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Mutualink Partners with School Safety Expert to Improve Emergency Preparedness

October 31st, 2015 | School Safety, Security

By: Amanda Vicinanzo
Senior Editor, Homeland Security Today
10/29/2015 (6:46pm)

Two 15 year old boys from Lincoln Way East High School located in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, were charged Wednesday after allegedly posting threats about a school shooting to social media. The boys were taken into custody and the police said the teens issued statements indicating they did not intend to harm anyone.

Although the boys’ posting was likely a hoax intended to get another student in trouble, threats to school safety like this one immediately call to mind tragic school shootings that weren’t stopped, from Columbine to the 2013 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Dedicated to improving school safety in the wake of incidents like these, Mutualink Inc., an interoperable communications provider, announced a new partnership with school safety expert Bill Smith to collaborate on ways to improve schools’ preparedness and response in emergency situations through advanced communications technology.

Smith, a founding member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com and principal of Jennings Smith Associates, brings over 30 years of experience in school safety and security issues to the new partnership. Smith’s licensed security consulting firm, Jennings Smith Associates, Inc., provides comprehensive safety and security audits, training and instructional modules for implementing all hazards safety, security and emergency management plans in school districts.

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Private Investigator Rules of Engagement

July 15th, 2015 | Ethics

The scales of justice.

Part 1: Legal and Ethical Responsibilities in Accepting Assignments

From The Rockford Files to Magnum, P.I. till today’s top private investigation TV series, private investigators have been successfully promoted as arbiters of truth, who work tirelessly to uncover the facts for their clients. On the same token, however, pop culture has ingrained several misconceptions about private investigators in the public eye. Although we want to believe that investigators often discover essential evidence or catch perpetrators acting unlawfully within minutes of surveilling subjects, it simply does not happen that way — not even in the black-and-white era of television! And, while it is entertaining to see fictional investigators engage in high speed car chases, use firearms, bug phones, and enter businesses and private residences illegally, reality ordains that private investigators are ordinary citizens who must abide by laws and regulations, both State and Federal. Furthermore, ethical issues establish even broader limitations as to the methods employed by investigators (but don’t let the cold hard reality deter you from your favorite P.I. TV series)!

One of the most crucial things to know before presenting a case to a licensed private investigator is that we cannot, under any circumstance, break the law. That means if you request that we violate any local, state or federal regulations, or push the boundaries of the law to any degree, in order to investigate your subject of interest, we will not be permitted to involve ourselves in that transgression — both legally and ethically. Private investigators are constrained under the same governing laws as the ordinary citizen, and cannot commit criminal acts to obtain any type of information. Unfortunately, we are not, by any means, exempt from legal consequences. In fact, conducting an investigation unlawfully would potentially carry even more negative implications for private investigators than it would for the ordinary citizen, as it would also mean jeopardizing our licenses and permanently ending our careers.

Although license disqualifiers may vary by state, majority of states will disqualify an individual from even applying for a PI license if any of the following apply to you, according to the Detective Training Institute:

  • Have ever been convicted of a felony, whether or not your conviction was subsequently set aside, and your Civil Rights were restored.
  • Are currently under indictment for a felony, or named in an outstanding arrest warrant.
  • Have been convicted of any misdemeanors involving personal violence, misconduct with a deadly weapon, dishonesty or fraud, arson, theft, domestic violence, narcotics, or sexual misconduct within the last five years preceding your application.
  • Are on parole, community supervision, work furlough, home arrest, or release.
  • Are on probation pursuant to a conviction for any act of personal violence or domestic violence¹

It is our mission to emphasize that breaking the law is not in our job description, and it is not something in which we will engage — not only because of the legal consequences as stated above, but also because our firm operates with integrity and functions within strict ethical parameters. If a client calls with a proposition, we first inquire about his or her relationship to the subject of interest, and then we question the underlying motivation for the investigation. If no attorney-investigator relationship exists, and no subpoenas are presented to our firm, we will not be able to breach the subject’s privacy, as defined by the law. That leads us to a simple list of actions that should not [would not legally] be taken by private investigators with professionalism.

What WON’T a professionally licensed and credentialed Private Investigator do for an assignment without subpoenas or consent of the subject of interest?

  • Break the law — simple, but widely misunderstood!
  • Record any conversations or actions without full disclosure (e.g. no wiretapping or installation of covert audio/video devices).
  • Obtain bank account information of businesses or individuals without a lawful court order.
  • Obtain cell phone records, text messages, or provide cell phone spyware.
  • Hack computers.
  • Use pretext, or act in a deceitful manner, in order to obtain any type of statement from a subject. That he or she would not have provided otherwise.
  • Utilize a false identity or ruse to gain knowledge of the subject.
  • Obtain driver’s license or registration information without a legal right to do so.
  • Physically contact subjects inappropriately with an opposing party represented.
  • Trespass – whether it’s a private property or a prohibited area.
  • Extend the relationship with any party beyond the scope of the assignment (i.e. personal, business or social).

Stay tuned for our next blog posting for an explanation of the legal investigative methods Jennings Smith Associates, Inc. employs to assist clients in any of our service offerings.

If you or your organization have any questions or concerns regarding the legal or ethical standards of licensed private investigators, contact us toll-free at 866-629-3757 or email us at info@jsainvestigations.com and we’ll assist you in getting the facts you need. We look forward to hearing from you.


Understanding and Preventing Economic Espionage

March 31st, 2015 | Business Security, Cyber, Government, Security

Dramatic illustration of corporate economic espionage.

April 1, 2015

By Stephanie Kent
Investigative Research Assistant

Now more than ever, American industry is a focal point for foreign intelligence services, economic spies and criminals at large. Today, nearly all critical business and technology information is accessible through the cyber environment, giving all adversaries a faster, safer and more efficient way to penetrate the foundations of our economy. Their criminal endeavors compromise trade secrets, intellectual property and technological developments that are not only essential to our businesses, but also to national security. It’s imperative that large and small companies understand the gravity of economic espionage, as it is highly prevalent and threatening in today’s high-stakes competitive business world.

What constitutes economic espionage?

In general terms, economic espionage is the unlawful or clandestine targeting or acquisition of sensitive financial, trade or economic policy information; proprietary economic information; or technological information.1

The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), Title 18 U.S.C.§§ 1831-1839, defines the term “economic espionage” as the theft or misappropriation of a trade secret with the intent or knowledge that the offense will benefit any foreign government, foreign instrumentality, or foreign agent. The act of receiving, purchasing, or possessing a trade secret known to have been stolen or misappropriated, as well as any attempt or conspiracy to commit economic espionage are punishable as a federal crime under the EEA.2

Why should I be concerned about economic espionage?

The FBI estimates billions of U.S. dollars are lost to foreign adversaries each year. These foreign competitors deliberately target economic intelligence in advanced technologies and flourishing U.S. industries. Costly data theft litigation, loss of business, drastic depreciation of corporate value and negative publicity are merely a few reasons to be well-educated on economic espionage. All organizations possess confidential data — “trade secrets” — such as personal employee information, consumer lists, financial details, research reports, etc. In the face of industrial espionage, such sensitive proprietary information could potentially threaten business profits, numerous jobs, and our economy as a whole. Much of this classified information is critical to our national security and research projects, thereby posing potential damage on a national scale.

For example, in the research and development phase of government project bidding, millions of dollars are spent in order to determine optimal production methods, material costs, and amount of labor necessary for the bid. If this intelligence is leaked, overseas business competitors (including those in ally countries) will gain an enormous and unjust advantage. According to Compliance Training Group, frequently targeted industries are private and educational institutions that aid U.S. Government projects, in addition to those that “conduct research on high-tech industrial applications, information technology and aerospace projects.”3 Corporations that carry out their own research and development and allocate money to manufacturing process experiments are always at risk for espionage.

What methods are used to conduct economic espionage?

According to the FBI, foreign competitors function under three categories to devise an elaborate network of spies:

 1. Aggressively target present and former foreign nationals working for US companies and research institutions;
 2. Recruit and perform technical operations to include bribery, discreet theft, dumpster diving (in search of discarded trade secrets) and wiretapping; and,
 3. Establish seemingly innocent business relationships between foreign companies and US industries to gather economic intelligence including proprietary information.

What are the legal ramifications for committing economic espionage and theft of trade secrets?5

Whether you call it economic espionage, industrial espionage, theft of trade secrets or corporate espionage, it is a federal criminal offense as defined by the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. There are two main sections of the Act: 18 U.S.C. § 1831 (a) criminalizes the theft of trade secrets to benefit a foreign power, company or individual; 18 U.S.C. § 1832 (b) criminalizes domestic theft for commercial or economic purposes. Theft, unauthorized use, purchase and/or possession, attempting to commit the aforementioned, and conspiring are all considered violations of both sections. Although the definitions are nearly interchangeable, the statutory penalties differ slightly.

Under Economic Espionage (18 U.S.C. § 1831 (a)):

  • Individual: Up to 15-year imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $500,000.00
  • Organization: Up to $10 million fine

Under Theft of Trade Secrets (18 U.S.C. § 1832 (b)):

  • Individual: Up to 10-year imprisonment and/or a fine (unknown amount)
  • Organization: Up to $5 million fine

How to Recognize Signs of Economic Espionage:

First and foremost, you must heed potential warning signs of espionage, particularly within your business. The following may be indications of an individual engaging in espionage acts:

 1. Employee may suddenly have a change in ideology, developing a cynical and negative view of the company, its key people or even the U.S. Government.
 2. Individuals trying to obtain unauthorized information may arrive for work early, work through lunch or stay late to gain access to information without raising suspicion.
 3. Individuals involved in long-term espionage will avoid taking vacations in fear of their activities being discovered during their absence.
 4. Uncharacteristic or extravagant employee spending on travel, houses, cars, etc.
 5. Be wary of disgruntled employees, who are often motivated by revenge.
 6. Blackmail is a possible factor when an executive is trapped in a shameful or compromising position.
 7. Romance and sexual relationships seem cliché, but nonetheless are real methods employed to access confidential information.
 8. Addictions such as gambling, drugs, and sex can lead to compromising situations and, ultimately, the theft of sensitive information.
 9. Information loss takes place not only within the organization, but also through suppliers and customers who have access to your company data.

What are some economic espionage countermeasures?

 1. Recognize the threat (see above).
 2. Identify which information is to be protected, and across what time span.
 3. Identify and determine the monetary/competitive value of all trade secrets in case information is stolen and you need to effectively prosecute and recover the damages.
 4. Devise and enforce a definable plan for protecting trade secrets and reviewing the status of specific safeguards (perhaps some data no longer require protection).
 5. Ensure that confidential information is marked appropriately and that your staff understands this requirement.
 6. Properly store physical trade secrets in secure, authorized areas.
 7. Utilize necessary disposal procedures and effective disposal equipment to shred, delete and destroy confidential data when no longer needed.
 8. Conduct pre-employment and sporadic background investigations of all who have access to company’s sensitive information.
 9. Implement regular security training for employees, along with mental health and job activity screenings of employees.
10. Utilize an internal threat program.
11. Proactively report suspicious incidents before your proprietary information is irreversibly compromised.
12. Your Information Technology system should be designed to prohibit access to sensitive materials and to trace and immediately report potential breaches of security.

To obtain additional information, report suspected violations, or schedule a briefing regarding economic espionage, contact Jennings Smith Associates toll-free today at 866-629-3757 for a free consultation or visit us online at www.jsainvestigations.com.






Beware: Free Google Play Flashlight Apps Could Cost You

March 24th, 2015 | Cyber, Privacy, Security


March 24, 2015

By Stephanie Kent
Investigative Research Assistant

Why would you go to the store and pay $0.99 for a flashlight keychain when you could just download a free flashlight app from the Google Play Store? Perhaps because the latter could cost you your privacy, your identity and thousands more dollars in the long run.

Researchers have found that the most popular flashlight applications are secretly stealing personal data stored on users’ mobile devices. Gary Miliefsky, cybersecurity expert and CEO of SnoopWall, has called this issue “bigger than Ebola,” as he explains that “500 million people are infected without knowing it.” Based on his company’s research, Mr. Miliefsky asserts that “the top ten flashlight apps from the Google Play Store are all malware; they’re all malicious; they’re all spying; they’re all snooping; they’re all stealing.” It’s a costly assumption that these applications solely function as flashlights. Upon one click of the app, they can access and store any information you have ever entered on your device. Masses of such stolen data have been tracked and linked to three countries: China, India and Russia. Mr. Miliefsky states that this personal information is primarily used for criminal purposes, but also provides nation states an easy way to collect information on Americans.¹

How do they get away with this?

Let me refer you to a recent lawsuit: the Brightest Flashlight application was sued by the FTC for this malicious activity. As part of the settlement, Brightest Flashlight agreed to construct a 25-page Privacy Policy essentially stating that by accepting the terms and conditions, the user is allowing the application to access all personal data stored on the device. At the time of the lawsuit, Brightest Flashlight had 50 million downloads. Now, it has approximately 100 million downloads. Clearly, people are not reading the Privacy Policy.

What are the top-ten flashlight apps from the Google Play Store that have access to personal information?

 1. Super-Bright LED (Surpax Technology Inc.)
 2. Brightest Flashlight Free (GoldenShores Technologies, LLC)
 3. Tiny Flashlight + LED (Nikolay Ananiev)
 4. Flashlight (Zerone Mobile)
 5. Flashlight (Mobile Apps Inc)
 6. Brightest LED Flashlight (Intellectual Flame Co., Ltd.)
 7. Color Flashlight (Notes)
 8. High-Powered Flashlight (iHandy Inc.)
 9. Flashlight HD LED (smallte.ch)
10. Flashlight: LED Torch Light (Mobile Apps Inc)

What if I have already downloaded a malicious app?

First, uninstall the application from your device(s). Then, backup your crucial data (family photos, contacts, etc.). Finally, take your phone in for a factory reset, which will wipe hidden data areas where malicious trojans have been installed by the application.

Note: Simply uninstalling the app is not always sufficient, as trojans often operate in the background while you do important things on your phone, like mobile banking or online shopping!

How do we know which apps are safe?

1. Read the privacy policies! That means scroll and read through every page, and make sure they aren’t blatantly telling you they’re going to access your personal information.
2. Take note of the application size. Ex: Safe flashlight apps should be under 100KB. The malicious flashlight apps are generally 1.2+MB. Any flashlight around 1.2MB or larger is suspect – that is an abnormally large file to just turn a light on and off.
3. Know the features to which each app is requesting access. If the app requests information beyond the requirements for that particular app function, don’t install it!
Ex: If Google Maps wants access to your GPS, that makes sense! However, if Angry Birds or Candy Crush (for example) wants access to your GPS, you should be skeptical!

Note: 82% of malicious apps send, receive, read or write SMS messages. Very few legitimate apps require any SMS permissions; 10% of spying apps ask for permission to install other apps – another unlikely requirement of legitimate apps.²

How can we protect our smartphones and ourselves from eavesdroppers and privacy breaches?

Common sense goes a long way when it comes to protecting our personal information. In order to accept this responsibility, we must recognize that our smartphones can be serious threats if not properly protected. Take the following free and easy steps to better safeguard your smartphone:

1. Disable your GPS and Bluetooth after each use. They should never be running when it’s not necessary.
2. Permanently disable your NFC (Near Field Communications) or, on Apple devices, your iBeacon.
3. Verify all app requirements and privacy risks before installing. Do some research and ask yourself “why is this app requesting access to my GPS, microphone, webcam, contacts, etc.?” Most apps only use these ports if they intend to invade your privacy. Don’t install these risky applications – there are usually safe alternatives.
4. iPhone users: Go to “Settings” > “Privacy” and see which apps request which information. You may switch a particular application to “Off” if you do not want it linking to certain data (like your contacts or photos, for example).
5. Either cover your webcam and microphone or disable your smartphone when you are not using it. This may sound extreme, but it will ensure your personal safety. It’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to identity theft!³

If you or your organization has fallen victim to any malicious cyber activity, contact Jennings Smith Associates toll-free today at 866-629-3757 for a free consultation or visit us online at www.jsainvestigations.com.


Curt Schilling Case: Taking a Stand on Cyber Bullying

March 17th, 2015 | Cyber, Privacy, Security

Don't be a victim of online bullies.

March 17, 2015

By Stephanie Kent
Investigative Research Assistant

Former Red Sox pitcher, Curt Schilling, found himself “trembling with rage” last week at the sight of heinous tweets directed towards himself and his 17 year-old daughter, Gabby Schilling. When Gabby had been accepted into Salve Regina University — where she will join the softball team — Curt posted a tweet publicly congratulating her. In response, he received a number of abominable and abusive tweets sexualizing and harassing his daughter. Despite my discomfort quoting such abhorrent words, I must do so in support of Schilling’s fight against these soulless Web users. Society needs to feel how deeply disturbing these words are, and take action against this malicious online behavior.

“how far is Salve Regina from Jersey? I wanna come and play but Gabby wants me to cum and stay”
“teach me your knuckle ball technique so I can shove my fist in your daughter”
“I’m sure she could fit a nice Easton in there as well for some DP”
“I’d put my 32oz Louisville slugger between your daughters tits” (accompanying an obscene graphic)
“curt bleeds more from his sock than gabby does from her pussy when she’s on her period”
“throw me a meatball curt so I can take it deep in your daughter”
“he doesn’t like answering. Might have to slide back in Gabs DMs like last week”¹

After reading these nauseating comments (amongst others), it’s easy to dismiss this as a unique attack made by a few disturbed people lacking intelligence, class and basic humanity. However, it’s time for the public to take action and fight this serious behavior as Curt Schilling has done. We must realize that this is merely one example of a grave cyber bullying issue that continues to worsen in the modern age. As in all cases like this, there is no explanation that could warrant such malicious behavior. This inexcusable online activity shouldn’t affect the intended targets alone; it should affect each and every one of us. How did we create a society in which “people” feel proud to bully innocent victims? We need to get the message through to everyone that cyber bullying will have detrimental consequences not only to their targets, but to themselves both legally and socially!

Legally, we are making progress as a nation. Each state has already passed some type of bullying law or policy. All states but Montana have passed at least one law defining “bullying” and entitling authorities or school officials to act appropriately to stop the phenomenon. Although anti-bullying laws vary on the state level, they typically list the distinct behaviors that constitute bullying. Among these behaviors are generally “teasing, threats, intimidation, stalking, harassment, physical violence, theft, and public humiliation. States may also identify certain characteristics or traits of students who are often targeted for bullying, as well as provide guidance to school staff regarding how to address bullying issues.”² The term “cyber bullying” refers to harassment or intimidation by means of mobile devices or internet. While no federal laws addressing bullying have been passed, certain civil rights and nondiscrimination laws may mandate schools to intervene with specific kinds of bullying.

While we’re creating laws to abolish cyber bullying, we must also hold ourselves to a much higher standard as a society. We need more people to take a public stand against bullying of any sort — whether or not it involves us directly. What can you do to strengthen the fight against cyber bullying?

1. Be aware of signs of bullying. As stated above, teasing, threats, intimidation, stalking, harassment, physical violence, theft, public humiliation and embarrassment can all be considered bullying. And that is according to most laws!

2. If you witness any type of bullying, report it to an authority immediately. Do not let time pass. The following are authorities to whom you may report a case of bullying: school administrator (teacher, principal, dean, guidance counselor or academic adviser), coach, police officer, lawyer, even your parents if you are a minor! Informing someone who may have more insight and authority to act on the matter is extremely important.

3. If you are being targeted by a cyber bully, do not engage yourself with that person. No matter how tempting it is to rebut and stand your ground, do not respond to aggressive chats, posts or emails sent by the bully. Do not give them fuel for their behavior.

4. Keep a record of everything. Collect and document every piece of cyber bullying evidence you have received. Save every post, every message, every missed call, and record every word (if he or she bullies verbally as well).

5. If you see social media posts that are inappropriate, even if they’re irrelevant to you, report it to that social media network. Online cyber bullying can take place on many public sites, not just Twitter. Keep an eye out, and be ready to act.

6. Do not “follow” cyber bullies or add them as friends on any social media networks. Do not “like” any of their inappropriate comments. Don’t be a bystander who stoops to this level to see what else that person may post. Peer support enables cyber bullies, and if they feel that their heinous comments are gaining publicity and followers then they feel supported to proudly say such things in our society. Take the high road and do something about it, do not stand by and watch as they bully more victims.

7. Avoid posting any material that could be used against you by a cyber bully. This means no provocative photos, no evidence of illegal or inappropriate activity, no status updates that you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with the world (including parents, children, employers, etc.). A common case of cyber bullying is an ex targeting his or her former partner. If during a relationship, you send explicit photos of yourself to your significant other, realize that he or she will still have those photos when you break up! In many cases, photos like this have been publicized out of jealousy or to get revenge after a break-up.

If you or your child has been a victim of cyber bullying, contact Jennings Smith Associates toll-free today at 866-629-3757 for a free consultation, or visit us online at www.jsainvestigations.com. All inquiries are strictly confidential.


¹http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/as-a-father-and-as-a-man-i-am-disgusted-by-curt-2. schillings-twitter-trolls_b_6848008.html

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