Security Musings

Security Musings

Information Security Travel Guide

Stephen Northcutt, an Information Security Researcher, United Airlines 1k, Writer and Instructor, documents the struggles of the travel and hospitality industries as we all face continually increasing energy costs. He and his peers share their travel experiences and give you quick tips and short reviews of the companies they do business with as they travel. If you came across this article because of a Google search, what you want is probably here, just use find with your browser (CTRL - F), it is easier than reading from top to bottom; however, you may get some useful tips if you stick around and read. Each major cluster of trips is documented in a separate file.

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Information Security Travel Guide: July 2008, Quantico, Atlanta and Washington DC

By Stephen Northcutt
Version 1.2

[July 29, 2008] Dulles to Los Angeles to Lihue, Kauai. Great stay at the Marriott Wardman Park, got to Dulles two hours early just in case, but the 1k line was working perfectly. Dropped into my favorite Subway sandwich shop; as usual, there was a line of ten people and, as usual, they were moving that line quickly. Bought a copy of When Markets Collide to read on the way home; Mohamed El-Erian says just about the opposite of what Kobren does. The next year will certainly be interesting. Great crew on both United flights, happy to be home.

[July 19, 2008] Dulles to Marriott Wardman Park. Light traffic in the early Saturday afternoon, easy trip. Great to be back at the Marriott, the Wardman is one of my favorite properties, especially for Washington DC. Room wasn't quite ready (I had arrived before check in) so I dropped off my bags with the bellman and headed for Dupont Circle to get a haircut. If you are ever in Northwest Washington, plan to get your hair cut. That may sound silly, but they are the best in the world; I like Subairi's and also Diegos. While I was down that way, I enjoyed the salmon at Buca di Beppo, great Italian food, can't wait till the gang arrives so I can eat there family style. Sunday, July 20 is an open day for me, so I will spend the day writing and doing some reading as well. Usually on the road, I brew a pot of green tea in a nalgene water bottle, but it is Sunday, and all deadlines are under control, so I am opting for White Tea; it has a little less caffeine. Numi makes a good one, normally I am gun shy of citrus flavored teas, but they do it right.
TIP: I also drop in a couple slices of astragulus (use in moderation, I let the slices stay in the water bottle for several brewings of tea) and a piece of Schumacher's Wisconsin Ginseng root to try to keep my immune system tuned.

And, I received some advice from a reader about a site, Best of the Web - Washington that you might find to be helpful in researching Washington, DC businesses and activities links on the Internet.

[July 19, 2008] United Express flight from Atlanta to Dulles. A week earlier Atlanta was hit with some storms and the airport went out of control, with security lines running over an hour. A fellow business traveler got caught in the mess and warned me to arrive at least two hours early if I was flying out of Atlanta on Saturday. It was busy, but not bad. The contrast between the United Airlines airport staff in Atlanta and Dulles was amazing. There were about 200 people in line when I arrived, but they took control of the situation, moved the people on the tightest connections to a separate ticket counter and processed them rapidly so they would not miss their flights. The First Class/1K line moved quickly. There were not many food choices in the United Express terminal, but there was a small Red Carpet Club Lounge that had apples and yogurt, and that helped. [Note: United will be closing the Atlanta airport Red Carpet Club, along with 3 others, by early October 2008.] The flight was a pretty standard United Express puddle jumper. When we landed at Dulles there were a few more indicators that the United Airlines Airport manager for Dulles doesn't have full control. There was no cart for the gate checked carry-ons, so the ground crew was pulling them by hand two at a time. Those items have to be unloaded before the plane can let the passengers out, and it was about a ten minute delay; on the ground in Virginia, in July, you can imagine that it started to get warm very quickly. When we did get off, one of the big windows in the terminal had shattered and they were cleaning it up. That glass is 1/2" thick so it must have been a pretty serious collision.

[July 18, 2008] After class I drove through Atlanta's Friday afternoon traffic to the Marriott Renaissance Concourse Hotel by the airport. World's largest airport hotel, at least the largest I have ever been in, but the room was clean and soundproof and the shuttles ran every fifteen minutes. The Enterprise rental was responsive and fast, I dropped my car off that night so there would be one less thing to do in the morning. On the way to drop off the car, I had a meal at Silver's Delight All Natural Juice and Caribbean Restaurant. It is at 2879 East Point St. East Point GA, 30344, (404) 567-6700. I would call before going out, it looks low budget and may not make it, but the Red Snapper Escoveitch is as good as I have ever had.

[July 18, 2008] Checked out of the Embassy Suites, all in all a nice stay. Taught one more day at the Learning Tree Perimeter facility. The staff and facilities were excellent. The Internet did not work the last day which was not popular for the students, but other than that, everything was great. They will rent to non-Learning Tree groups: I was teaching Management 512, Security Leadership Essentials for the SANS Insitute.

[July 12, 2008, Embassy Suites Atlanta - Perimeter Center] Parked in the parking garage, checking in was easy. Room was clean, even the bathroom, two nice size flat screens, plenty towels, hangers in the closet, enough drawer space that they could accommodate a family.
==TIP: I normally ask for two double beds and keep my stuff in my suitcase on one of the beds during business travel. However, since I am on the road for three weeks, I will need to do laundry in my room. I can use my suiter as a drying area for socks and underwear, so I used the drawers for clean stuff.

Thankful for a nice place to sleep, I pulled back the covers and poured myself into bed. I woke up at 8:30am, I had left the curtains open. There was a lot of noise; I looked at the center of the hotel, it was a sea of people having breakfast. There was a HUGE family reunion. So, partly for grins to watch the antics, I wandered down to get breakfast myself. When I first got there, there was a huge line, but the Embassy Suites staff was all over it; they were walking down the line handing out trays and explaining our options, one of which was not to wait in line if we didn't want to have an omelet or scrambled eggs right away. Sounded good to me, so I got some ruby red grapefruit, a bowl of granola topped with yogurt, and a glass of OJ. I was very impressed with the morning staff, there were maybe 8 of them and they were moving. They kept up with the dirty dishes, and they kept food coming to the buffet. One really smart thing they did was dish out the food on the buffet for the people, that kept hands out of the food. The first bus left with one of the family reunion adventures; the line was pretty short, so I got an omelet cooked to order myself. Tipped the cook team $2.00, they earned it. Checked my email, then located the closest Costco (three blocks away as the crow flies, but a 30 minute drive with help from the Garmin), and filled up the fridge in case it is a busy week.

[Midnight July 11, 2008, Atlanta Airport, Enterprise Rent a Car] Enterprise had sent me an email saying after I get to baggage claim, BEFORE picking up baggage, come to their desk and set up the car. So, I did; the gentleman was very nice, very professional, we had a bit of chit chat and I clearly knew what I wanted. Then I got my checked bag (I am out for 21 days, so I need a checked bag, I choose a small suiter to keep my shirts looking nice.) Got my bag, found the Enterprise rental van, and we were off to Enterprise within five minutes. I like using the time I would be waiting for my bag to work with the rental car company; not every airport supports that, but it saves every traveler renting a car ten minutes and possibly more, depending on the lines. When we arrived at the rental car place there was a gentleman waiting with a sign that said Northcutt; what a nice touch, it is 12:20 AM, I have been through a lot, and here is someone ready for me by name. My previous Enterprise experience this year went well also, we may have something to think about here. He showed me the car, Pontiac Grand Prix, set up the Garmin GPS, we inspected the car together. So, I headed for my hotel, Bam! 12:30 AM, five minutes out of the airport and there is a total chock-a-block traffic jam. Only in Atlanta! The guy in front of me snuck into the car pool lane and I followed his lead. It would have been a hefty fine if I had been caught, but some of those poor people must have been there for hours, they were not moving. I went to total alertness, at that time of the morning a considerable percent of the drivers have been drinking; glad I slept on the plane. The car handled well and I gave it a decent shakedown changing lanes, testing the braking, not bad at all. The Garmin, that is another thing; it is between 30' and 80' off, I have never had a Garmin that inaccurate. So, I had to make a couple u-turns, but got to my hotel.

[July 11, 2008, from Dulles (IAD) to Atlanta (ATL)] Flight left on time, it was operated by Mesa Airlines, the seat was comfortable. I have no idea what the service level on the flight was, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. There was room in the seat pocket in front of me for my water bottle.
==TIP: I carry one water bottle made of nalgene (think backpack) for the whole trip. Not only does it save about $20.00 and is easier on landfills everywhere, but it is healthier. Any gain from the filtered water in throwaway bottles is lost and more because the plastic leaches out into the water. Also, nalgene can handle hot or cold. In the winter time, or when I have a scratchy throat, I will often make tea in my water bottle.

[July 11, 2008, Dulles Airport] I had plenty of time to kill in the airport. I was hungry and went to the Subway at D gates. They make pizza there, actually pretty good pizza; the oregano really comes through in the sauce. There was a big rush, but they handled it. They are a crack crew, I have seen them do this time and time again. They work as a team, they call into the crowd for the next order, they eliminate every delay. When they line finally subsides. they rest, get a drink to stay hydrated, and make sure the eating area is clean. I could not help contrast their performance and the United folks. I suspect the United folks get paid a lot more today, but it would be interesting to track all of their futures over the next five years. The Subway team seems to have what it takes to get ahead. The Dulles airport manager for United would be wise to observe the two teams handling a rush.

I went down to the Red Carpet Club Lounge, they have a TV right outside the business center, so as I am reading my email I am listening to CNN; the big news is that presidential candidate Barack Obama is considering sponsoring a NASCAR race car owned by Republicans. Well, I am really glad this current election will be decided on the major issues.

[July 11, 2008, Drive to Dulles] Class ended early and the Marines are not only ready for their exams, they understand the critical fundamentals of Security; I can't bring myself to teach only to the test. I left early enough to consider taking an earlier flight to Atlanta (ATL). I had been pondering a back way using Prince William Parkway, but decided to stick to I95 North to 495. However, there was a big accident on I95 with warning signs saying to take alternate routes. I knew Rte 234 went to Manassas, and that was the first exit after encountering the traffic buildup, so I took it. That is a nice road! I called my travel professional, Diane, and she looked up the route for me (somehow this trip I thought I knew the roads well enough not to need a GPS). We made great time so Diane scheduled me for the 4:30 flight instead of the 9:40 PM. I got back to Dollar rental and that is where my luck went south. The rental van was 15 minutes in coming and worse, Dollar and Thrifty share rental vans at Dulles. So, I was now running tight. The van dropped us off so that we had to walk the entire airport.
==TIP: Thrifty and Dollar are not recommended at Dulles, I have heard (unconfirmed) horror stories of business travelers arriving at Thrifty at 7:30 AM to drop off their cars and it is still not open. That will mess up your travel schedule.

Then the death blow. They have four United lines at Dulles, one for Global Services and International First Class, then domestic First Class and 1k, Premier Exec and Premier, finally the rest of us. I was directed into the 1k line. Problem was, United had hired a mentally deficient gentleman. Now, that is a great gesture to hire the handicapped, but it cost a half dozen 1k and first class people their flights during the time I was watching. Even though there were four lines, he was in charge of one of them, so he was directing everyone in his line to all the open ticket counters, he was even stealing from Global Services, I am not sure how you get to be a United Global Services, but I know you do not steal their ticket counters. I tried to explain it to him (after all, the ticket counters are labeled), but the eyes were open and there was no brain activity; all he knew was to help his line (and he did a great job of it). I realized then I had one chance to make my plane, climbed out of the line and raced for the curbside check in, I missed it by five minutes. Since I was not in a hurry, I went back in, got back in the 1k line to observe the antics. The United employees, including the supervisor, were all aware of the handicapped guy; premiers were beating the pants off 1ks and Global Services, I was in no hurry. I actually got to speak with the supervisor, but he had just given up, he thanked me and I didn't yell at him, plenty of other people had. The ticket counter ladythat had the best seat to observe the drama checked me in. She even apologized for my wait, by now I had been in the 1k line for 2 hours total and about 25 people total were processed. She and I had made eye contact me several times during the two hours, but she took no action. For the first time, it crossed my mind that United may succumb to bankruptcy and not come out of it. At Dulles anyway, there is a dearth of leadership; it isn't the workers' fault, they are sheep without a shepherd. Hope they pull out of this: I have about 250k Mileage Plus miles banked, am over halfway to million mile status, and United is the only airline I have privileges on.

[July 7 - 11, 2008] Taught Management 512, SANS Security Leadership Essentials at Quantico Marine Base by day and held business meetings by night. They hosted the course to meet their 8570 requirements. I am scheduled to teach the same course at Defense Logistics Agency next month in my second trip. We ate at the Sakura Japanese Steak House in Potomac Mills: prices were reasonable, portions were fine, the teppanyaki show was forgettable. Dr. Eric Cole and I also ate at the Cracker Barrel; next time I go to Potomac Mills, I think I will stick to Lean Cuisine. The best and healthiest meal I had was Hooters; spiced shrimp, King crab legs, salad, and every seat in the place has a view.

[July 6, 2008, Potomac Mills] Arrive at Temporary Duty (TDY) hotel, WyteStone Suites with only a bit of trouble finding the place. Potomac Mills could be better marked; I had pulled over to Rte. 1 because of the traffic and there were no signs to Potomac Mills that I could see, but found it by 4:30 PM. Room rate was reasonable, $132/night, but you get what you pay for. Pubic hairs and mold on bath tub. Other than it seemed fairly clean.
==TIP: When choosing a hotel for temporary duty, get as close as you can to your work place and also, when possible, use the chains; Marriott and Starwood have been better bets for me and you can even earn points.

Checked the Internet to see if there was a Costco near by. The room had a fridge and microwave, so I bought a jar of Cashews and a pack of Lean Cuisine (they generally are moderate in both fat and sodium) and a box of Yoplait yogurt.

[July 6, 2008, Drive from Dulles (IAD) to Potomac Mills] I chose to take 495 to I95, traffic is even heavier than the last time I had been there. It was touch and go north and south on I95. The car, a Sebring, handled flawlessly; good control, good ride, enough acceleration to survive the highway maneuvers.

[July 6, 2008, Dulles (IAD) Dollar Rent a Car] My last few experiences with Hertz have included denying I had a confirmation, even though I had it printed and showed it to the counter staff, followed by the staff in Philadelphia being downright rude, so we decided to try the competition. We tried Dollar. The rental car van was prompt leaving the airport even though I was the only passenger; I tipped $5.00 to reinforce taking care of business travelers. No problem getting the car, no hard sale on upgrading the car or upgrading the insurance. So far so good.

[July 5, 2008, Kauai (LIH) to Dulles (IAD), United Airlines] Red eye flight, I was already tired. Even though I had a confirmed upgrade to first class on both legs, United did not honor it. I was placed in Economy Plus to Denver which was okay, but not first class as originally booked. In flight I looked at my ticket from Denver (DEN) to Dulles. They had put me in 34F, a window seat in the back of the plane. What a way to treat a 1k; steal his first class seat and put him in the worst seat on the plane. When I got to Denver, I went straight to the Red Carpet Club to change that seat. All she could give me was 9A, the seat with zero legroom because of the bottom of the door. It was an early morning flight, there was almost no service; I had my own water bottle, but there was no place to put it since seat 9A is an extended bulkhead, so I kept it between my legs. There was no blanket and the chill from the side of the aircraft was uncomfortable. I had a jacket in my carry-on, but there was no way to get up as jammed in as we were, and there was also weather, so the seat belt sign was on a lot of the trip.
==TIP: If you are in Economy and have a window seat, have your jacket in your hand when boarding

On the plus side I had plenty of throwaway reading material, I keep all the security magazines that come in a couple weeks before a trip to read on the plane, and then I leave them behind.