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Australian Man Uses Snack Bags As Faraday Cage To Block Tracking By Employer (arstechnica.com) 193

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A 60-year-old electrician in Perth, Western Australia had his termination upheld by a labor grievance commission when it was determined he had been abusing his position and technical knowledge to squeeze in some recreation during working hours. Tom Colella used mylar snack bags to block GPS tracking via his employer-assigned personal digital assistant to go out to play a round of golf -- more than 140 times -- while he reported he was offsite performing repairs.

In his finding against Colella, Australia Fair Work Commissioner Bernie Riordan wrote: "I have taken into account that Mr Colella openly stored his PDA device in an empty foil 'Twisties' bag. As an experienced electrician, Mr Colella knew that this bag would work as a faraday cage, thereby preventing the PDA from working properly -- especially the provision of regular GPS co-ordinate updates Mr. Colella went out of his way to hide his whereabouts. He was concerned about Aroona tracking him when the Company introduced the PDA into the workplace. He protested about Aroona having this information at that time. Mr Colella then went out of his way to inhibit the functionality of the PDA by placing it in a foil bag to create a faraday cage."

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Australian Man Uses Snack Bags As Faraday Cage To Block Tracking By Employer

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  • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:08PM (#55654667) Journal

    next~!

    • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:53PM (#55654943)

      person cheats system, gets caught, pays punishment

      Or, rather, he Cheetos [wikipedia.org] the system ...

    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @11:59PM (#55655959)
      Using a chip bag as a faraday cage to block your employer's tracking device from communicating with satellites in order to goof off isn't interesting to you?

      Turn in your nerd badge immediately. And don't try to snack-bag your way out of this one.

      Seriously, what the fuck? Are slashdotters so miserable that we're more interested in cheering someone getting punished than an amusing hack?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01, 2017 @12:21AM (#55656035)

        Seriously, what the fuck? Are slashdotters so miserable that we're more interested in cheering someone getting punished than an amusing hack?

        Posting AC to avoid burning modded posts.

        Yes, altogether too many Slashdotters er bitter-ass gits. Where we were once home to technologists, we are mostly just pissed off trolls now who worship 1950.

        • This is about as true as it gets. This site used to be a very educated place where people would post actual informative concepts and ideas. It used to be fun. Recently I've been modded down for literally mentioning that the FCC's job is to regulate communications. I don't even know why I would have to tell someone that or why I would lose points for mentioning it.. but there you go.
          • If people detect your post as an argument going against the groupthink, it now gets modded troll/flamebait regardless of being factually accurate and logically consistent. Good debate used to get modded up even in disagreement; not anymore. And if you think it's bad here you should see what the moderation is like on ArsTechnica these days.
        • by sinij ( 911942 )
          /. isn't hip enough to attract younger crowd, and existing readership is getting older. People get curmudgeonly with age, and this is precisely what is happening here.

          Now get off my lawn!
      • I for one enjoyed reading the summary. I kept thinking to myself was it the same bag over and over or was he really piling the crumbs on this device? Did he simply leave the device in the bag 24/7... or did he just put it in there whenever he wanted time off. I guess I'm off to read the article.

      • I actually RTFA and the judgement by the arbiter too.
        Yes, it was mildly interesting, but TFS made it sound more like a termination rant rather than a clever hack.

  • tinfoil hat (Score:5, Funny)

    by AlanBDee ( 2261976 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:09PM (#55654679)

    That's why I wear the hat people... to keep the government from tracking my thoughts.

    It looking like a pirate hat is just me expressing my sense of fashion.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The little hat you made for your phone as well is really cute.

      It just looks stupid on you.

    • You do realize how the story ended for this guy, right? They'll come after you, too!

  • He's half a hero (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:10PM (#55654689)

    I can't call him a hero, but I definitely can't call him a bad guy. If you can play golf all the time and the only way the boss knows is by tracking you, the boss doesn't know much about what proper productivity can do. Follow this by the fact that so much "work" done these days is pointless BS anyway. He's only half a hero though--because his work probably isn't pointless BS if it's maintenance that's not initially noticeable but will later cost clients money or perhaps even lives.

    To be a full hero, do your job. If your job is being a boss, consider doing it without being big brother. Then you'd both be good regular guys, who are so scarce these days that they look like full-on heroes.

    • But it sounds like his work was non-BS maintenance, that he wasn't actually doing. He was slacking off instead of working while telling his employer he was doing the work.

      Next thing you know you're working at Equifax and instead of installing security updates, you went golfing.

      • by sinij ( 911942 )

        Next thing you know you're working at Equifax and instead of installing security updates, you went golfing.

        Damn it, they are onto me.

    • I wouldn't call him a hero or a villain either, but I would still call him an asshole and a moron. Not for slacking off during working hours and trying to hide it, but because he still tried to claim the firing was unjustified after he was caught and fired.

      If you're going to try to cheat something, at least admit to it when you're caught. You're not stupid so you knew full well what you were doing and what the consequences would be if you were caught. You're not a minor or otherwise mentally incompetent
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Tell that to people in politics or in higher company positions. The best outcome for someone is to generally deny everything, slander the people saying unflattering things about you, and point everyone in another direction using an invalid, emotional argument. People will get so caught up in how wrong you are in the invalid thing that the original issue won't seem so bad in comparison. So he only stole 50k, at least we've finally determined he didn't poison a school cafeteria. What a nice guy for not ki

    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      This is about an asshole abusing the freedom he obvious was given to cheat (and even IMO steal from) the people that paid money for a certain service.
      If he didn't want to do the work then he could quit.
      If he didn't like the idea of tracking he could use the bag as a kind of protest - AS LONG AS HE DID HIS JOB.

      This isn't anything different than any other kind of criminal avoiding detection. Hero? Only to criminals.

  • I have taken into account that Mr Colella openly stored his PDA device in an empty foil 'Twisties' bag. As an experienced electrician, Mr Colella knew that this bag would work as a faraday cage, thereby preventing the PDA from working properly

    Or as a Will Smith fan [youtube.com].

    • Please don't soil the memory of Edward Lyle (Gene Hackman), you might want to check "The Conversation" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071360/).
  • Read the report (Score:5, Informative)

    by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi@evc i r c u its.com> on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:12PM (#55654701) Homepage

    It's not all he did nor the only way they substantiated the facts. He claimed to be at work, but never swiped in at the client sites and things like chlorine analysers show they were never serviced even though he claimed they did.

    • Re:Read the report (Score:5, Interesting)

      by koavf ( 1099649 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:25PM (#55654783)
      Correct. It is totally legitimate to not want to be tracked or surveilled constantly at almost every job at almost every time but saying that you did maintenance or servicing of equipment when you did not is unjustified and fraudulent. If he did that as well, then he is using privacy rights as a thin proxy for being unprofessional.
      • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

        If he did that as well, then he is using privacy rights as a thin proxy for being unprofessional.

        This.

        If the company was tracking why he didn't repeatedly wake up a 3 am to answer a false positive from a system they would not fix, then the situation may be different. In this case he's been a dick and now it will be used as justification to crack down on all the normal people in his company - what a guy!

        • by unrtst ( 777550 )

          I don't understand how the tracking helped, or what it had to do with anything here. He disabled it, so they were not able to confirm he was golfing via it. He never swiped in at client sites, so... uh... why not? They know he didn't right there. Checking the equipment he was supposed to have serviced confirms it. What's the GPS got to do with this?

          • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

            Checking the equipment he was supposed to have serviced confirms it. What's the GPS got to do with this?

            They are probably jerks themselves sticking their noses into their employees whereabouts - control vs trust. It says more about the management than the employees.

            • Re:Read the report (Score:5, Interesting)

              by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@worfCOLA.net minus caffeine> on Friday December 01, 2017 @02:31AM (#55656315)

              They are probably jerks themselves sticking their noses into their employees whereabouts - control vs trust. It says more about the management than the employees.

              Well there are a few industries that are fully tracked - truckers for example are fully tracked and their whereabouts are known to the dispatcher at all times. This is usually not a good thing (dispatchers hate truckers who "waste time"), though it does allow a customer to ask the trucking company where the truck is in case the loading dock is full.

              It also sometimes helps when the truck is hijacked, run off the road, or other emergency. Sometimes it happens without leaving a witness mark on the side of the road (especially in winter) so unless the dispatcher notices the signal is lost and where the last location pings were, no one might actually notice for days.

              I'm assuming this company did it so they can advise customers that a technician is coming around. Think of it this way - the employee gets a new route uploaded to his phone and GPS tracks his progress. The employee keeps the truck at his house and simply starts and ends the day at home - no need to commute to the office to pick up the work orders - they're automatically transmitted to the phone, and GPS tracks what's been done If he needs to return to the base for parts or supplies, it can be scheduled in when he's nearby. It's telecommuting for the new era - and anyone with a service agreement probably experienced it - the techs are located all around, probably their house having a stockpile of common parts and they're dispatched by phone to the busienss needing service. This way the techs are home when idle instead of just wasting time at some office everyone had to commute to.

          • by guruevi ( 827432 )

            The GPS was one of the ways they substantiated the claims. He's probably a union goon so firing him takes a LOT of evidence and effort, you could have enough evidence to be convicted for murder and still not have enough to fire someone on a union contract.

            • by unrtst ( 777550 )

              The GPS was one of the ways they substantiated the claims.

              How so? The main point was that he blocked the signal, disabling it, so the GPS did not provide any evidence as to his location. All it provided was a lack of evidence, which raised suspicion, and got people to look closer. For evidence, the rest of what was going on is what nailed him.
              Again, what's the GPS got to do with it?

      • It is totally legitimate to not want to be tracked or surveilled constantly at almost every job at almost every time

        Not when an agreed part of your employment includes being tracked...

        • You can not agree to stuff in a contract that is illegal.
          Well, you can agree, but the agreement is void.

        • by koavf ( 1099649 )
          Incorrect. It is perfectly fine to not want to be tracked all the time. Whether or not it is okay to take measures to not be tracked is another thing and whether or not contracts like that should even be legal is another one as well.
    • Re:Read the report (Score:5, Insightful)

      by devman ( 1163205 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:57PM (#55654981)
      It would be different if he was meeting all his goals and requirements. Gundecking is a serious offense being a breach of trust and can be straight up dangerous. It should generally always be met with termination if not a lawsuit or fraud complaint.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sorry but that is senior managements responsibility, stick to sneaking naps at work like everyone else.

  • Since When (Score:5, Funny)

    by DougDot ( 966387 ) <dougr@parrot-farm.net> on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:38PM (#55654853) Homepage

    Since when did you have to be "an experienced electrician" to know that Mylar blocks a device's GPS radio?

    Maybe Slashdot should have hired an experienced editor to write the summary.

    • Re:Since When (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GuB-42 ( 2483988 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @08:16PM (#55655073)

      It is the reverse: you don't need to be an experienced electrician to know, but being an experienced electrician means you most certainly know.
      It means that he can't feign ignorance.

      Also, while it is a well known fact that metal blocks radio waves, there are some details you need to know in order to use this technique effectively.

      • Re:Since When (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Known Nutter ( 988758 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @08:28PM (#55655121)

        being an experienced electrician means you most certainly know.

        No, it doesn't.

        I work with plenty of electricians -- both inside wiremen and outside linemen. I can say with near certainty that perhaps 20% -- maybe 30% -- of those would understand that a Mylar bag would block GPS.

        Most electricians and linemen understand the mechanics (pull cable, cut/bend conduit, set poles, drill holes, terminate wire where the drawing says to, etc etc...) much more then they understand electrical theory. When discussing arc flash and upstream breaker fault clearing times with them, for example, I get that blank stare much more often than not.

        • When discussing arc flash and upstream breaker fault clearing times with them, for example, I get that blank stare much more often than not.

          If they don't understand arc flash then they should damned well sue their schools / instructors / mentors. Without that awareness they probably stand facing a breaker as they're pulling the lever to open it, and could be burned, blinded, or killed if there's a fault. Number One Rule - stand BESIDE the breaker with your face turned away before you pull the switch!

          • Re:Since When (Score:4, Informative)

            by Known Nutter ( 988758 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @10:33PM (#55655667)

            If they don't understandarc flash then they should damned well sue their schools / instructors / mentors. Without that awareness they probably stand facing a breaker as they're pulling the lever to open it, and could be burned, blinded, or killed if there's a fault. Number One Rule - stand BESIDE the breaker with your face turned away before you pull the switch!

            I appreciate what you're saying. Please remember, though, there is a huge divide between having awareness of arc flash and understanding arc flash. They all all aware that they need to stand to the side when opening/closing a breaker because that's how they were trained. Most may be aware of why they should. Fewer, though, understand how to determine the level of incident energy they would be exposed to should something go wrong. Available fault current and clearing time upstream being two examples of a multitude of factors that most do not understand because they simply weren't trained. They are mechanics first, electricians second. Part of what I do is help them get to a level beyond awareness.

            • by sinij ( 911942 )
              I am not an electrician, but would be curious to read your explanations of this.
              • Don't have time this morning, but anything you can read on NFPA 70E will be a good start. You can read the entirety of the 70E standard online at nfpa.org [nfpa.org] for free.

                Good example of a Energized Electrical Safe Work Practices program here, although its somewhat dated, it is a good representation:

                https://www.csuci.edu/publicsa... [csuci.edu]
        • by Cederic ( 9623 )

          can say with near certainty that perhaps 20% -- maybe 30% -- of those would understand that a Mylar bag would block GPS.

          1 - I had to look up Mylar because I've never heard of it. So count me in the 70-80% from the outset
          2 - Mylar is plastic. I would assume that a plastic I've never heard of will not stop electromagnetic radiation. Guess I'm still in the 70-80%
          3 - Turns out Mylar is polyester. Right now I'd be sacking any fucking electrician in the 20-30% that thinks you can build a working faraday cage out of polyester

          Maybe you should clarify on whether the Mylar bag is actually a metal foil bag that's just using Mylar for a

          • Maybe a material that's been around under the same trade name since the 50's is common knowledge to more people than you apparently think.

            And even though DuPont insists that Mylar is the brand name for the plastic film itself, it's been used colloquially to mean metal deposited on plastic film for almost its entire existence.

          • Actually I don't believe that Mylar (I knew what it is) is blocking radio signals.
            A device put into a bag deep enough might not be able to receive GPS signals, but sending to home base (aka a mobile phone connecting to a tower) is most certainly not blocked by a bag made from polyester ...

          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            Maybe you should clarify on whether the Mylar bag is actually a metal foil bag that's just using Mylar for added strength, gas/moisture barrier purposes and/or electrical resistivity.

            Mylar is (generically) metal coated plastic film - I'm sure DuPont has a specific meaning for it, but that's what people refer to as Mylar. It is rarely used to refer to uncoated film itself. .

            If you've ever seen party balloons, keep they away from power lines, because you can see plenty of examples of them shorting out the low

        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          Most people that _do_ understand the theory wouldn't directly know that fact either. Because it isn't relevant to their work (or interests) and not verified.

          I would still not consider a bag of chips a safe way to shield something even after reading this (and similar) stories. If it doesn't really matter if something is shielded or not, sure it could work. Otherwise?

          . How consistent is the metal layer produced? Will there be pinholes?
          . How thick is the metal layer?
          . How large gaps will the welded seams of th

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        It is the reverse: you don't need to be an experienced electrician to know, but being an experienced electrician means you most certainly know.

        Do you? Electricians work on electrical wiring, they're not EM experts. It would be different if he was Electrical Engineer.

    • Since when did you have to be "an experienced electrician" to know that Mylar blocks a device's GPS radio?

      Mylar doesn't. Metal does, so foil coated mylar does.

      • by DougDot ( 966387 )

        Mylar does. You must not be an experienced electrician.

        https://www.electricsense.com/... [electricsense.com]

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Cheaper to just get a cheap polyester leisure suit. Or polar fleece sweater.

        • Mylar does. You must not be an experienced electrician.

          https://www.electricsense.com/ [electricsense.com]...

          Like I said, foil coated (or metallised---same thing) does. It has to be coated in conductive metal because Mylar on its own does not block RF.

          That page you showed me links to foil coated mylar. Mylar is a variant of PET plastic and is unconductive and so a completely ineffective shield.

        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          Mylar = plastic.

          Experienced electricians tend to be technical people. Technical people like being accurate (at least while discussing technical matter).

    • Since when did you have to be "an experienced electrician" to know that Mylar blocks a device's GPS radio?

      It doesn't. Mylar is just plastic. Won't do a damn thing to your GPS radio. It's the metallic film which blocks the GPS signal, not the mylar.

    • Since when did you have to be "an experienced electrician" to know that Mylar blocks a device's GPS radio?

      When it comes to RF, straight-up Mylar doesn't block shit, at least not until you get into much, much higher frequencies than GPS. Metallized Mylar, on the other hand, will cause some serious signal attenuation.

    • GPS is pretty weak, and it doesn't take much to block it. You can PROBABLY even find a happy medium of just enough interference to block GPS without blocking cellular, if you're careful enough and do some experimenting. Or you can open your phone, identify the GPS antenna, and damage it.

      No matter what, though, you can't hide your general area as that can be triangulated from the cell towers you're hitting.

      If you really don't want your whereabouts known... don't carry a cell phone that can be associated wi

    • Since when did you have to be "an experienced electrician" to know that Mylar blocks a device's GPS radio?

      Maybe Slashdot should have hired an experienced editor to write the summary.

      Going for the funny mod but:

      a) That isn't from Slashdot but from TFA and
      b) The logical statement made isn't exclusive. For instance an English major would quickly pick up on the fact that you failed to read an english sentence properly, but you don't need to be an english major to come up with that conclusion.

  • probably impractical (Score:5, Informative)

    by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@poeti[ ]om ['c.c' in gap]> on Thursday November 30, 2017 @07:38PM (#55654855)

    Your phone will try to connect to wifi & cell towers. It will try HARD. It will drain the battery rapidly. At least that's what my phone did when I traveled to a very remote area. It got very hot and drained a full battery in less than two hours. It was an older model, YMMV.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @08:06PM (#55655025) Homepage Journal

    Blue ruin, what a bloomin' bludger!

  • by tgibson ( 131396 ) on Thursday November 30, 2017 @08:12PM (#55655055) Homepage

    Finding the article lacking, I did a little more digging and found some reviews of Twisties [productreview.com.au].

  • ... said tinfoil hat wearers everywhere.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 30, 2017 @09:52PM (#55655517)

    He was fully forthcoming to his managers when he said he was going out faraday.

  • Wouldn't that have been easier?

  • So I see they spent a bunch of time and effort looking at records for PDA and security gates and cell towers etc.
    But it seems like the pattern wasn't too hard to predict.

    Why not just catch him at the golf course the next time?
  • Grandpa basically "McGivers" a device, and gets fired? And does anyone think Security businesses haven't stopped eating their soup and are steering?
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @03:56AM (#55656503)

    ...that the main reason he was found out was that his boss saw him playing golf because he himself was playing golf during work hours...

  • by xenobyte ( 446878 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @07:18AM (#55656883)

    First issue is tracking employees without individual consent. Here I find it perfectly okay to use anti-tracking means.
    Second issue is the employee playing golf 140 times on company time. That is not okay.

  • Just saying ... if my employer wanted to track me in a similar way I'd go work for someone else.

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