[talk] Disposible computers

Thomas Levine _ at thomaslevine.com
Tue Aug 8 19:06:45 EDT 2017

George Rosamond writes:
> It all really depends on the threat model.  That should be the starting
> point, and not the technology and tools. What are you trying to protect
> and from whom, and how high are the stakes? That determines everything,
> including how much hassle you are willing to endure for a solution.

Breaking and losing my stuff is mostly problematic because it is
expensive and annoying to purchase and assemble it, and this is why I am
switching to disposible computers. One threat is thus the untrustworthy
airport staff working for airlines and airports who have strong
incentives to give you wrong information. Such staff have multiple times:

* confiscated my things that followed regulations
* broken things inside my checked bags
* given me wrong directions that cost me a lot of money

The other threat, which I am more scared of even though it hasn't
happened much to me, is that a government officer will create trouble
for me because I am suspicious or because I have commited some crime
that I in fact didn't commit.

I recently tried checking a bag in hopes that it would make things easier.
Of course, the airline representative gave me wrong directions about
where to pick up the bag, so it took several days to get the bag, which
was of course not easier. On the other hand, it turned out that
attending a programming conference with only my purse and the clothes
I was wearing was pretty okay. It really would have been nice to have
a computer, but I realized that I can add a second change of clothes and
a small disposible computer and still keep it to two purses.

I have not really concerned myself with surveillance by governments
because I think they have surely owned me by now if they wanted to.
For example, I sometimes run software without fully reading its source
code or installing it in a separate user, I usually don't cover my
keyboard when I type passwords in public, and I have never checked for
tampering with the electronics that I use.

Also, I think that government surveillance organizations must quite
incompetent at computing, just like technology companies, so I think I
am inconveniencing them enough by simply using slightly unusual
software. They'll own me if they try, but they'll have to exploit
something just for weird people like me, and that would be a lot of
custom work, not mass surveillance.

It happens that my setup might do pretty well against mass surveillance
for reasons other than obscurity. I can easily modify my setup such that
I can travel with nothing, not even the knowledge of the password that
I will need in order to rebuild everything.

But I don't really like talking about government surveillance because
I think the topic has become trendy enough that the discussion is
usually mostly a marketing tool at this point.

George Rosamond writes:
> Then there's always the most effective approach: don't bring anything,
> which I've read is even impervious to a full dd.

This is a very bad idea because your lack of stuff would make you look
very suspicious; even though they can't get your data, they can make
trouble for you in different ways. If I take only the things I need with
me, then I have few enough things I look like a drug smuggler. To avoid
fitting this profile, I have thus been carrying extra, otherwise
unnecessary, things in order to look less suspicous, and I have been
doing this even before I decided to switch to disposible computers.
It seems to help.

So, I think you should bring at least some clothes and one suitcase or
two backpacks. If you want to be safe, also bring a smartphone and a
very normal laptop with Windows or Mac installed (and without any data
that you care about). This would be very expensive and annoying for me
as I presently own neither of these computers. More importantly, it
would feel really stupid and wasteful to acquire two computers, clothes,
and extra bags just in order to avoid troubles at airports; it's better
just to avoid going to airports.

So it's not just about the stuff; you need to fit your profile into
something normal.

One problem for me is that I don't have a good answer for when a police
officer asks, "what do you do [for work]?" The true answers to this
loaded question are that are that I don't work or that I am retired
(in my 20s), and they never seem to like these answers. I am considering
writing a book so I can say I am an author or getting a part-time
normal-sounding job in order that I may give a normal answer.
So I suggest that you also get a normal-sounding job.

Another thing that makes me suspicious is that I am male and usually
alone.  When going through checkpoints, especially customs, it is good
for me to strike up a conversation with a similarly aged female so it
looks like we are a couple traveling together.

Part of the convenience of having only two purses is that it will become
more practical to walk instead of flying, so I will probably do that
more often instead. And even though regulations are pretty scary for
other modes of transit, I think they're the worst in air travel, so
I will probably take a boat for the next inter-continental trip.

Hmm I have gotten far off the original tangent of disposible computers.
I will some day write up my recommendations for safe air travel, but
note for now that bringing nothing with you is a bad idea.

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