Category Archives: BOTG

The NSA: Doing US Citizens a Service or a Disservice, You Decide

Organics Admin
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Organics Admin

COO at Aladay LLC
Organic Farmer, Property Preservation Specialist and Custom Glass & Wood Worker. Blogger extraordinaire...
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NSA-header-2012-b

 

I realize this has nothing to do with Organic Farming, Property Preservation, Window or Custom Woodworking. However, I do feel that it is important to all of us and since I have been asked my several of the bolg followers and our customers about the current state of affairs with the NSA, I thought I’d share one of the security updates I am singed up with.

downloadThe blog comes to us from;

Mark Maunder
Wordfence Creator & Feedjit Inc. CEO.
I hope you find it as informative as I did. I know that there is a lot of uncertainty in the actions of our government towards the hard working tax paying citizens of this country.
Hope this helps some of the many questions I hear out there every day…

 

 

 

General Alexander’s Keynote Speech at Black Hat 2013

I just finished listening to the Keynote presentation at Black Hat 2013, the largest hacker/CyberSecurity conference all year, from General Kieth Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency.

The NSA is obviously not in everyone’s good graces since the Edward Snowden revalations and the atmosphere was tense with the organizers who introduced Alexander choosing their words carefully when introducing the General and politely suggesting that he’s doing the conference a favor by appearing and asking the folks attending to be constructive in their questions. That didn’t prevent a few hecklers from engaging the keynote speaker.

I was rapidly taking notes throughout his presentation because in my view, this is one of the most important public appearances the NSA has made in it’s history. To put this in perspective, the controversy about the export ban on strong encryption in the 1990′s and the “clipper chip” the government was designing to “listen in” on us pales in comparison to the current controversy the NSA is facing. And with General Alexander as it’s director appearing in front of the largest gathering of the World’s CyberSecurity professionals, I had a strong sense this morning of being part of history in the Augustus Ballroom at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

The full audio of General Alexander’s speech is available at the end of this blog entry.

General Alexander started his speech by focusing on the rationale of why the NSA monitors communications. He also gave us a sense of the people involved in the three letter agencies including the NSA and mentioned several times that 20 cryptographers were killed on deployment in the Middle-East and the sacrifices that employees of our various government branches make to do their job.

He spoke about how the NSA’s reputation has been tarnished and that all the facts are not on the table. He never mentioned Snowden by name.

He was heckled a few times during the last third of his speech. Nothing too offensive and the crowd didn’t seem too supportive. Black Hat attracts a fairly sophisticated and mature audience these days and I suspect they were more interested in hearing what the Directory of the NSA had to say and then form their own opinions.

He said that the CyberSecurity tools that the NSA uses are very similar to the tools that we use, the main difference being the oversight and compliance in their programs. He said that the concepts of oversight and compliance are important and are missing in the current discussion about the NSA and what they do.

Here are a few of what I thought were the most interesting concepts and quotes from his speech:

  • The NSA monitor communications and store meta-data which includes time, source and destination phone numbers. It does not include names or addresses.
  • Then there is a database which he compared to a “lockbox”. This contains the actual content of communications.
  • “Only 22 people” at the NSA can authorize looking into the Database containing the actual content of communications.
  • “Only 35 people” at the NSA are authorized to run queries on the database containing the content of actual communications provided they have been given access.
  • These people “have to get trained and pass tests” to get authorization to run queries on the database of communications.
  • In 2012 there were less than 300 telephone numbers that received approval to look at the content of actual communications.
  • Those 300 phone numbers resulted in 12 communications to the FBI.
  • The intent was to find a terrorist actor and identify it to the FBI.
  • The general spent some time talking about PRISM and how it’s used for foreign intelligence.

Quotes:

  • “Our people have to take courses and pass exams to use this data.”
  • “What you’re hearing, what you’re seeing, what people are saying is “well they could”. The fact is that they don’t. And if they did, our auditing tools would detect them and they would be held accountable. And they know that from the courses they take and the pledge they’ve made to this nation and they take that very seriously. There are allegations that they listen to our emails and they do all these things. They don’t. And if we did, we would be held accountable. 100% auditability on what we do here.” [Referring to NSA employees abusing their access to our personal data]
  • “If we tell everyone what we’re doing the adversaries will be able to get through our defenses.”
  • “The damage that has happened to our country is significant and irreversible.”  [Referring to Snowden but not by name]

General Alexander was heckled throughout his speech with the final shout from the audience being “You should read the constitution.” His response was “I have. You should too.” to massive applause from the audience.

I don’t hold a strong political view one way or the other regarding the current NSA controversy and the General’s speech. I do know that families who work in high security jobs make sacrifices, the most basic one being that they can never come home and share their day with their spouse and kids. I also know that bad governments use fear to increase their powers and I’ve seen the damage this does first hand when I grew up in Apartheid South Africa from 1974 until 1991. So I think accountability and transparency is very important. The fact that the director of the NSA has the guts to stand up in front of the most vocal and engaged members of the CyberSecurity community speaks to a level of transparency and accountability and I think is a good indication that they realize they are still accountable to us.

The full audio of General Alexander’s speech is available on Soundcloud.

Until Next time Happy Gardening
and phone conversing and playing in Cyberland!!!

 

PPI Fee Structures: Independent Contractor or Minimum Wage Employee

Organics Admin
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Organics Admin

COO at Aladay LLC
Organic Farmer, Property Preservation Specialist and Custom Glass & Wood Worker. Blogger extraordinaire...
Organics Admin
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CAN THE

NATIONAL PROPERTY PRESERVATION GUILD

SUCCED WHERE OTHERS HAVE FAILED?

 graff 018

With the current climate throughout the Property Preservation Industry (PPI) it seems like this would be the perfect time for an organization advocating for the contractors to come together. One of the biggest issues in the PPI right now is the fact the 54.3% of Contractors surveyed feel like they are an employee.

Enter the national Property Preservation Guild (NPPG). On the surface seems like a novel concept. A group of Contractors coming together to represent themselves in the face the downward spiral the industry has taken no thanks to the only organization currently claiming to “advocate” for everyone in the PPI, National Association of Mortgage Field Servicers better known as NAMFS. When I search to see this organizations advocating activity it appears that the only ones they are advocating for is themselves and those companies that their Board of Directors represent throughout the industry, but that’s a story for another time.

Let us look at the NPPG and why they will have a very difficult time succeeding where others have failed. One of the biggest issues facing the Boots on the Ground Contractors (BTOG) is the fact that there are so many companies out there with a business model that is known as “subbing” and the companies that have become known as Regional Order Mills (ROM) have  these cushy contracts with the National Asset Management Companies (NAMC). You see the NAMC “sub” the work to the ROM and they remove a layer, usually 20% of the invoice amount for merely transferring the work order to another company. Who may in turn once again sub to a company who also does not perform the services thus creating what is known as an Otherwise Unauthorized Order Mill (OUOM).

Let us examine this for just a minute. The NAMC looks to reduce their overhead. The quickest way to do this is by reducing the amount of incoming companies they have to deal with. In order to do this they need one company that will cover say an entire state, thus they only have to deal with one entity. They let the entity deal with the 1500 vendors they had, pretty good business model. Now that company the ROM since they actually do no work they only transfer the work orders, finds say five contractors to cover the territory they have been given or the OUOM. Still a great business model as everyone in the food chain so far has yet to actually take on any financial risk or even do anything but transfer work orders.

Enter the BTOG. This is the group of people that actually put the resources into play that are required to complete the services for the “Client”. They pay labor, pick up the disposal fees, fuel costs, storage fees where applicable, pay for the new locks that are placed on the properties when the former occupants have moved out. So what’s the big deal you ask isn’t that part of doing business? Yes, but here is the catch, the ROM is receiving the same amount of money for service fees that the BTOG received 7 years ago, they take a percentage and pass it on to the OUOM and they take a percentage and pass it on to the BTOG. Now for the seasoned BTOG out there very few are doing lawn cuts anymore unless they are working directly with the main supplier of the work orders. The companies that are working with all the middlemen or “order mills” are doing so at their peril. You see seven years ago $0.80 to $0.85 on the dollar was actually going to the BOTG to have the properties serviced. Contractors made respectable livings and took a lot of pride in the product they delivered. Somewhere around the end of 2008 the philosophy that “the only way to make money in the PPI is to sub the work” entered the picture…Just as Marx forgot to include “the nature of the beast” into his socialism and communist theories of government the lazy capitalistic minded powers to be have forgotten to include the fact that someone eventually has to physically complete the services. With this current business model rampant in the industry the Contractors are only receiving approximately $0.25-$0.30 on the dollar. In addition this places the contractors in serious financial peril.

Financial peril you say??? I say this for several reasons. One, probably the most important one is the fact 61.4% of Contractors surveyed have stated they have completed services for a company having a business model of subbing work only to not get paid. This is the chain of events that has become an accepted business model by all participants in the PPI. The NAMC routinely take 30 days to pay or what is called “net 30”, the ROM allows for this by pushing out to “net 45”, the UOM goes to “net 60”. The “peril” for the BTOG becomes getting paid. You see they have to trust the fact that all the go between companies “subbing” the work to them is actually going to pay them and not tell them “We haven’t gotten paid by so-n-so and we won’t be able to pay you this week”, when the check is late. As previously stated the BOTG are financing the industry and everyone in between them and the lender or “client” has yet to assume any risk at all. It is the BOTG that must foot the bill to complete services and then wait 30+ days to be paid. This is sort of like you loaning your bank money for 30 plus days interest free. I don’t know of any bank that will make an interest free loan, yet the Contractors are required to assume all the liability, insure and finance this industry. Pretty sweet deals for the lender who has never done anything but make a bad loan taking the property as collateral and is able resell the asset.

Now let us go one step further and discuss for one minute the nonpayment issues plaguing the industry that NAMFS and NPPG seems to want to ignore. I say “ignore” as they have not taken a position on anything that directly affects the Contractors. In fact there is currently a NAMFS member that has made the headlines for not paying contractors(http://foreclosurepedia.org/yet-another-order-mill-in-ohio-screwing-contractors/ and http://www.katv.com/story/22944791/mid-ohio-field-services?goback=%2Egmp_4730139%2Egde_4730139_member_261277516),[prior to publication of this article I received a call about a company ASAP another member of NAMFS not paying Contractors, at this time I have not received documentation, but a complaint never-the-less. You can be assured this will be investigated and we will report what we find]. Here is how easy it is to net a million dollars in this industry and in a relatively short period of time.

Let us suppose for a minute that a NAMC has entered into a contract with a ROM that went into business last week. The contract involves the coverage of three states. The ROM decides not to use a UOM, so they are issuing work orders to 1,500 Contractors. Now let’s say the ROM decides they don’t want to pay for whatever reason…Oh say the CEO of said ROM wants to take a pretty girl around the world on a big fancy boat. So the ROM holds back $500.00 from every vendor this month. That nets the ROM $750,000.00 this month. Now the ROM knows that they have another month worth of invoices coming in within the next two weeks and the ROM knows they can do this at least two or three more times before the Contractors stop accepting work orders. So the ROM can effectively embezzle 2.25 million dollars within 90 days. I would say that is a pretty good income with assuming no risk while just transferring paperwork. That is their bonus, as they have transferred Seven million work orders at a 20% discount for an additional, let’s say 1.4 million (this number has been grabbed out of the air to make a point but the first figures are a scenario that is not only plausible has happened.). Please do not think I’m saying all ROM and UOM do this. But there is an above average amount of companies (compared to other industries) taking advantage of the “process”. So why is this not being addressed by any of the organizations claiming to advocate for the Contractors? Why haven’t any of the organizations developed a “Conflict Resolution Hotline”??? Especially since 66.4% of the Contractors surveyed feel that there should be an independent third party mediator for conflict resolution.

Many of you are probably asking yourself, why aren’t these BOTG companies placing liens on these properties? Another issue no group claiming to advocate for the contractors will take up. The “No Lien” clauses the Contractors are forced to sign. If anyone had any gumption at all they would know that 60% of the Contractors feel the lien clauses need to be removed from the contracts and that 62% feel that they should be allowed to lien a property if they have not been paid in 30 days.

When I look around the industry the only system I see is an Istar system that has been set up by the folks at Foreclosurepedia. The problem we have in the industry being unregulated there are no numbers to actually account for numerous times this has happened and for whatever reason there is a reluctance on the Contractors part to file a complaint in the Istar system so numbers can be entered into a matrix, which makes it hard for any organization or individual to be able to provide some concrete number. We can only hope that more contractors will get on board to stop the embezzlement epidemic plaguing the PPI.

By now you must be asking where I’m going with this and what does this have to do with the NPPG being able to succeed where others have failed???

  • For a group that claims to “advocate for the Contractors”, I could not figure out why the organization would not issue a position on this matter. Even thought they do not seem to be very organizationally minded, as evidenced by their changing of their mission statement 6 weeks after they came up with…get this statement…

The mission of the National Property Preservation Guild (Guild) is to facilitate an environment where clients are placed in the best possible position to ensure Return On Investment (ROI). The Guild will serve as an advocate for Contractors whom regularly deliver excellent service, with ethics and integrity as the foundation of their business. In addition to supporting members and Contractors, the National Property Preservation Guild will provide educational programs to confirm all members are qualified to supply the highest quality service to the clients they serve within the preservation industry. 

I’m guessing that there had to be pressure from somewhere,(http://foreclosurepedia.org/foreclosuregate-why-the-namfs-and-nppg-are-asleep-at-the-helm/), as the statement they now use places the Contractors in front of the “Clients” but still the organizations is concerned about the “clients” return on investment. This is how it now reads;

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of the National Property Preservation Guild (NPPG) is to serve as an advocate for Contractors whom provide quality services that aid in ensuring maximum Return On Investment (ROI) for property preservation clients.

Now there’s a fine how-do-you-do intensely humble, backhanded approach, when claiming to be an association advocating for the Contractors. I have yet to see any lender have concerns that the Contractor stays in business or even cares if their power bill is paid. So why would any organization claiming to advocate for the Contractors have such grave concerns for the clients ROI? Unless…are there other motives in play?

Back to why the NPPG will have a very difficult time succeeding where others have failed. I believe it is the same reason that the NPPG is spineless and will not issue a statement or position paper concerning the ROM and UOM and why the industry needs to be rid of them. Many of the Board of Directors “sub” their work out. Now they can’t very well take a position against their own business model or take the position against other companies that sub the work out, unless of course, they could be allowed to continue with their business model. Which brings one to the issue, is the organization truly advocating for Boots on the Ground Contractors? According to the NPPG a BOTG Contractor is someone that goes out in the field and completes services. No I’m afraid by being part of the “subbing” portion of the PPI they are part of the problem plaguing the industry that they claim they want to help clean up.

What we actually have is a bunch of Contractor’s that really want to believe in something and are willing to listen and take a chance and follow these leaders of the NPPG. One has to wonder if this isn’t some sort of conspiracy by the NAMC. Have companies like Corelogic, FAS, Safeguard Properties, MCS etc. had some of their better Contractors infiltrate the NPPG and set it up to make things appear like there is really something or someone out there that cares FOR the contractors? Has this been done to make things appear that there is hope for the BTOG? Sadly I don’t know I have no answers for those questions. However, I believe in the days past, days of Jimmy Hoffa, these people would have been called “Union Busters”. However, they can’t be a union buster as the NPPG just recently announce that they will be an “Association” another sign of just how unorganized this group is. An “Association” that will provide an “educated qualified work force” to the industry. An organization that is going to “re-educate” the client on what a quality contractor “looks” like. Seriously? Now there’s a novel concept, I wish them the best of luck with that.

The original concept of the National Property Preservation Guild was that of; Boots on the Ground Contractors, Contractors that actually went out in the field and completed services, coming together so they could make a stand on the injustices currently going on in the industry. Contractors coming together to stop the downward spiral that, IMHO, NAMFS allowed to happen while claiming to represent all parties in the Mortgage Field Service Industry. I just do not understand why when a group or organization states they “advocate” for another group why there is no position taken in an advocating manner? Why hasn’t the NPPG taken a position in regards to the Service Contract Act? The SCA after all does affect the Contractors they claim to advocate on behalf of. Furthermore, why hasn’t the NPPG taken a single position on behalf of the contractors in regards to the numerous issues in contracts that basically make a company an employee with no employee benefits? Why has there been no comment in regards to the demand for a company’s employee’s personal information and all of their “subs” employee’s personal information to be sent on unsecured lines and unencrypted? Why has the issue of request for credit checks not been addressed?  I’m puzzled, as there are so many issues in the PPI, there have been even more opportunities given for positions to be made by all organizations claiming to represent and advocate for the Contractors. In defense of NAMFS you must be a member of their organization to receive acknowledgement for your place in the PPI. If you’re not a member of their exclusive club, you do not exist. If there was truly an association or organization out there honestly advocating for the contractors they would know the 68.9% of contractors surveyed feel that subbing on any level in the PPI, with the exception of trade specific services needs to leave the industry because they feel it is an exploitative business model.

As a colleague of mine has said in the past “Welcome to the Rabbit Hole” the long convoluted tunnel in the Mortgage Field Service Industry called Property Preservation. That is what makes this industry so easy to hide from the rest of the world. However, I, along with many others “in the know” if you will, throughout the industry am convinced that regulation will come to this industry. It will happen with audits, because of lawsuits, especially when the many health issues get exposed the industry has been able to hide for so long. It will happen with IRS audits of the Independent Contractor/Employee issues in the industry. It will happen as the media starts to get more and more involved with the graft and corruption plaguing the PPI that organizations like NAMFS and NPPG seem to see fit to ignore.

You see, when you have a group of people offering “lip service” instead of being in touch with how your base membership feels about what the organizations necessary actions should be  to correct the injustices in any industry , the only thing you’re assured of is failure.