In Most Cases, You Only THINK You’re Anonymous

Entirely too many people think that just because they use a nick, pen name or handle (call it what you will.  It’s an alias) on a forum that what they say on that forum is anonymous.  This is in fact very much not the case.

Even if, when you sign up for the forum, you use a throwaway email address and false information in the registration form, your identity is at best only very thinly shielded.  There are 178 anonymous posters on topix.com who are in the process of finding out the truth of this.

According to a news report, the story begins about a year ago when a woman accused a couple of sexually assaulting her along with another man.  This is when people who believed that they were anonymous started posting comments on topix.com

The vast majority of those comments were extremely offensive (not to mention unprintable, I can’t help wondering why moderators at topix did not at least remove the worst of the comments and / or ban the users who posted them).

Last month the couple was found not guilty of the charges.  Unfortunately, this didn’t mean anything to the people posting their anonymous comments.  While the courts had found these people not guilty, the posters on topix apparently had them convicted and sentenced.  Thus the flood of vile comments continued.

Here’s where those 178 posters get to find out that they are not as anonymous as they thought they were.  A judge has ordered topix to hand over any potentially identifying information about the posters and gave them until March 6, 2009 to comply.  Since a representative from topix was quoted in the story saying that topics cooperates with the courts, it can only be assumed that they will most likely comply.

When they hand over this information it’s going to include the date, time and IP address of each poster at the time their comments were posted.  With that information, it’s a simple matter to consult with their ISPs (via court order if need be) and discover what user account was assigned to a particular IP address at the time a comment was made.  ISPs of course know when a user is connected and what IP address is assigned to them for that connection.  This ties the anonymous poster to the real world human responsible for the account used.  From there, lawsuits will issue forth.

I believe in anonymity and the right of people to be anonymous if they so choose.  However the other side of that coin is that if people think they’re anonymous, there are those who will abuse that anonymity.  Then again, as I’ve shown, they weren’t really anonymous in the first place.  They only assumed they were.

The lesson to learn here is that no matter what you do on the Internet, there is a very real chance it will return to haunt you someday.

Also, real, strong anonymity IS possible however most people don’t want to learn the things that are needed in order to accomplish it.  They generally think it’s too hard (it isn’t) or too much work (it isn’t) or requires a ton of sophisticated technical knowledge (it doesn’t) or they just don’t have the brains to comprehend much more than logging onto a forum someplace and issuing forth vile accusations and cruel, often libelous “opinions”.

The truth is that out of those of us who DO have a clue about true anonymity, only a vocal minority abuse it.  People who really want or need to be anonymous are, by definition, not in the habit of drawing attention to themselves.  They’re anonymous for a reason.  The last thing they want is to draw attention to themselves by pulling cruel, vile, asinine stunts like those posters did on topix.

Those idiots will no doubt get what they deserve.

Technorati Tags: online persecution, False Information, harrasment, Truth, Topix, Alias, vile comments, Anonymous Posting, Pen Name, Anonymous Comments, Registration Form, Email Address, tarrant county, Date Time, News Report, Anonymous Posters, Isps, persecution, offensive comments

New Version of MMS Released

It’s been a long time since I did anything with MMS (Mixminion Message Sender) but I’ve finally gotten back to it.

MMS Finally has word wrap, which means there shouldn’t be anymore of those really ugly long lines.

There are also now three distributions.  The original which only contains MMS itself, a second that includes Mixminion 0.0.7.1 and a third that includes Mixminion 0.0.8alpha3

The official download page is here: http://peculiarplace.com/mixminion-message-sender

Here’s the current changelog entry with all of the details:

02/10/09 -1.2.6
Removed Beta designation.  Over 3 years is more than long
enough for “beta” (yikes! has it been THAT long?!)

Added LineWrap code contributed by drsnoid.  Messages are now
word wrapped at 65 characters / line.

Added “Word wrap on send” checkbox. Checked by default

Created a third distribution using a copy of Mixminion
0.0.8alpha3 built and contributed by “Antonio from Italy” for
those who want to use a win32 version of the most recent
Mixminion release.  I have been using this build since
5/23/2008 without any problems.

Changed max newsgroups to 3 to prevent msgs from being lost
in m2n’s that only allow 3 since more and more are making
this change in efforts to reduce excessive cross posting by
trolls.

Changed processing of the references line to make certain
that message id’s are separated by only one space character
by removing all space and tab characters and replacing them
with single space characters.

Added Richtx32.ocx v6.0 to program directory so that MMS will
work on Vista Note: this is un-tested on vista because the
one vista machine I had access to refuses to boot anymore.

Changed Mixminion command line to force mixminionrc to stay
in the Mixminion program directory instead of it’s default.
This change makes MMS portable. I have tested it on Windows XP
running it from a flash drive.  I’ll appreciate any reports
from people who can try it out on vista.  No testing done on
Win 98, also because I don’t have a win 98 machine available,
however it should work fine.

Technorati Tags: windows mixminion gui, anonymous email, mixminion, open source, anonymity, software, mixminion message sender, freeware, anonymity software, mms, privacy

Good News For Downloaders

A team of Microsoft engineers consisting of Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman set out to “investigate the darknet – a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content”.  their conclusions were published in the report known as “Darknet Assumptions“.

Those assumptions boil down to three basic points.

1.) Any widely distributed object will be available to a fraction of users in a form that permits copying.

2.) Users will copy objects if it is possible and interesting to do so.

3.) Users are connected by high-bandwidth channels.

Recently the EFF took a year end look at those assumptions and came to the conclusions that the Darknet Assumptions are indeed true.

For assumption 1, we see that while 2008 saw music moving en mass to DRM free ways of doing things, movies and in particular, software are still fighting tooth and nail to continue the DRM battle.  One infamous example of this is the Electronic Arts game “Spore” with it’s use of SecuROM DRM.

People all over responded to EA by posting cracked versions of the game all over the place.  It quickly became the most pirated game ever.  In fact, many users even complained that even if they bought a legitimate copy of the game, it would not run properly unless they used a cracked version that had the DRM removed or disabled.

Personally, I’ve seen ads for Spore.  It looks interesting.  However I will NEVER touch a copy of it (or anything else) that has SecuROM on it.  That kind of invasive DRM is going over the line and I won’t have it infecting my system.

For assumption 2, In spite of, or perhaps partly TO spite, content providers that insist on using DRM.  P2P use has continued to increase in 2008.  The EFF correctly points out that it’s not easy to get accurate numbers on P2P useage, however if sites like Pirate Bay claiming 22 million users is any indication, it looks like P2P is definitely on the rise.  Not only that, the results of some informal polls also tend to support the idea that P2P is definitely becoming mainstream.

For assumption 3, All you have to do is look at the ever expanding availability of high bandwidth connections to the average user.  Combine this with the continuing surge in the popularity of high bandwidth internet services, VOIP, video on demand, Etc.  Video sites like YouTube continue to grow in popularity and gain content every day.  Add to that the fact that many of them are now beginning to include High Definition versions of their video players and you have even more demand for bandwidth.

The RIAA, MPAA are not unaware of this, as they are now pushing for ISP’s to filter content.  This has to be a major pain in the ass for them since that means Deep Packet Inspection of every single packet passing through their networks.  Besides which, that sort of filtering would (in my opinion) change them from carriers to editors, making them at least partly responsible for anything they either miss or incorrectly identify as “bad” content.  In spite of this, The RIAA, MPAA and “big content” continue to push ISP’s to get into this filtering and are even trying to push for laws that require it.

The “Darknet Assumptions” document also talks about various file sharing systems and Darknets, including Freenet.  Because I’m more familiar with it than any of the others, I can only comment about Freenet’s Darkenet.

While I’m still a proponent of Freenet 0.5 because of the simple fact that I believe it’s the most stable version in use today, Freenet 0.7 does have some features that, when it reaches a point of stability, will make it the single most secure “bulletproof” anonymous network to date.  It’s strong point is the Darknet.  When running it in Darknet mode, you only exchange node references with people you trust.  Your node then only connects to those nodes and no others.

Once premix routing is implemented, it will become very nearly impossible for nodes connected to you to determine what you are inserting or requesting from the network.

Not that doing so is at all easy now by any stretch of the imagination, it isn’t, not by a long shot.  From what I understand, it would take several evil nodes connected to the same good node to be able to study the traffic going into and out of that good node and some very involved statistical analysis before they could even say that node xyz is *probably* inserting or downloading file x.  Even then they couldn’t be certain.

Premix routing, when it’s implemented, will mean that the first three or four hops outbound from any node will be encrypted with multiple layers of encryption so that immediate neighbor nodes will have no ability to analyze your node traffic and figure out what you’re downloading or inserting.

I have no doubt at all that as Freenet gets closer to 1.0, more and more people will begin using it for their file sharing needs.  Yes, Freenet is slower than other networks.  That’s because of the use of encryption on several levels and the high security built into it’s transport and storage systems.  Then again, as the network continues to grow, it’s performance will continue to improve.  In the meantime there is a growing number of people who have decided that anonymity and security are worth the slower downloads.

The Freenet Project officially discourages piracy and the sharing of illegally copied content on it’s network and will refuse to provide support to or even communicate with people that admit to using it for such.

While they’ve got very good reasons for taking that stance, there will be (and in fact I believe there are now) plenty of Freenet users who have no such policy and will in fact be glad to do anything they can, given Freenet’s absolute anonymity, to support those who are having problems.

It’s also important to point out that Freenet is not just about file sharing.  It also features text messaging systems and the ability of any user to create a Freesite (Freenet website) that is inserted into the network and can then be viewed by anyone who has the link to it which in most cases can be found on a number of indexes located within the network.

One thing that Either version of Freenet has hands down over any other file sharing system that I’ve seen is that once you insert a file into the network, it is possible to shut down your node and the file will still be available.  In fact, once something is inserted into the network, it’s actually impossible to remove it.  Especially since the mere act of requesting a file helps to spread it around the network even more.

Technically, files can “fall out” of Freenet. If they go long enough without being requested and a node needs the space for a more popular file, it’ll get deleted to make room.  In actual practice however, I don’t think this happens much anymore.  Most Freenet users have data stores of 20 or 30 gigabytes or more.  I personally inserted a Freesite back in early 2004 that can still be retrieved today.

Technorati Tags: anonymous file sharing, file sharing, drm, big content, anonymity, premix routing, bullet proof anonymity, freenet darknet, riaa, darknet assumptions, spore, p2p, securom, electronic arts, darknet, mpaa, eff, freenet 0.7

Free Speech VS Defamation Claims

I just read a story on the Washington Post site about a case before a Maryland Court of Appeals that anyone concerned about the preservation of their First Amendment rights will be interested in following.

According to the article, one Zebulon J. Brodie, who runs a Dunkin’ Donuts shop claims that he was defamed by some anonymous comments about his shop that were posted on NewsZap.com.  One commenter said that it was “one of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen.”

Brodie is demanding that Independent Newspapers Inc., the company that owns the site, reveal the identities of the people who posted the comments.  Independent Newspapers is of course fighting this on first amendment grounds.

Frankly, I think that this is a no-brainer that proves to me that Mr. Brodie might well be better off changing occupations and selling home insurance instead.  Honestly, he and everybody else involved in and affected by the ruling in this case (pretty much everybody) would be much better served if instead of hunting down somebody who said something about his shop, he would simply give the place a thorough going over to make sure that conditions these anonymous commenters talked about were identified and corrected.

This isn’t going to help his business and he’s no doubt spending a bucket of money on this obsession that very much reminds me of Captain Queeg and the strawberries.

In the meantime, let’s all pray really hard that the judges in this case see fit to protect our right to be anonymous because as one lawyer stated, the right to speak anonymously isn’t absolute in every situation.  But extreme caution is in order because once anonymity is gone, it cannot be restored.

Technorati Tags: extreme caution, freedom of speech, independent newspapers, brodie, maryland appeals court, first amendment rights, dunkin donuts, defamation claims, anonymity, court of appeals, anonymous comments, first amendment grounds, commenters, washington post

UK Government Claims More Spying Needed

As if Briton wasn’t already one of, if not actually THE most surveilled nation on the planet, their government has decided to spend billions on a program that is intended to monitor every phone call, email and all internet usage.

And I thought WE had a problem with domestic spying here in the US!

As you can easily predict, the reason for doing all this is not to provide work to unemployed drivers of moving trucks.  They’re of course waving the very tired, worn out flag of the war on terrorism to justify this wholesale invasion of privacy by a government.

It’s things like this that are part of the reason that governments need to be not only watched, but held in check by their citizens.  They seem to have a bad habit of forgetting that the only reason they exist is to serve the citizens.

How long before they not only spy on everybody, but start censoring anything that’s contrary to what the government likes?

This kind of thing is also a good reason why everybody should have and regularly use the strongest encryption, privacy and anonymity tools available.  It’s not about having anything to hide, it’s about some things in life are none of the government’s flippin business!

Technorati Tags: war on terror, domestic spying, monitor internet, privacy, monitor phone, monitor email

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