Thwarting the Privacy Predators

Recently by Bill Rounds: Cloud Security

I am not talking about collecting hunting decoys for needy hunters. I am talking about swapping out a sensitive laptop hard drive with a hard drive that has no sensitive information (a decoy drive) to protect your privacy from snoops.

Privacy Tactics

A great tool for protecting privacy is misdirection. Misdirection can make others believe you have nothing of value, reducing your risk of theft, invasion of privacy, etc. Misdirection can also include using decoys. Privacy predators that find a clever decoy, of no value to you, will be prevented from invading your real privacy and they won’t even know it.

Misdirection does not mean lying or committing fraud. Such tactics actually reduce your privacy because when a lie or fraud is discovered your affairs will be even more closely scrutinized, possibly by law enforcement.

Misdirection Helps People

To illustrate the difference between lawful misdirection and fraud, take the case of a celebrity who would like to go out in public without being recognized. A simple misdirection tactic that they might use would be to wear frumpy clothing, a hood and cheap sunglasses. This obscures many of their features so that, hopefully, they can pick up some toilet paper at the store without being hassled by hundreds of fans.

If that same celebrity were to use a fake ID to carry their disguise even farther, they would potentially be committing a crime.

As an example of effectively using a decoy, I turn to the wisdom of Mel Brooks. The folks in Blazing Saddles used a decoy town to protect their real town from the ravages of savages. If they were to use a decoy town in some settings, such as when selling the real estate, they might be committing a massive fraud.

Using A Decoy Drive With A Laptop

Us common folk can apply the principles of legal misdirection and decoys with the data on a laptop. Removing the hard drive of your laptop and replacing it with another hard disk is a great way to use misdirection to protect your data privacy.

There may be a million reasons why you would want to use a decoy drive to prevent access to your main laptop hard drive. You might be crossing a border where you and your data will be searched. You are not required to provide encryption keys, assuming you have encrypted your data, to enter the US, but other countries like Great Britain will require you to disclose those encryption keys. Only by removing a sensitive hard drive before traveling to Great Britain will your sensitive data be protected. Maybe you suspect a keylogger has been surreptitiously installed and you want to access an online account without tipping off the snoop. Or, you are just a fan of personal liberty and you want to try out a cool tactic.

Decoy Drive Steps

First, make sure you are fine with the consequences of swapping out your hard drive. Some warranties might be voided if you do it yourself.

Second, purchase an appropriate hard drive for your needs.

Third, follow the instructions in your user manual to remove the hard drive. Make sure to remove the battery so you don’t get zapped.

Finally, install the new hard drive and you are in full decoy mode.

Advanced Strategy

If some snoop were to discover your decoy drive, would they believe it was the only hard drive you have? If your decoy drive has no activity on it, a snoop might realize that they have not truly uncovered what they were looking for. Upon realizing you have used a decoy, they may be even more interested in finding out WHY, leading them to investigate you even more than they would have.

Just like deer hunters spray their decoys with scent, you need to do more than make your decoy drive look like it is the real thing. Please do not spray your computer with anything. To make it look like your decoy drive is your main drive, engage in some meaningless activity on your decoy drive regularly. Save some innocuous documents there, save some harmless family photos, do some meaningless web surfing or play solitaire once in a while. This will help you sell your decoy as genuine.


Swapping out your sensitive hard drive with a decoy drive at the right times can help protect a lot of your data privacy. Snoops will have to be very sophisticated to recognize what you have done if you are doing a good job selling your misdirection. To learn more about this and other ways to protect your privacy, check out the book How To Vanish.

Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.

Bill Rounds, J.D. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties.