Protect Your Data…And Your Privacy

Spencer Coursen | Security Expert | Protect Your Data and Your Privacy | Coursen Security Group | Surveillance camera peering into laptop computer

“The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home,” says Spencer Coursen, President of Coursen Security Group based in Austin, Texas. “So long as valuable data remains unsecured or poorly protected, there will always be those who are willing to take advantage of inherent weakness for personal gain. Protect yourself accordingly.”

security expert spencer coursen discusses privacy and protection of information
“The likelihood of someone trying to hack your information is much greater than someone trying to break into your home,” says Spencer Coursen, President of Coursen Security Group based in Austin, Texas. “Protect yourself accordingly.”

Steve Burgess recalls a friend who had just returned from a long trip to India. Six months in a monastery, and he had yet to link back to the hustle of an airport. Turning his back for a moment, he found his tote bag pinched.

“Total wipe out,” says Burgess, a computer forensics specialist who owns his own firm, Burgess Forensics, in Santa Maria, California. “Macbook, iPad, lots of cash … passport, ID etc, credit cards, hundreds of hours in work, hard drives (including backups), variety of tech instruments and devices, India iPhone, personal items and gifts.”

Cash, passport—even gifts are painful to lose. But they’re replaceable. Data? If not backed up, that’s gone for good. Think baby pictures, personal writing, even family histories carefully recorded and stored. Not surprisingly that many experts suggest you keep a second copy of important details and documents.

“Fires and flood, there’s so many things that can happen,” says Matthew Harvey, Communications Manager for IDrive, Inc, an online back up service located in Calabasas, California. To protect your digital Harvey suggests “a two-tier hybrid back up approach…back it up locally onto an external drive, and in the cloud.”

Good news for consumers? Recent price wars in the cloud storage industry have driven the average cost of a year’s storage in the cloud down to $59.95. For that price IDrive backs up every device in a subscriber’s home. Boston-based Carbonite, for the same amount, provides unlimited backup, according to its site. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo also have services that allow consumers to protect and encrypt their email and data off-site in the cloud.

Lock your data down

Once you have a backup system in place, consider encryption to protect your data from hackers. Many laptops, for example, come with automatic full-disk encryption so that if someone steals the laptop, they can’t get to your data. However, that can be inconvenient, plus full-disk encryption stops working once you log into your laptop. At that point, a hacker spying on what you are doing has full access to everything on the device. Of course there are also applications available to encrypt individual folders on a computer, so that even if someone does break in, they can’t get to your most sensitive data.

“Encrypting is a good idea, but you’re not going to talk people into that,” says Burgess, adding that really the only way you can be 100 percent safe is not connecting to the Internet at all.

That’s hardly practical either. Instead, Burgess suggests storing sensitive data and even credit card information separately from any computer that’s attached to the Internet. Instead keep that information on a portable thumb drive and physically transfer it from one device to another when you do go online. “Then nobody can get at it unless they steal your hardware,” he says.

Lighting, Battery Burnouts and Fido

Once you’ve taken some protective steps against digital thieves, it’s time to start tackling other potential disasters. Like your dog. Fido? He’s a shedder. And those hairs get into much more than your rug and couch. Leaving your computer sitting on the couch where your dog or cat also likes to nap can cause computer malfunction—and data loss.

“The biggest enemies of computers are heat, and one of the biggest things that generate heat is a blanket of dust or fur,” says Burgess. “So you want to vacuum that out from time to time. Also, keep the computer off the floor, out of the sun, and away from whatever you are drinking, he says.

Sure, your battery surge protector will cushion your computer from a spike in voltage. But from a direct lightening strike? Hardly. Again, backing up data is key here—particularly into a cloud and an external hard drive that you can keep unconnected to the computer.

Plus, backing up data doesn’t just protect you against natural disasters but man-made ones as well. Computers can get infected with ransomware, a type of malware such as the virus that recently attached Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, encrypting all the system’s files. Hackers demanded, and got, a ransom payment of $17,000 worth of bitcoin to decrypt the hospital’s patient files. Regularly backing up to the cloud instead could have said them not just money—but time.

This article first appeared in GearBrain: 

Spencer Coursen is the President of Coursen Security Group. He is an expert security consultant, threat assessment advisor, and protective strategist who is dedicated to reducing risk and preventing violence. His systems and strategies help large corporations, small businesses, schools, and private families to ensure the certainty of safety for all involved.

Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.


Diving Into The Deep Web

Deep Web | Coursen Security Group | Spencer Coursen | Internet Anonymity

Whenever you “Google” something, the search results are based on  key-word association and content that has been referenced by other popular sites. For many, this is more than enough. For others, it may be helpful to understand what lies below the skimmed surface of a standard search.

Just be sure to look before you leap.


Surface Web refers to content that is available through search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.. This is information that is “linked” throughout the internet.

Standard search engines have created technologies that “crawl” through websites and index them as a way for users to identify pages of interest.

Search engines return the most popular links, not necessarily the most valuable content.

Surface Web results are geared toward generic search queries like:

“Movie Times 10019”

“Top Restaurants NYC”

“Best Bar in Vegas”


The internet is built around web ages that reference other web pages. If you have a destination web page which has no inbound links it becomes “concealed” and it cannot be found by users or search engines. One example of this would be a blog posting that has not yet been published. The blog post may exist on the public internet, but unless you know the exact URL, it can be difficult to find.

There are several “Deep Web” search engines which exist to help locate information related to specific queries like: “How many grants were issued for AIDS research in NYC in 2014.”

Beyond Google

56 Authoritative, Invisible, and Comprehensive Resources


A website that archives older websites that are no longer available on the Internet. For example, Alexa has about 87 million websites from the 2000 election that are for the most part no longer available on the Internet.

Direct Search

A list of hundreds of specialty databases and search engines. No longer maintained, but still perhaps the most complete list of the deep web.


Breaks your results down into categories – general web, blogs, news, academic, cloud, metrics, research, etc. This allows you to quickly focus on the best results to your query.


Refers to a subsection of the deep web which requires special TOR software to view content that has otherwise been concealed from the “public” internet.

Understanding TOR

Understanding TOR | Deep Web | Coursen Security Group | Spencer Coursen | Internet Anonymity

TOR – The Onion Router – known by its acronym TOR- refers to the process of removing encryption layers from internet communications, similar to peeling back the layers of an onion. TOR offers an anonymous connection to the Deep Web. It is, in effect, the Deep Web search engine.

TOR was developed by US Naval Intelligence to allow for anonymous and untraceable communication via the internet. Intelligence agents, law enforcement officers, and political dissidents in foreign countries with oppressive governments are trained in it’s use by the State Department.

The anonymity offered through TOR created a breeding ground for criminal elements who are taking advantage of the opportunity to hide illegal activities. Silk Road (Shut down by the FBI just last year) forged the illicit online structure and business model for how an illegal marketplaces could operate via it’s own anonymous currency (Bitcoin) in the deep web with the certainty of anonymity. Everything from murder-for-hire, to hackers, to child sex crimes, once limited to back alleys could now move freely throughout a global marketplace. Since the shutdown of Silk Road, many other blackmarket bazaars have sprung up in it’s place: TOM, Agora Beta, and Evolution to name a few.

The TOR Project is a non-profit organization that conducts research and development into online privacy and anonymity. It is designed to stop people, including government agencies and corporations, from learning your location or tracking your browsing habits. Based on that research, it offers a technology that bounces internet traffic through “relays” which are hosted by thousands of volunteers around the world. This makes it extremely hard for anyone to identify the source of the information or the location of the user.

Deep Web Links – TOR (.onion site list)

Who uses TOR?

The TOR project team say its users fall into four main groups:

  • Normal people who want to keep their internet activities private from websites and advertisers
  • Those concerned about cyber spying
  • Users evading censorship in certain parts of the world
  • Those engaged in black-market commerce (illegal, drugs, weapons, gambling, hacking, child porn, etc.)

The Dark Side of TOR

The cloak of anonymity provided by TOR makes it an attractive and powerful tool for criminals. NSA documents have described it as, “Very naughty people use TOR.”

TOR can not only mask user identity, but it is also able to host websites via its “hidden services” capabilities. This means sites can only be accessed by people on the TOR network. This is the so-called “dark web” element, and it’s not unusual to see TOR pop-up in stories about a range of criminal sites.

How TOR Works | Spencer Coursen | Deep Web

TOR | TOR Nodes | How TOR Works | Spencer Coursen | Coursen Security Group


TOR | Deep Web | Spencer Coursen | Coursen Security Group

SAMPLE: Agora Beta

TOR | Deep Web | Dark Web | Agora Beta | Spencer Coursen | Coursen Security Group


TOR | Deep Web | Dark Web | TOM Market | Silk Road | Spencer Coursen | Coursen Security Group

SAMPLE: Evolution

TOR | Deep Web | Dark Web | Evolution | Silk Road | Spencer Coursen | Coursen Security Group

Why is this a big deal?

A new report from the U.S. Treasury Department found that a majority of bankaccount takeovers by cyber thieves over the past decade might have beenthwarted had affected institutions known to look for and block transactionscoming through TOR, a global communications network that helps users maintain anonymity by obfuscating their true location online.

In the report, released on Dec. 2, 2014, FinCEN said it examined some 6,048 suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by banks between August 2001 and July2014, searching the reports for those involving one of more than 6,000 known TOR network nodes. Investigators found 975 hits corresponding to reports totaling nearly $24 million in likely fraudulent activity.


But the Deep Web isn’t all bad either…

Beyond the realm of consumer searches, Deep Web technologies may eventually let businesses use data in new ways. For example, a health site could cross reference data from pharmaceutical companies with the latest findings from medical researchers, or a local news site could extend its coverage by letting users tap into public records stored in government databases.

This level of data integration could eventually point the way toward something like the Semantic Web, the much-promoted — but so far unrealized — vision of a Web of interconnected data. Deep Web technologies hold the promise of achieving similar benefits at a much lower cost, by automating the process of analyzing database structures and cross-referencing the results.

“The huge thing is the ability to connect disparate data sources,” said Mike Bergman, a computer scientist and consultant who is credited with coining the term Deep Web. Mr. Bergman said the long-term impact of Deep Web search had more to do with transforming business than with satisfying the whims of Web surfers.




Security Expert Spencer Coursen specializes in threat assessment protective intelligence and vulnerability reduction. Coursen Security Group Logo.