Abaker | November 06, 2013

The Acela Spy: The Shocking Things Heard on Amtrak

In a world where we are always on the go and often traveling for work, it may be hard to remember that the importance for security doesn't stop at the door. It's not just our physical belongings that need to be watched after and kept secure, but our conversations and actions online. This recent article gives an example of why you should be careful with discussions, because you never know who may be sitting next to you. For more information on staying secure beyond the office, Wombat offers training dedicated to keeping employees and company info safe, no matter where they're located.

The Acela Spy: The shocking things I’ve learned by eavesdropping on Amtrak

By Amy Webb
Slate

On Amtrak, powerful people talk loudly and spill secrets.

This is my conclusion based on five years’ field research commuting on Amtrak’s Acela between cities along the East Coast.

By now, you’ve heard about former NSA director Michael Hayden, who on Thursday talked nonstop to a reporter—on background—as the train went north from Washington, D.C. toward New York City. A few seats behind Hayden was Tom Matzzie, former Washington director of political group MoveOn.org, who started live-tweeting his eavesdropping.

As someone who rides the Acela two to three times a week, I can tell you that what Hayden and Matzzie each did—talking loud and tweeting louder—isn’t unusual. In fact, private conversations are so often broadcast across the train car that it’s become fertile ground for competitive intelligence gathering, business development or, as in Matzzie’s case, gaining a whole bunch of new social media followers.

It’s astonishingly easy to become an Acela spy—even if you don’t really want to be a part of other riders’ business—as I have learned from years of experience. Until very recently, all Amtrak tickets were paper-based, and the tickets looked a lot like airline boarding passes. In addition to the train and destination information, they included the passenger’s full name in the upper left-hand corner. Also until recently, those tickets were wedged between the top of the cushion and the hard back of each seat, with the name showing for anyone who desired to look. (E-tickets on mobile phones are starting to replace paper tickets for some riders.)

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