Entries Tagged "anonymity"

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Doxing as an Attack

Those of you unfamiliar with hacker culture might need an explanation of “doxing.”

The word refers to the practice of publishing personal information about people without their consent. Usually it’s things like an address and phone number, but it can also be credit card details, medical information, private e-mails — ­pretty much anything an assailant can get his hands on.

Doxing is not new; the term dates back to 2001 and the hacker group Anonymous. But it can be incredibly offensive. In 2014, several women were doxed by male gamers trying to intimidate them into keeping silent about sexism in computer games.

Companies can be doxed, too. In 2011, Anonymous doxed the technology firm HBGary Federal. In the past few weeks we’ve witnessed the ongoing doxing of Sony.

Everyone from political activists to hackers to government leaders has now learned how effective this attack is. Everyone from common individuals to corporate executives to government leaders now fears this will happen to them. And I believe this will change how we think about computing and the Internet.

This essay previously appeared on BetaBoston, who asked about a trend for 2015.

EDITED TO ADD (1/3): Slashdot thread.

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 7:21 AMView Comments

NSA Targets the Privacy-Conscious for Surveillance

Jake Appelbaum et al., are reporting on XKEYSCORE selection rules that target users — and people who just visit the websites of — Tor, Tails, and other sites. This isn’t just metadata; this is “full take” content that’s stored forever.

This code demonstrates the ease with which an XKeyscore rule can analyze the full content of intercepted connections. The fingerprint first checks every message using the “email_address” function to see if the message is to or from “bridges@torproject.org”. Next, if the address matched, it uses the “email_body” function to search the full content of the email for a particular piece of text – in this case, “https://bridges.torproject.org/”. If the “email_body” function finds what it is looking for, it passes the full email text to a C++ program which extracts the bridge addresses and stores them in a database.

[…]

It is interesting to note that this rule specifically avoids fingerprinting users believed to be located in Five Eyes countries, while other rules make no such distinction. For instance, the following fingerprint targets users visiting the Tails and Linux Journal websites, or performing certain web searches related to Tails, and makes no distinction about the country of the user.

[…]

There are also rules that target users of numerous other privacy-focused internet services, including HotSpotShield, FreeNet, Centurian, FreeProxies.org, MegaProxy, privacy.li and an anonymous email service called MixMinion as well as its predecessor MixMaster. The appid rule for MixMinion is extremely broad as it matches all traffic to or from the IP address 128.31.0.34, a server located on the MIT campus.

It’s hard to tell how extensive this is. It’s possible that anyone who clicked on this link — with the embedded torproject.org URL above — is currently being monitored by the NSA. It’s possible that this only will happen to people who receive the link in e-mail, which will mean every Crypto-Gram subscriber in a couple of weeks. And I don’t know what else the NSA harvests about people who it selects in this manner.

Whatever the case, this is very disturbing.

EDITED TO ADD (7/3): The BoingBoing story says that this was first published on Tagesschau. Can someone who can read German please figure out where this originated.

And, since Cory said it, I do not believe that this came from the Snowden documents. I also don’t believe the TAO catalog came from the Snowden documents. I think there’s a second leaker out there.

EDITED TO ADD (7/3): More news stories. Thread on Reddit. I don’t expect this to get much coverage in the US mainstream media.

EDITED TO ADD (7/3): Here is the code. In part:

// START_DEFINITION
/*
These variables define terms and websites relating to the TAILs (The Amnesic
Incognito Live System) software program, a comsec mechanism advocated by
extremists on extremist forums.
*/

$TAILS_terms=word(‘tails’ or ‘Amnesiac Incognito Live System’) and
word(‘linux’
or ‘ USB ‘ or ‘ CD ‘ or ‘secure desktop’ or ‘ IRC ‘ or ‘truecrypt’ or ‘
tor ‘);
$TAILS_websites=(‘tails.boum.org/’) or (‘linuxjournal.com/content/linux*’);
// END_DEFINITION

// START_DEFINITION
/*
This fingerprint identifies users searching for the TAILs (The Amnesic
Incognito Live System) software program, viewing documents relating to
TAILs,
or viewing websites that detail TAILs.
*/
fingerprint(‘ct_mo/TAILS’)=
fingerprint(‘documents/comsec/tails_doc’) or web_search($TAILS_terms) or
url($TAILS_websites) or html_title($TAILS_websites);
// END_DEFINITION

Hacker News and Slashdot threads. ArsTechnica and Wired articles.

EDITED TO ADD (7/4): EFF points out that it is illegal to target someone for surveillance solely based on their reading:

The idea that it is suspicious to install, or even simply want to learn more about, tools that might help to protect your privacy and security underlies these definitions — and it’s a problem. Everyone needs privacy and security, online and off. It isn’t suspicious to buy curtains for your home or lock your front door. So merely reading about curtains certainly shouldn’t qualify you for extra scrutiny.

Even the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court recognizes this, as the FISA prohibits targeting people or conducting investigations based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment. Regardless of whether the NSA is relying on FISA to authorize this activity or conducting the spying overseas, it is deeply problematic.

Posted on July 3, 2014 at 11:01 AMView Comments

Risks of Not Understanding a One-Way Function

New York City officials anonymized license plate data by hashing the individual plate numbers with MD5. (I know, they shouldn’t have used MD5, but ignore that for a moment.) Because they didn’t attach long random strings to the plate numbers — i.e., salt — it was trivially easy to hash all valid license plate numbers and deanonymize all the data.

Of course, this technique is not news.

ArsTechnica article. Hacker News thread.

Posted on June 25, 2014 at 6:36 AMView Comments

Putin Requires Russian Bloggers to Register with the Government

This is not good news.

Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.

Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.

Posted on May 9, 2014 at 6:14 AMView Comments

Tor User Identified by FBI

Eldo Kim sent an e-mail bomb threat to Harvard so he could skip a final exam. (It’s just a coincidence that I was on the Harvard campus that day.) Even though he used an anonymous account and Tor, the FBI identified him. Reading the criminal complaint, it seems that the FBI got itself a list of Harvard users that accessed the Tor network, and went through them one by one to find the one who sent the threat.

This is one of the problems of using a rare security tool. The very thing that gives you plausible deniability also makes you the most likely suspect. The FBI didn’t have to break Tor; they just used conventional police mechanisms to get Kim to confess.

Tor didn’t break; Kim did.

Posted on December 18, 2013 at 9:59 AMView Comments

Tor Appliance

Safeplug is an easy-to-use Tor appliance. I like that it can also act as a Tor exit node.

EDITED TO ADD: I know nothing about this appliance, nor do I endorse it. In fact, I would like it to be independently audited before we start trusting it. But it’s a fascinating proof-of-concept of encapsulating security so that normal Internet users can use it.

Posted on November 27, 2013 at 6:28 AMView Comments

Surveillance as a Business Model

Google recently announced that it would start including individual users’ names and photos in some ads. This means that if you rate some product positively, your friends may see ads for that product with your name and photo attached—without your knowledge or consent. Meanwhile, Facebook is eliminating a feature that allowed people to retain some portions of their anonymity on its website.

These changes come on the heels of Google’s move to explore replacing tracking cookies with something that users have even less control over. Microsoft is doing something similar by developing its own tracking technology.

More generally, lots of companies are evading the “Do Not Track” rules, meant to give users a say in whether companies track them. Turns out the whole “Do Not Track” legislation has been a sham.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that big technology companies are tracking us on the Internet even more aggressively than before.

If these features don’t sound particularly beneficial to you, it’s because you’re not the customer of any of these companies. You’re the product, and you’re being improved for their actual customers: their advertisers.

This is nothing new. For years, these sites and others have systematically improved their “product” by reducing user privacy. This excellent infographic, for example, illustrates how Facebook has done so over the years.

The “Do Not Track” law serves as a sterling example of how bad things are. When it was proposed, it was supposed to give users the right to demand that Internet companies not track them. Internet companies fought hard against the law, and when it was passed, they fought to ensure that it didn’t have any benefit to users. Right now, complying is entirely voluntary, meaning that no Internet company has to follow the law. If a company does, because it wants the PR benefit of seeming to take user privacy seriously, it can still track its users.

Really: if you tell a “Do Not Track”-enabled company that you don’t want to be tracked, it will stop showing you personalized ads. But your activity will be tracked — and your personal information collected, sold and used — just like everyone else’s. It’s best to think of it as a “track me in secret” law.

Of course, people don’t think of it that way. Most people aren’t fully aware of how much of their data is collected by these sites. And, as the “Do Not Track” story illustrates, Internet companies are doing their best to keep it that way.

The result is a world where our most intimate personal details are collected and stored. I used to say that Google has a more intimate picture of what I’m thinking of than my wife does. But that’s not far enough: Google has a more intimate picture than I do. The company knows exactly what I am thinking about, how much I am thinking about it, and when I stop thinking about it: all from my Google searches. And it remembers all of that forever.

As the Edward Snowden revelations continue to expose the full extent of the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping on the Internet, it has become increasingly obvious how much of that has been enabled by the corporate world’s existing eavesdropping on the Internet.

The public/private surveillance partnership is fraying, but it’s largely alive and well. The NSA didn’t build its eavesdropping system from scratch; it got itself a copy of what the corporate world was already collecting.

There are a lot of reasons why Internet surveillance is so prevalent and pervasive.

One, users like free things, and don’t realize how much value they’re giving away to get it. We know that “free” is a special price that confuses peoples’ thinking.

Google’s 2013 third quarter profits were nearly $3 billion; that profit is the difference between how much our privacy is worth and the cost of the services we receive in exchange for it.

Two, Internet companies deliberately make privacy not salient. When you log onto Facebook, you don’t think about how much personal information you’re revealing to the company; you’re chatting with your friends. When you wake up in the morning, you don’t think about how you’re going to allow a bunch of companies to track you throughout the day; you just put your cell phone in your pocket.

And three, the Internet’s winner-takes-all market means that privacy-preserving alternatives have trouble getting off the ground. How many of you know that there is a Google alternative called DuckDuckGo that doesn’t track you? Or that you can use cut-out sites to anonymize your Google queries? I have opted out of Facebook, and I know it affects my social life.

There are two types of changes that need to happen in order to fix this. First, there’s the market change. We need to become actual customers of these sites so we can use purchasing power to force them to take our privacy seriously. But that’s not enough. Because of the market failures surrounding privacy, a second change is needed. We need government regulations that protect our privacy by limiting what these sites can do with our data.

Surveillance is the business model of the Internet — Al Gore recently called it a “stalker economy.” All major websites run on advertising, and the more personal and targeted that advertising is, the more revenue the site gets for it. As long as we users remain the product, there is minimal incentive for these companies to provide any real privacy.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

Posted on November 25, 2013 at 6:53 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.