Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

QoTW #49: How can someone go off-web, and anonymise themselves after a life online?

2014-01-27 by roryalsop. 2 comments

Everything we do these days is online, whether through our own social media, purchases from online stores, tracking by google, Amazon etc., and the concept of gaining some sort of freedom is getting traction in the media, with the leaking of NSA snooping documents and other privacy concerns, so before Christmas I asked the deceptively simple question:

How can someone go off-web, and anonymise themselves after a life online?

Which ended up being the most popular question I have ever asked on Stack Exchange, by a good margin.

Lucas Kauffman supplied the top rated answer – which goes into some detail on heuristics and data mining, which is likely to be the biggest problem for anyone trying to do this successfully:

Avoiding heuristics means changing everything you do completely. Stop using the same apps, accounts, go live somewhere else and do not buy the same food from the same brands. The problem here is that this might also pop up as a special pattern because it is so atypical. Changing your identity is the first step. The second one is not being discovered…the internet doesn’t forget. This means that photos of you will remain online, messages you posted, maybe even IDs you shared will remain on the net. So even when changing your behavior it only will need one picture which might expose you.

The Little Bear provided a short but insightful message, with disturbing undertones:

You cannot enforce forgetfulness. The Web is like a big memory, and you cannot force it to forget everything about you(*). The only way, thus, is to change your identity so that everything the Web knows about you becomes stale. From a cryptographic point of view, this is the same case as with a secret value shared by members of a group: to evict a group member, you have to change the secret value. (*) Except by applying sufficiently excessive force. A global thermonuclear war, with all the involved EMP, might do the trick, albeit with some side effects.

Question3CPO looks again at statistics on your financial footprint, but with a focus on how to muddy the waters with:

When it comes to finances, it’s similar; I have to make an assumption that the data I receive are an accurate indicator of who you are. Suppose you make 1/3 or more of your purchases completely away from your interest, for instance, you’re truly a Libertarian, but you decide to subscribe to a Socialist magazine. How accurate are my data then? Also, you may change in ten years, so how accurate will my data be then, unless I account for it (and how effective then is it to have all the historic data)?

and Ajoy follows up with some more pointers on poisoning data stores:

  1. Make a list of all websites where you have accounts or which are linked to you in some way.
  2. One by one, remove your personal details, friends, etc. Add misinformation – new obscure data, new friends, new interests, anything else you can think of. De-link your related accounts, re-link them to other fake ones.
  3. Let the poisoned information stay for some time. Meanwhile, you could additionally change these details again. Poisoning the poisoned! Ensure that there is no visible pattern or link between any of the poisoned accounts.
  4. Then you could delete all of them, again very slowly.

There are quite a few other insightful answers, and the question attracted a couple of very interesting comments, including my favourite:

At the point you have succeeded you will also be someone else. –  stackunderflow

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QoTW #40: What’s the impact of disclosing the front-face of a credit or debit card?

2012-11-23 by roryalsop. 0 comments

” What is the impact of disclosing the front face of a credit card?” and “How does Amazon bill me without the CVC/CVV/CVV2?” are two questions which worry a lot of people, especially those who are aware of the security risks of disclosing information, but who don’t fully understand them.

Rory McCune‘s question was inspired by a number of occasions where someone was called out for disclosing the front of their credit card – and he wondered what the likely impact of disclosing this information could be, as the front of the card gives the card PAN (16-digit number), start date, expiry date and cardholder name. Also for debit cards, the cardholders account number and sort code (that may vary by region).

TC1 asked how Amazon and other individuals can bill you without the CVV (the special number on the back of the card)

atdre‘s answer on that second question states that for Amazon:

The only thing necessary to make a purchase is the card number, whether in number form or magnetic. You don’t even need the expiration date.

Ron Robinson also provides this answer:

Amazon pays a slightly higher rate to accept your payment without the CVV, but the CVV is not strictly required to present a transaction – everybody uses CVV because they get a lower rate if it is present (less risk, less cost).

So there is one rule for the Amazons out there and one rule for the rest of us. Which is good – this reduces the risk to us of card fraud. Certainly for online transactions.

So what about physical transactions – If I have a photo of the front of a credit card and use it to create a fake card, is that enough to commit fraud?

From Polynomial‘s answer:

On most EFTPOS systems, it’s possible to manually enter the card details. When a field is not present, the operator simply presses enter to skip, which is common with cards that don’t carry a start date. On these systems, it is trivial to charge a card without the CVV. When I worked in retail, we would frequently do this when the chip on a card wasn’t working and the CVV had rubbed off. In such cases, all that was needed was the card number and expiry date, with a signature on the receipt for verification.

So if a fraudster could fake a card it could be accepted in retail establishments, especially in countries that don’t yet use Chip and Pin.

Additionally, bushibytes pointed out the social engineering possibilities:

As a somewhat current example, see how Mat Honan got hacked last summer : In his case, Apple only required the last digits for his credit card (which his attacker obtained from Amazon) in order to give up the account. It stands to reason that other vendors may be duped if an attacker were to provide a full credit card number including expiration dates.

In summary, there is a very real risk of not only financial fraud, but also social engineering, from the public disclosure of the front of your credit card. Online, the simplest fraud is through the big players like Amazon, who don’t need the CVV, and in the real world an attacker who can forge a card with just an image of the front of your card is likely to be able to use that card.

So take care of it – don’t divulge the number unless you have to!

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QotW #23: Why is it difficult to catch Anonymous/Lulzsec?

2012-04-13 by roryalsop. 2 comments

This weeks question of the week was asked by user claws back in February 2011 and while a lot has happened since then, it is still a very valid question.

The top scoring answer, “What makes you think they don’t get caught”, by atdre, while more of a challenge to the original question, has proven to be quite appropriate, as over the last year various alleged members of Anonymous have been caught. Some through informants, others through intelligence work, however the remainder of the answers focus on the technical and structural reasons why Anonymous continues to be a major force on the Internet.

SteveS, Purge, mrnap, tylerl and others  mention the usual way attackers hide on the Internet – using machines in other countries, generally owned by unwitting individuals who have not protected them sufficiently (This includes botnets – but there are also willing botnets, provided by followers of Anonymous – who allow their machines to be used for attacks) and by routing through networks such as TOR (The Onion Router) so that even if law enforcement try to trace the connection back they will fail either because there are too many connections to track, or because some of the connections will pass through countries where the Internet Service Providers are not able or willing to assist with the trace.

I think Eli hit the nail on the head, however with “because anonymous can be anyone, literally” – as while there are certainly a core group of skilled and motivated individuals, there are many thousands of individuals who will contribute to an attack, and these individuals may be different from one month to the next as the nature of Anonymous allows people to join and take part as and when they want to, if a particular cause is of interest to them.

The Lulzsec spinoff from Anonymous appeared to be a deliberately short lived group who wanted to do something less political, and more for “the lulz” – focusing on large corporates and security organisations to highlight weaknesses in controls, and nealmcb provided links in comments to articles on this group in particular. In terms of detection, the same comments apply here as to the wider Anonymous group.

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Tor: Exploiting the weakest link

2012-04-10 by lucaskauffman. 5 comments

Since the birth of the internet, there has been censorship. People have always been looking for ways to anonymously access the internet, either by proxy or VPN, however these still (can) log traffic origin and destination.

Since a few years there have been a few projects to anonymize traffic. One of the more famous ones is Tor (The Onion Router).

How Tor works

Tor uses servers and clients. When you request a webpage from your client, Tor will make an encrypted request to a randomly selected relay server called an Onion router. This Onion router knows who you are. Next thing the router does is ask another Onion router to relay the message. This second Onion router only knows the first Onion router. The second asks a third, the third asks the fourth, etc. No single router knows the complete route, however the client does.

The client can access a database which holds all the relays and if he wants, he can select his own route or a random route is selected. He then gets all the public keys for the route and encrypts his message in reverse order, starting with the public key of the last node, than the one to last node, etc. So the encryption is layered (just like the layers of an onion). However there is also a message for every node that contains the next hop. Now at the exit router the message is decrypted completely and the request for the webpage is made. For the webserver that serves the question, the client’s IP is the IP of the exit node.

The weakest link

So traffic is encrypted multiple times and relayed through different servers. This ensures anonymity. However… everyone can set up a Tor exit node … and everyone that has an exit node, can monitor the traffic.

The weakness in this technology is one we find in other technologies as well, the so called “user”.

A lot of people are concerned about their anonymity and figure they are safe when using Tor. They forget that when using a physical line or an encrypted Wifi AP, The chances of getting a Man in the Middle Attack (MMA) is small.

Now because we can easily host an exit node, we can sniff traffic from people who think they are anonymous, a lot of people in fact. At 20 Mbit (the max speed we allowed Tor to use), we got about 200 different Facebook sessions a day.


Users forget about certain things, like facebook over https. I’ve heard people say “I’ve enabled https on my facebook account, so when I log in, I’m safe.” Well that’s good for them but they forget that often, if you do not explicitly state https for the facebook login page, your password and username is sent PLAIN TEXT over the internet. Facebook doesn’t know you want a secure line before you are logged in.Obviously this goes up for a lot of different sites other than Facebook.

The whole point of Tor is to be anonymous, but users get facebook accounts with often their full name and address on it, and then log in insecurelly.

One could write a script (and we made a proof of concept), that looks for usernames and passwords or hijacks sessions and automatically goes to a facebook like page “I am using Tor to be anonymous”.

I am not saying Tor is unsafe, all we wanted to proof is that people need to think twice before thinking they are anonymous and safe on the internet. There will always be people that want to do malicious stuff. We could have hijacked about 20 accounts in half an hour and revealed people who use Tor or get into their emailboxes. (like Dan Egerstad also prooved in 2007).

Youtube Video

The comments in the clip are in Dutch, but basically we set up a tor node and used tshark to capture traffic. We specified we were interested in http traffic coming/going from Facebook. We then took the session cookie and injected it into our browser which then automatically logs us into Facebook as that user.


Tor is a good anonymity provider, but like all tools, you need to use it in the correct way.

QotW #12: How to counter the statement: “You don’t need (strong) security if you’re not doing anything illegal”?

2011-10-10 by roryalsop. 0 comments

Ian C posted this interesting question, which does come up regularly in conversation with people who don’t deal with security on a daily basis, and seems to be highlighted in the media for (probably) political reasons. The argument is “surely as long as you aren’t breaking the law, you shouldn’t need to prevent us having access – just to check, you understand”

This can be a very emotive subject, and it is one that has been used and abused by various incumbent authorities to impose intrusions on the liberty of citizens, but how can we argue the case against it in a way the average citizen can understand?

Here are some viewpoints already noted – what is your take on this topic?

M’vy made this point from the perspective of a business owner:

Security is not about doing something illegal, it’s about someone else doing something illegal (that will impact you).

If you don’t encrypt your phone calls, someone could know about what all your salesman are doing and can try to steal your clients. If you don’t shred your documents, someone could use all this information to mount a social engineering attack against your firm, to steal R&D data, prototype, designs…

Graham Lee supported this with a simple example:

 Commercial confidential data…could provide competitors with an advantage in the marketplace if the confidentiality is compromised. If that’s still too abstract, then consider the personal impact of being fired for being the person who leaked the trade secrets.

So we can easily see a need for security in a commercial scenario, but why should a non-technical individual worry? From a more personal perspective, Robert David Graham pointed this out

 As the Miranda Rights say: “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law”. Right after the police finish giving you the Miranda rights, they then say “but if you are innocent, why don’t you talk to us?”. This leads to many people getting convicted of crimes because it is indeed used against them in a court of law. This is a great video on YouTube that explains in detail why you should never talk to cops, especially if you are innocent:

Tate Hansen‘s thought is to ask,

“Do you have anything valuable that you don’t want someone else to have?”

If the answer is Yes then follow up with “Are you doing anything to protect it?”

From there you can suggest ways to protect what is valuable (do threat modeling, attack modeling, etc.).

But the most popular answer by far was from Justice:

You buy a lock and lock your front door if you live in a city, in close proximity to hundreds of thousands of others. There is a reason for that. And it’s the same reason why you lock your Internet front door.

Iszi asked a very closely linked question “Why does one need a high level of privacy/anonymity for legal activities”, which also inspired a range of answers:

From Andrew Russell, these 4 thoughts go a long way to explaining the need for security and privacy:

If we don’t encrypt communication and lock systems then it would be like:

Sending letters with transparent envelopes. Living with transparent clothes, buildings and cars. Having a webcam for your bed and in your bathroom. Leaving unlocked cars, homes and bikes.

And finally, from the EFF’s privacy page:

Privacy rights are enshrined in our Constitution for a reason — a thriving democracy requires respect for individuals’ autonomy as well as anonymous speech and association. These rights must be balanced against legitimate concerns like law enforcement, but checks must be put in place to prevent abuse of government powers.

A lot of food for thought…