The Virtue of Anonymity

In a continuation of going dark and no trace behind, I wanted to offer up some suggestions for not letting your ISP (and others) know where you are going on the internet.

Imagine this: There will come a day (likely a Wednesday) where going to websites like foxnews.com might be considered not only very unpopular, but it could land you in lots of hot water.  It’s not that hard to imagine, given the UK’s new laws on control of the internet, China’s already non-transparent control, and even more closely related to home the small save of not letting the FCC govern our own access to information.

This leads me to believe that it may not be in my best interest to let people know that I visit particular sites.  To do security research, for instance, some sites, frankly, play in some rather grey areas of law, and also I don’t want them to know who I am either.  So, how do I keep my fingerprint very small?  In the first post we talked about some ways to prevent websites from keeping their own record… but that still creates some issues.  Your IP address.

Your IP address, although often dynamically assigned, for all intent and purpose is a tracking point back to you.  Your ISP pretty much always knows where you are going, since in order to get there you have to use their systems.  So how do you get to site a, on a network you don’t control… in a way that the system that you are on doesn’t know you actually went there?

Proxies.  You make someone else do it, that’s how.  I am not going to detail the entirety of the technology, you can go here for more information.

While there are a variety of different proxy methods, the easiest to leverage nearly immediately is through the Tor network itself.  In essence, the Tor network is a system of relays that let me route traffic literally all over the world before it ever hits it’s the destination.

The tor network basically is a three point hop system.  You can configure it to be more or less, but three is pretty good for most cases.  Your computer calls computer a, computer a routes to b, b routes to c, c routes to destination.

This has two effects.  The first is that the destination of the initial request never knows who truly made it.  The second is that the visibility of the sender network can only see the request made to the first node inside of the tor network.

The tor network bundles all of their software for you and hooks into existing applications pretty simply.  If you use firefox, there is literally a button to click to re-route your traffic.

Some points of caution however.  Some technologies will bypass the proxy system and track immediately back to you.  Flash, silverlight, etc.. ANY request you make out of band could be directly tracked back to you.  These are disabled by default, so be careful with which technologies you download and execute in your browser.

Second, you are effectively (potentially) exposing your request to an unknown network of people, of which you may also not know their intents.  A few years back a friend of mine got himself in trouble for setting up a tor server node and monitoring traffic.  He found through this compromised passwords to various government embassies being passed around on the tor network.

To prevent that type of viewing you NEED to be using your own encryption or SSL (https) to view a site.

You can read more on getting started here and you can learn more about some of the additional things to consider while using it here.

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