc. (hundreds to thousands of dollars) …this list could go on and on.
There’s also the time expenditure. Attending hundreds of hours of training costs…well, hundreds of hours. Beyond that it also costs travel time to and from. If training is to be of any long-term use, it also requires self-practice and self-study afterward. Those seeking a high level of skill at self-defense are willing to invest countless hours honing their skills.
Again, I write this not to belittle. I have spent many of the same hours on the same firing lines and in the same classrooms, and I will continue to do so. My disappointment comes in with the complete lack of awareness, preparedness, and effort where digital self-defense is concerned. The self-defense community isn’t any worse off in this regard than the populace at large, but the self-defense community isn’t the populace at large. They are a cadre of individuals with the ability to conceptualize threats. They have the discipline to train for those threats, and the willingness to purchase the equipment necessary to adequately defend against those threats. Yet they almost completely avoid preparing for much more likely digital threats. Why?
Almost to a person, the response I get when offering digital self-defense advice is, “that stuff is too complicated.” Take a look back at the previous list of skills. Just the technical skills involved in mastering a handgun are incredibly complex. Pile on operating a secondary weapon system like a rifle, unarmed defense, knife-defense, less-lethal force, and legal aspects of self-defense and now we are looking at a spectacularly complex skillset.
Were self-defense experts born knowing that stuff? No, they worked very hard to attain the levels of knowledge and the skill they possess. They read books, attended classes, talked to friends, tested hypothesis, and of course, attended more classes. Defending oneself digitally is no more complicated than learning well-rounded self-defense. With a foot firmly in both camps, I’d contend it’s maybe less complicated. In fact, I have exactly zero formal education in digital security; I figured it all out myself and made a career of it. If I can learn this stuff then certain you can, too!
Another response I get is one of disbelief at the suggestion of paying for security and privacy software and services. The same people that are willing to drop a thousand dollars on a pistol, holster, and some magazines balk at spending $50 or $60 a year on a security product. People who will drop $2,000 on a rifle – that is only an incremental upgrade over the rifle they already own – become appalled at the idea of actually paying for an email account rather than accepting abusive “free” email accounts. People willing to fly across the country to sit in two days of classes under an instructor they admire are unwilling to spend a couple of hours tightening up their digital security posture.
Once again, I’m not picking on the self-defense community. As one who identifies with and considers himself a marginal part of this community, I care deeply about it. I care about the individuals who make up this community and their well-being. But if this community – members of whom are willing to invest hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a year on security – does not care about digital security, who will?
So why is this community – the one that should be setting the example – so poorly prepared to defend themselves digitally? Honestly, I believe it boils down an unrecognized skill gap. Like a brand-new concealed-carry permit holder doesn’t realize he needs legal training, those with a hyper-focus on self-defense don’t realize they need digital self-defense training. They aren’t aware of the threats, and the consequences of those threats. Though they aren’t usually life-and-death threats, digital threats can impact you, your finances, and the safety, happiness, and well-being of your family for the rest of your life.
To be clear, I’m also not attempting to make the case that digital threats and physical threats are the same. They are not. But the self-defense community should be far more aware of these threats and their mitigations. Women are sometimes stalked, police officers are frequently the targets of “doxing” attacks, and domestic violence victims are sometimes located – all via their digital exhaust. A huge part of self-defense is avoidance, and a huge part of avoidance of targeted attacks is understanding digital threats and employing tools, techniques, and procedures to mitigate them.
There’s also another wrinkle here. Though digital threats aren’t usually life-and-death threats, they are far more common than physical threats. Most of us will never use our handguns in self-defense. That doesn’t mean we don’t carry them. However, all of us have the opportunity to deploy digital self-defense, so why don’t we also take a strong posture here?
That is what this book hopes to correct, for the self-defense community, and everyone else. Though I am not criticizing the self-defense community, I do hope to motivate some of its members into action. I have worked diligently to explain the digital threats and their implications. Of course, I have also included defenses against these threats. I have attempted to render everything as simple and understandable as possible.
Digital Self-Defense will be available this spring. I will let you know when it becomes available.