Online Privacy: Is it real?

Posted by Josh on November 20, 2012 in Security |


Online Privacy, to a large degree is a myth that we tell ourselves exists to ease our minds about the various things we do and place in to the ether of the beast called the Internet.

The largest problem with the Internet and the concept of privacy is how the Internet works. As an individual, you have little to no control over the various routers and switches your data will transverse as it makes it way from your computer, tablet or smart phone to the destination. Join that issue with the way things like email handle “headers” and that “anonymous” email account is not as anonymous as you would think.

Take for example the recent resignation of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He appeared to have been covering his tracks with the deft hand of a true CIA “Spook”. The two individuals involved used a single anonymous email account, never actually sending the messages, but leaving them in the “draft” folder for the other to read when they logged in. With no emails between them to trace it does not leave much for a would be thief to work with. In this case, one of the individuals sending an email from that account brought down the house of cards. A threatening email sent from the joint account and subsequently reported to the authorities. From that email and the IP addresses in the headers, they were able to track the account back a group of email accounts that also used the same IP address and different IP address that have also accessed that anonymous email account. From that point it was fairly easy to determine the real people behind that account.

Keep and mind, one of the people involved was the Director of the CIA. This was the man in charge of one of the largest spy organizations in the world with top-notch encryption at his fingertips, and he was ousted by a single email. If the Director of the CIA can have his personal email hacked, what do you think your odds of not being able to be hacked are?

This leads back to the new adage of “don’t put anything on the internet that you wouldn’t want your Grandmother to see,” for once something is out in the ether, there is no way to take it back.

This even extends to digital photographs as well. Many of the modern digital cameras and smart phones embed “metadata” within the digital images that will tell things like the make and model of the camera and GPS locations. This makes it pretty easy for someone to take that “anonymous” adult photo without a face to track it back down to your house.

Can you have privacy on the Internet? That really depends on what you mean by “privacy.” Absolute, 100%, unbreakable privacy is likely to never happen unless you have a computer that you never turn on, never connect to anything, and have it locked in an armored room that only you have access to and you destroyed the only key, etc, etc. Can you have a reasonable assurance of data not getting in wrong hands by using the appropriate levels of encryption, strong passwords or better yet passphrases, not using public WiFi and most of all, not putting anything out on the Internet that you would not want someone else to see. The key in all things security is defense in-depth and not being the low hanging fruit for a hacker to seize on to and exploit.

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