Sunday, 6 July 2008

Anonymity on Internet

My usually pumped colleague recommended the movie Untraceable noting that geeks would love it. So I watched it on the flight and have to admit that I liked it - however corny the plot may be. I am no police, but I believe internet crime must be the easiest to solve because it is so easy to trace the activities at every layer of the network protocol stacks. With today's multitude of hardware and software based network management and monitoring tools, trying to stay anonymous on the internet is futile - the only way to stay anonymous on internet is either not to use it or use it very infrequently (which rules out anyone who blogs or maintains personal web sites) or manufacture your own NIC/driver.

As I browsed through every page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer by the pool this morning (what else can I do on a Sunday morning in the vibrant, steamy and materialistic Makati? ), I read a news about the demise of blogger site (note, chikka in Tagalog means chit chat or gossip). The basic storyline is this: a guy opened a public blog called Chikatime to post negative comments and gossips about well known public figures of Philippines and earned some extra dough with it via Google Ads, while posing as girls on the blogger site. Meanwhile, his colleague 'ridge' found this out by installing network security/monitoring software on all workstations in the company (maybe ridge is an IT guy). So ridge dobbed him in to one of the public figures Jenni Epperson who had been humiliated by Chikatime and declared war on it. (It was a bickering contest between the mother hen and the ChickenTime.) So this time, mother hen Mam. Jenni bitch-slapped ChickenTime big time threatening to reveal his identity, photos, salary, credit card details and so forth. Finally, on July 4, 2008 Chikatime is shutdown complying to Ms. Epperson's demands.

This real-life saga is much more interesting than the movie. It was fascinating reading through the blog trail. While it reveals a lot of social and legal issues in the Philippines (such as rich vs. poor; spying on employees; stealing employee's personal information, incl. credit card details; etc.), my main focus here though is on the technical side. According to an episode of Insight on SBS about Stolen ID, it takes an experienced thief about 1-2 weeks to steal someone's identity using his/her internet profile as a starting point. Here, the 'identity' includes your real address, employment details, bank account details, etc. so that someone can pose as you to commit crime (e.g. financial fraud). If this thief is an insider (such as 'ridge' in this story), it takes even less time.

So, there is no anonymity especially on the internet. If someone dedicated wants to find you and has sufficient resources to do so, chances are that he/she will find you.

Disclaimer: no posts on this site have been produced or posted during business hours or using company resources. What? You mean that item posted at 10am on a Thursday? Well, ahem, I was travelling at the time and did not change my computer's timezone settings...