July 14, 2014


In the Integillence field, there are different disciplines, such as SIGINT, or HUMINT. For those not familiar with these disciplines, SIGINT is intelligence gathered from signals (like radio, phones), while HUMINT is the intelligence gathered from humans. The Intelligence field contains more categories and sub-categories, but I'm not going to get into those. 

What exactly is intelligence? 

In laymen's term, intelligence is primarily the gathering and studying of information. Knowledge can be a deadly thing, especially in the wrong hands. People often think that intelligence activity and collection are only things government agencies or those involved in industrial espionage deal with it. While they may not be a huge concern for the average citizen, one unofficial discipline can impact anybody personally. This is TRASHINT, which is short for trash intelligence. 
Based upon my SIGINT and HUMINT definitions, you can easily conclude that TRASHINT deals with the information gathered from the stuff you throw away. Due to it being a low tech, easy way of obtaining sensitive information, TRASHINT is categorized as the poor man's intelligence. Dumpster diving is another common term used for TRASHINT. Whatever you call it, it truly encapsulates the old cliche, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Your trash could be a wealth of information for somebody else with ill intent.

Obtaining information from the trash or recycling is an easy, low-cost (often times legal) way to get information, since there are multiple opportunities for sensitive information to be intercepted. Often times we inadvertently throw away documents containing sensitive information, such as account numbers or date of birth. While a single piece of paper may not contain significant amount of information, when it is combined with other bits of information from other pieces of paper, somebody could easily start piecing together a larger picture. It is like putting together a puzzle, as the pieces fall into place you begin to see a larger picture.

In most law enforcement jurisdiction, trash is not considered private property. When you wheel out and leave your trashcan or recycling onto the sidewalk for collection, you leave it in the public domain, at least that is what the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in the case California v. Greenwood established. 

TRASHINT cartoonWho uses TRASHINT?

Often when we think about somebody dumpster diving for information, it's movie scenes of private investigators or spies shifting through trash. However, they're not the only ones that use this method to get information. As mentioned in a few of our identity theft series, identity thieves love TRASHINT! Most identity thieves legally find more than enough confident information in the trash to keep them busy for many months doing illegal activities in your name.

What are they looking for?

TRASHINT OPSEC Poster-Expired credit and debit cards
-Bank account and credit card statements
-Canceled/unused checks
-Tax documents
-Utility and medical bills
-Investment statements
-Pre-approved credit card offers and applications
-Expired identification documents (i.e. driver's license, passport)

What's the best defense against TRASHINT?

The most cost effective defense is shredding your papers before discarding them. Buy a personal shredder and shred any documents that contain your information on it. Make sure you get a confetti style or cross cut style shredder. The smaller the shredding the better! The shredder's should display the shredding's dimension size to give you an idea how small the shredding will be. Some shredders even include CD and/or credit card shredding, which helps you discard unnecessary items while protecting your information. 

Do not waste your money on a strip cut shredder. I repeat, do NOT waste your money by purchasing one of these. They may be cheaper, but all they give you is a false sense of security. Strip cut shredders cut  paper into long, thin strips. They could be pieced back together with minimal effort, especially if the paper strips were never mixed-up prior to being discarded. 

You can handle the shredding
"You can handle the shredding!"
JB Mgr (2011 December 20). Identity theft part II: Through the trash. Security Checks Matter. Retrieved from http://securitychecksmatter.blogspot.de/2011/12/identity-theft-part-ii.html 

Operations Security Professional's Association (n.d.). Open source intelligence (OSINT): OSINT and TRASHINT [PowerPoint slides]Retrieved (14 July 2014) from http://www.opsecprofessionals.org/training/osint_and_trashint.pptx 

Stroup, J. (n.d) Identity theft: How identity theft happens. About.com. Retrieved (14 July 2014) from http://idtheft.about.com/od/identitytheft101/a/HowItHappens.htm 

Wikihow (n.d.) How to dumpster dive. Retrieved (14 July 2014) from http://www.wikihow.com/Dumpster-Dive 

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