The Privacy BlogPrivacy, Security, Cryptography, and Anonymity

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The FBI in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Joint Regional Intelligence Center have produced a number of fliers to help the public identify possible terrorists. While some of the points have merit, it is very likely that this will generate an extremely high proportion of false alerts based on perfectly reasonable and legal behaviors.

A big red flag for me were the fliers for cyber cafes and electronics stores. These suggest that the use of privacy protecting services, like Anonymizer, should be deemed suspicious. They also call out Encryption, VoIP, and communicating through video games.

In almost all of the fliers they suggest that wanting to pay cash (legal tender for all debts public and private) is suspicious.

Thanks to Public Intelligence for pulling together PDFs of the documents.

Internet Cafe flier.

Electronics Store flier.

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Anonymizer just released the results of a new survey of people’s use of privacy protecting technologies. The short answer is that the old standards, anti-virus and firewalls, are widely used. Unfortunately they don’t actually do much to protect your privacy. They are more about security.

For full details, read the article.

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There has been a lot of attention recently to the arrest of an alleged LulzSec hacker after his anonymity was compromised by the anonymity service he was using, HideMyAss.com. Some articles on the event are here, here and the provider’s explanation here.

The reason this company was able to compromise the privacy of their user was that they had logs of user activity. They know what IP address is assigned to each user and can use that to attribute any activity back to the real identity of the person behind the account.

The real problem with logs is that they exist or they don’t. You can’t keep logs only for “bad users” but not for responsible “good users” because even if it was possible to identify them as such in advance, you would not find anything like agreement about who should fall in which category.

Many operators of privacy services, including myself, feel very strongly that such tools should be usable in countries like China to circumvent the censorship and surveillance there. Such actions are certainly illegal for the user, and probably for the provider. While being a UK company and only responding to UK court orders, they were “forced” to expose the identity of a person in the US who was then arrested by the FBI.

I don’t know enough about this case to debate whether or not this person is guilty or deserved to be arrested. My concern is that this case has demonstrated that anyone who can cause a UK court order to be severed against this company can expose their users. It also makes them a target for hacking, social engineering, infiltration and other attacks which could gain access to these logs without a UK court order.

As a general rule, if information exists and people want it, there is a very good chance it will escape, if only by accident.

Perhaps we should not be too surprised that this company failed to protect its users, when it has no visible privacy policy on the website, and there are no identifiable people standing behind the product and brand with their personal reputations.

I founded this company, Anonymizer.com, and I personally stand behind our services. We have clear privacy policies, we keep no logs of the surfing activities of our users, we have no way of identifying what user may have visited what website. We have an unblemished record of providing robust privacy since 1995.

As I have said in many previous posts, it all comes down to trust. If you don’t know who is providing the service, and don’t have the ability to research their history and gauge their integrity, you should not use that service.

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Revealing Secrets with a Click – Technology Review

This is a very nice interview that was just published by Technology Review on the importance of anonymity for businesses. This is a topic rarely covered. Generally either people are talking about anonymity for consumers, or businesses protecting or violating consumer privacy. Very little attention is paid to the legitimate needs of business to hide their identities on-line from time to time.

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