Operations Security, or OPSEC, is the name of a process that helps you identify vulnerabilities and develop countermeasures. In other words, it’s a way to reduce risk to you and your loved ones.
Originally, OPSEC was practiced by the military. However, today’s it’s something that’s used by not only the military, but also businesses, law enforcement, and anyone else that needs to protect their plans or information. One important piece of OPSEC is identifying indicators.
An indicator is an action or information that can be detected and used to give away your plans. Sometimes, it’s not enough information by itself, but it’s one piece of the puzzle that can give away your plans. For example, hanging up the phone very quickly when someone walks into the room is a good indicator that you’re talking about something you want to keep from them. Removing clothes and important documents is a good indication that someone’s planning on leaving.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid creating indicators. When that’s the case, it’s important to think about ways that you can explain them or hide their meaning.
There are five characteristics of indicators to consider. Understanding these will help you to consider what indicators you may be creating in your daily life.
A signature is something that causes an indicator to be identifiable and stand out. If the signature is unique and stable, it makes it more interesting and useful to the observer. When something is constant and repeated, someone noticing it might be able to predict future actions. For example, making a phone call to the same number at the same time every week might be something that would be looked into. By varying your patterns, you can interrupt the stability and increase the ambiguity.
An association is a relationship between an indicator and other information or activities. Humans are wired to look for patterns, so when something new is associated with something we already know, the brain tends to key in on it. For example, if you greet someone in public and they say it was “great to see you the other day,” and an observer knows that person is a travel agent, it may be reasonable to infer that you are planning to travel. Like many indicators, that might not be enough information to go on alone, but it may warrant additional questions.
An association may also take the form of a pattern. For example, if you always fill up your gas tank, check the tires, and top off all the fluids right before a long trip, someone might assume you’re about to take a long trip if they see you do those things. This can be countered by knowing yourself and the patterns you set, then varying the associations wherever appropriate.
A profile is what you get when you match multiple signatures together. It’s when you see more than one thing put together, which gives you a good idea of what’s going on. Driving down the beltway in Washington D.C., you’ll reach areas where everyone starts to slow down (even more so) for some reason. It’s because they saw a white SUV parked by the side of the road, which is right near a port-a-potty. Whenever you see those things together, you know there’s a speed camera right up ahead. People have noticed that profile and they know what it means.
A contrast is what you have when there’s a change- a difference between an established pattern and what’s going on now. These are considered to be very reliable indicators because they’re a reliable sign that something’s going on or has changed. An example of a contrast is leaving for work or getting home at different times, or the presence of vehicles that weren’t previously there. When noticing a difference, the observer will start to wonder what it might mean and to see if it’s a one time or repeated change. When you’re planning a major change, it’s important to keep your contrasts to a minimum. Whenever possible, this also includes changes in mood and outlook.
The exposure of an indicator refers to the length of time and the timeframe in which an indicator can be observed. The longer it can be observed, the more likely it is to be noticed and built in the profile. If it can only be observed for a short period of time, it’s less likely to attract attention (unless it’s repeated often). Whenever you have to make a change or do something that can be observed, try to keep the exposure as short as possible.
By understanding indicators, you’ll be more aware of what patterns you’re establishing or deviating from. You’ll be able to think about the things that you do and the actions you take and consider what that might meant to someone that may be watching. You don’t have to spend a lot of time analyzing your plan and daily activity for indicators, but keep this information in mind and you’re more likely to be successful in any venture.