“Situational awareness”, I am sure at one point or another you have heard the term. But what does it mean to truly be “situationally aware”? I think that is a loaded question and needs to be focused. It is not the same for everyone, there are many factors to consider; environment, exposure level, celebrity status, specific vs general threat considerations, the list goes on. However, I think understanding the “why” here is particularly important. In addition, while situational awareness is a fluid term from person to person, I will be outlining some diamond absolutes that you can easily change with little to no impact on your daily routine. This is going to be a multi-part series done by myself and the team here at Sparrow Security Solutions, and at the end of it I hope it changes the way you view everyday actions and identify just minor changes you can make in your day-to-day activities that will greatly increase your security posture.

“Have you seen my keys?”

Our individual backgrounds at Sparrow are what separates us from the rest of the companies in the industry, but there is a lot of overlap in training/experience as well. Many of us have backgrounds/training as “Covert Entry Specialists” or a myriad of other titles describing the same skillsets. In short, we are trained to gain access to areas that have safeguards that SHOULD keep us from getting in (these very rarely work, we are a determined bunch). Now we apply this knowledge in our residential home assessments where we will come in and look at your home as a “target” and then tell you what we would exploit to gain entry and then what steps to take that removes that option from anyone who might intend to do the same, only with bad intentions.

We all have three things we carry every single day: Phone, keys, wallet. Now I know I can venture a guess and say most of you would not toss your wallet on a counter or table at a public establishment. That is simply crazy, someone can swipe it and then they would have access to credit cards, your address, etc. But I would be willing to bet you are much more likely to toss your keys on the bar top.

Today’s cellphones boast HD quality cameras, 12 or more megapixels. Now indulge me for a moment; you are seated at table 6, I purposely sit at table 2 so that I could use my “trip to the restroom” to serve as a reason to  pass your table without raising suspicion or becoming an “anomaly” (remember this word because you will see it a lot in the next article). As I pass, I take a few pictures of your keys. Later I enlarge the photo and study what I find. A trained individual could discern a ton of information from that photo (gym tag, lock types, work location, etc.) and even make a copy of every key on that ring… which includes your house key. Moral of this story, do not EVER leave your keys out in public.

“I love technology!”

“You don’t know what you don’t know”, a great quip said to me years ago and I have used it ever since. If you do not know of an ability, how could you be expected to make decisions to protect yourself from it. Well that is where we come in. Where do a lot of people put their key hangers, basket, bowl, etc.? Well by the door of course, and why not it makes sense. Maybe you even posted a video on social media of you surprising someone in the house on their birthday… showing everyone your car keys hanging there neatly by the door as they walked in (using social media as an intelligence source). Well now I just found my “target”. Most newer model vehicles have push button ignitions which require the key fob to be in close enough proximity to start the vehicle. These devices use short-range radio transmitters to complete this task. Now a new form of technology goes even further, and if the key fob is on your person, you can simply grab the handle and it will unlock for you. Now don’t get me wrong this is convenient, and I use it constantly, but it could spell disaster from a security standpoint. We call this “exploitation of design”. In the following video you will see two individuals using a signal amplifier to boost the range of the RF signal from the key fob, allowing them to gain access into the vehicle by exploiting that unlock feature we discussed. Once they are in, they keep the signal boosted, start the vehicle, put it in drive, and off they go.

Crazy right? But not to worry, you have us remember. So how can we stop this, how can we make ourselves more situationally aware and make simple choices based on the information we now have. Well the most obvious is parking in the garage, but maybe you have more cars than your garage can fit. Easy, do not have your keys close enough to the door where the signal can be picked up and amplified. A step further, allow me to introduce the faraday bag. I recommend these all the time for clients when traveling internationally, I use them myself daily. They are bags which block all signals from reaching in or out to whatever device is in there. You can place your keys in one of these bags and keep them as close to the door as you want, they are not going to hijack the signal with it in there. They are easy enough to find on Amazon, “Mission Darkness” makes particularly good ones of various sizes, I have them for my phone and laptop. I am in no way affiliated with them, I just think they make an excellent product and I use them personally.

The big takeaway here is that your keys should be considered just as valuable if not more so than your wallet. From a security standpoint, as a covert entry specialist, I would much rather have access to your keys than your wallet. Like I mentioned earlier we do not even need physical access, just a good enough angle and view. Situational awareness is something that should be practiced every day. Identifying the anomalies in your environment after you have established the “baseline” or norms.  I won’t steal the thunder from the next article but be sure to check that one out because it will really go into detail about overall situational awareness and how your mind handles it.