Privacy and anonymity

Privacy and transparency: cost benefit analysis

Gloria pointed out an article in the Vancouver Sun and, just in case it disappears in a few days, I found the author’s blog.

The main thrust of the article is on the risk/benefit of a lack of privacy, as practiced in social networking.  This (absent the social networking) reminded me of David Brin’s “The Transparent Society,” and if you haven’t read it, I recommend it.

All your ancestors are belong to us …

Over the past few days, both the Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen have published (basically the same) story about “Toronto-based”  From the articles, this appears to be related to such public institutions as the national archive and Library and Archives Canada.  And the price is right: “A two-week free trial period that began June 10 allows users to search for and download documents at no charge.”

I tried it out.  Giving minimal information about him brought up over 6,000 hits, the second of which was my grandparent’s marriage certificate.  Pretty good.

Unfortunately, that is not the whole story.  If you want to actually see anything that the search finds, you have to register.  And, if you pay attention, and actually read the “Terms and Conditions” (and look at the full screen, not the portion that shows when the box first pops up), you find that you are registering with “an Internet service (the “Service”) owned and operated by The Generations Network, Inc, an American company incorporated in Delaware, USA, and whose registered address is 360 W 4800 N Provo, UT 84604, USA.”  In order to register you have to provide a credit card.  After 14 days (and it isn’t clear whether that is 14 days after June 10, or 14 days after you register) “[i]f you wish to terminate your subscription you must notify us at least two (2) days before the Renewal Date by calling (800) 958-9073 Member service is available from Monday to Friday 7:00 am to 4:00 pm MST, or by sending an email to providing the following information: Given name and surname, Username, Subscription type (UK/Ireland collection, etc.), Email address used when subscribing, Phone number including country code, Country.  If you fail to respond to the notice, your subscription will be automatically renewed,” and, of course, your credit card will be charged.

So, read carefully, people.  Are you dealing with a public institution, or a private company?  Are you dealing with a company in your country, or another?  And, is your “free trial” an “opt-out” contract for the company to start billing your credit card?

C-level execs ignorant of Web 2.0 dangers

According to ITWorldCanada, C-level executives are pushing for greater access to social networking sites and facilities, while even IT managers and security specialists are unprepared to deal with the full range of risks from this type of activity.

In order to get some traction with senior management on this issue, you might want to remind them that, when they take off with funds they’ve obtained via fraud, it’s best not to post boasts on Facebook.

The oldest vulnerability is known – let’s find the oldest data loss incident

The oldest documented vulnerability in computer security world is password file disclosure vulnerability from 1965, found by Mr. Ryan Russell.

Open Security Foundation – an organization behind OSVDB and DataLossDB has launched a competition to find the oldest documented data loss incident.

The last day to make a submission is next Friday – 15th May.
The link is easy to remember –

Take it underground

This post was written because a very good friend of mine asked me to send them a mail about decent reasoning to use Tor, and explore the Onion net, so thank you (you know who you are), and this post will be followed by another more detailed post on the Onion net soon.

Okay, so with all that’s been going on in the world lately, I’m starting to think that we should really start moving things underground, by underground, I mean that we should start encrypting our traffic more, and making use of the means that we have available to us, and helping to support them more as a security community.

The things in the world that I’m referring to are not only UK based either, here are a few examples:

Pirate Bay – Guilty Verdict

Mobile Phone Tracking


Directive 2006/24/EC Of The European Parliament And Of The Council

It seems that we are seeing more and more of the worlds governments moving towards an Orwellian culture, and I for one really don’t feel comfortable operating in this way.

You may be asking yourselves at this point, what can we do to stop this, the honest answer is, really not that much right now.
We can however start to move our information systems somewhere else, somewhere more secure, and we can all help others to secure their online habits by setting up Tor relays.

The more relays the Tor network gets, the better it is for everyone involved, if you can’t configure a relay, or just don’t want to, then if at all possible, please dontate to the Tor project here.

So please people, if you value your privacy at all, please help the Tor project out in any way that you can, even if it’s translating articles.

Below are a few links that you may find useful:

Tor Overview



This may seem like a shameless Tor plug, but I can assure you that it’s not, and I am in now way related to the Tor project at this point in time, but I really feel that it’s an extremely worthwhile project, and I plan on getting a lot more involved. This project has come a long way in the 2 years that I’ve been using it, and the more users we get contributing the better the anonymity and speed gets.

Keep it safe and private people.

To tinyurl or to, that is the question …

Dinosaur that I am, it never occurred to me that long URLs were a major problem.  Sure, I’d gotten lots that were broken, particularly after going through Web-based mailing lists.  But you could generally put them back together again with a few mouse clicks.  So what?

So the fact that there were actually sites that would allow you to proactively pre-empt the problem, by shortening the URL, came as a surprise.  What was even more of a surprise was that there were lots of them.  Go ahead.  Do a search on “+shorten +url” and see what you get.  Thousands.

I would not, by the way, advise visiting that last.  .cc is a domain used by those on the dark side.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend visiting many of those: I have no idea where they came from, except that a search pops them up.  Which is part of the point.

Are URL shorteners a good thing?  Joshua Schachter says no.  Therefore, in opposition, Ben Parr says yes.  There are legitimate points to be made on both sides.  They add complexity to the process.  (Shorteners aren’t shorteners: they are redirectors.)  They make it easier to tweet (and marginally easier to email).  They disguise spam.  Some of the sites give you link use data.  They create another failure point.  They hide the fact that most Twitter users are, in fact, posting exactly the same link as 49,000 other Twitter users.

URL shorteners/redirectors are going to be used: that is a given.  Now that they here, they are not going away.  Those of pure heart and altruistic (or, at least, monetary only) motive will provide the services, have reasonable respect for privacy, and add functions such as those providing link use data to the originator (and, possibly, user).  A number of the sites will be set up to install malware on the originator’s machine, to preferentially try to break the Websites identified, to mine and cross-corelate URL and use data, and to redirect users to malicious sites.

If you are going to use them (and you are, I can tell), then choose wisely, grasshopper.  There are lots to choose from.  Choose sites that offer preview capabilities.  If someone doesn’t use the preview options, you can still add them. is the same as : you just have to add the “preview.” part. is even easier: just add a hyphen to the end of the shortened URL.  I’m hoping that one of the sites will start checking the database for already existing links, and returning the same “short form”: it’d make it easier to identify all the identical tweets.  (With the increasing use of the sites, it will also ensure that the hash space doesn’t expand too quickly, which would be to the advantage of the shortening sites.)

Give me your fingerprints, I’ll sell you a mobile phone

There will be a new national register of mobile phone users in Mexico.

Under a new law published on Monday and due to be in force in April, mobile phone companies will have a year to build up a database of their clients, complete with fingerprints. The idea would be to match calls and messages to the phones’ owners.

(underlining added)

Mexico has a very strong culture of using prepaid phones.