No, not You!
Now pay attention! This blog is not intended for just “anyone” with an interest in privacy. After all, we have standards to maintain! So, do you qualify? Well, here’s a simple test. Whilst idly browsing some web site, a banner ad annoyingly intrudes into your field of view. You haven’t had enough coffee that morning to activate the centres of higher intelligence within your forebrain, and, shepherded by some primordial reflex response, you click on it—almost always a mistake! At the end of the link you find, amongst other disagreeable things, the “thoroughly” informative statement, “This product employs SOCKS4a to prevent DNS leakage.” If your response is “Hmm…interesting!” or “Well…of course!”, then you probably know far more about privacy issues than we do, and you’ll find it far more diverting to digest the contents of those abstruse technical white papers published by symposia on computer security than to browse the contents of our far more modest and less technically challenging pages.
Yes, you’ll do Fine!
If, on the other hand, “DNS” is just one of those horrid acronyms that pop up in menacing hordes whenever computers are under discussion; if, when you see the word “leakage”, the first thing that comes to mind is the water that, on occasion, mysteriously appears from underneath your washing machine; if “SOCKS4a” sounds like just another designer brand name for items of apparel destined to cover your lower extremities; if your eyes glaze over and you quickly push the back button on your browser, then “Welcome”, for this is the site you’ve been looking for!
What we’ll blog about is largely determined by you, the reader. Maybe you’ve already made a start, but are struggling to understand some topic or other. Or maybe you’re a know-nothing beginner. If you fall into the latter category, then just ignore anything that seems like a “techie tip” for the moment. Some day you’ll look at one and it will actually make sense. That’s when you should start to get worried, for you’ll be well on your way to becoming a “preek”—a privacy geek for those of you who aren’t one, yet that is!
Now blogging doesn’t produce a structured list of topics, arranged in an appropriate reading order. So we’ll try to provide something structured, somewhere in the sidebar. You see we understand what you really want: you look back with nostalgia to your school days, when Miss Boomer—who always had the top two buttons of her blouse undone—would lean over your desk, would smile at you in what you most sincerely hoped was a come-on manner, and would tell you what to do next!
The Susie Test
Now given the vast number of sites on the Internet that have something to say about privacy why should you “loiter with intent” around this blog. Well, we’ve a secret weapon that helps us ensure that everything we say is comprehensible. It’s called “The Susie Test”. Susie’s my niece, and she’s six, and she asks an awful, awful…awful lot of questions. So we reckon that if we can explain something to Susie, we can probably also explain it to you!
Besides, Susie, like all children, is a never ending source of profundities, such as, “Well, if Big Brother is so nasty then why don’t people just put him in prison?” Why indeed? Now we’re not suggesting you encircle the headquarters of the NSA, drag its director out by the scruff of the neck, and then do onto him as he does onto you—now, that would be just too cruel, wouldn’t it! But you could indicate to your would-be representative that he’s not going to get your vote next time around unless he decides to pension off the NSA top brass, so that they can all go and become vice-presidents of big business or engage in some other slightly less nefarious activity! Now, how about it?
The Four Privateers
You know those films where a number of strangers meet and exchange stories, and you find yourself identifying with one of them—well, try!
Mr. N. Boodie
Perhaps you’re a person of no particular importance, a nobody you might say. This is actually a very good sort of person to be. Why? Well, no one is going to target you specifically, that’s why! Now it’s true that Organized Crime, Big Business, and Big Brother will all try to profile you: the first to clean out your bank account and steal your identity, the second to pester you by trying to sell you things no sane person could possibly want to buy, and the third to persecute you should you turn out to be a “rebel with a cause”—the kind of person who doesn’t approve of Big Brother persecuting people who don’t approve of Big Brother!
Madame H.A.P. Rapet
Perhaps you’re a celebrity—well, a celebrity of sorts. Maybe you’re a Hollywood film star, or maybe you’re one of those politicians who “can’t be bought”—assuming, of course, that the existence of such politicians is more than just another urban myth! Maybe you’re an investigative journalist, or maybe you just wave a banner for some environmental pressure group who doesn’t like “Oozy Oil Inc.” despoiling whatever little wilderness still remains. No matter, but for some reason or other you’ve got your head above the parapet, with the result that Big Brother or Big Business, or even some “bottom-dwelling” member of the general public might just decide to take a pot-shot at your pate.
Well, clearly you need either a suit of armour or an invisibility cloak. If you fancy the suit, then Big Brother has just what you need. On the downside, it’s a one-size-fits-all suit; but on the upside he does offer a free fitting service—he will very carefully take your measurements, and then adjust you to fit the suit! And, as to the colour—why, you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black. But should Madame prefer the cloak, then we just might be able to fashion a garment that meets your exact requirements!
Herr W.S. Blooer
Yes, you’re a nobody: but you’re a nobody who wants to tell everybody about a somebody, without that somebody finding out that you were the nobody who “done” the dastardly deed of exposing his inequities to the world at large. In short, you’re a whistleblower. Now you’ve a big problem. At best you risk loosing your job or your home. At worst you risk being imprisoned, tortured, or executed by way of reparation for the sin of exposing other people’s sins.
Ms. D.S. Dent
As a dissident you live in the worst of all possible worlds: your head’s above the parapet and you’d also like to be a whistleblower. But “they” know who you are. They’re already watching you. So you’ll have to be very, very careful.
Horses for Courses
Now when it comes to privacy, people have a bad habit of moving from one extreme to another: from a state of clueless pillockdom to a state of quivering paranoia.
You start off your existence as a clueless pillock: you use your pet’s name as the common password to logon to every web site that needs one—amongst them your Internet bank account and www.wecollectpasswords.com; you scatter your one-and-only email address all over the web with the gay abandon of revellers showering confetti at a wedding; and in registering a domain name you enter your real name, address, and telephone number into the global whois.
But then things start to go wrong: one day you discover that your bank account has been cleaned out; you receive, in ever increasing numbers, harassing emails from weird people who didn’t appreciate the comments you posted to that newsgroup; and you discern that there’s always that same shadowy person with a pair of binoculars loitering out there in the bushes every evening when you go to close the curtains.
That’s when you become paranoid: now you take half-an-hour to negotiate the cascade of password screens that protect your PC from snoopers; you’ve added so many nodes to your remailer list that snail mail would get there quicker; you’ve created a proxy chain of such length and complexity that in the interval between pressing “Enter” and the web page displaying in your browser you have enough time to make a cup of coffee, to fill in your tax return, and to take the medication that has become essential to soothe those oh-so tattered nerves; and you absolutely insist on using a one-time pad whenever you want to tell the dog it’s time for walkies!
Now privacy is a question of horses for courses, or, if you prefer, of different strokes for different folks. If you’re a Mr. Boodie, as almost everybody is, then only a very modest effort is required to keep most of the web hounds at bay. If you’re a Madame Rapet, then—depending on the size of your head and the amount by which it protrudes above the parapet—it would probably be worthwhile establishing an anonymous online identity for yourself, so that you can browse and email without having your activities traced. But if you’re a Herr Blooer or a Ms. Dent? Well, that’s when the paranoia is justified. For you’ll need to be very, very well prepared: your adversary only needs to be lucky once; you, however, must hit the jackpot every time.