Publicly accessible Wi-Fi geolocation databases enable tracking of individual laptops and cell phones.Read More
Declan McCullagh of CNET is reporting on a bill to require ISPs to maintain massive records on their users. According to the article this bill requires commercial Internet providers to retain "customers' names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses".
They are calling it the "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011" in a flagrent attempt to make it politically difficult to vote against it even though the bill has noting directly to do with Internet pornography or protecting children.
Were this bill to become law, it might cause real problems for the growth of public Wi-Fi where there is no user authentication. That would be a huge leap backwards for a very possitive trend of late.
Of course, criminals will continue to be trivially able to circumvent such tracking efforts making this primarily a mechanism for gathering information on innocent persons without any hint of suspicion or probably cause.
It is absolutely un-American to require every citizen to submit to continuous tracking and monitoring on the possibility that some tiny fraction of us will commit a crime. Law enforcement always lobbies hard for such provisions. Make sure your voice is heard that you value your privacy and your rights.
This article in Scientific American does a nice job of describing why it is difficult to track attacks back to their true origins. This essay by Bruce Schneier goes farther arguing that it is fundamentally impossible to create an Internet without anonymity.
The core point of both articles is that identifying the computer that a given packet came from is not the same as identifying the sender. The computer could be a server set up to enable anonymous communications (like Anonymizer.com), it could be a compromised computer (like part of a botnet), or even a server run by the attacker purchased using pre-paid or stolen credit cards.
Whatever the mechanism, it will always be possible for attackers to hide their identities and activities. The real question is the degree to which we are willing to design the Internet to make tracking and monitoring of citizens easy for repressive regimes.
Face book announced that it will soon start automatically suggesting your name for tagging photos any time it thinks it recognizes you in a picture. This automatic facial recognition is the default and will be done unless you explicitly opt out.
It looks like you need to customize your privacy settings to disable this. In Facebook, look under the "account" menu and select "Privacy Settings".
From there click the "Customize settings" link at the bottom of the table. Within there, look for "Suggest photos of me to friends", and set it to "Disabled".
I suspect that few people will simply stumble on that.
Other people tagging you in photos can lead to embarrassment you might want to avoid. Having your name suggested just makes that more likely.
While you are at it, you might want to change the setting that allows others to "check you in" to locations. That can tell thieves you are away from home or stalkers where to find you.
CNN has a good article on the announcement. Facebook lets users opt out of facial recognition - CNN.com
Thanks to Bruce Schneier for linking to this interesting article on using patterns in language to identify the author of emails. While the technique would not allow them to identify your anonymous emails in an ocean of others, that is rarely the real world threat scenario.
In many cases there is a relative hand full of likely authors of a given email or group of emails. It is often possible to gather large samples of emails known and acknowledged to be from the likely authors. In that case this technique has a small group of targets and excellent training materials which allow for very high levels of accuracy (the authors of the paper claim 80% - 90%). That is probably enough to get a warrant to search your home and computers.
Unless you have been unusually careful, the gig is probably up by then. Remember, this might not be for criminal matters. It many cases this would come up in whistle blowing or other non-criminal situations.
The story is about a german politician Malte Spitz who sued to obtain the retained cell tower records for his own phone, then provided them to the newspaper. The newspaper has created a nice map and timeline tool to allow you to play Spitz's movements over 6 months. The resolution is impressive and should be a real wake up call about the level of detailed information being gathered on us all.
Of course, if the phone company was capturing GPS or WiFi based location information the data would be much more accurate. While GPS would quickly drain the battery, many modern phones have WiFi enabled all the time, so that information would be readily available without any additional impact on the phone's performance.