Yes, the FBI can track you!

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

Shortly after I submitted last week’s column for publication, security industry expert Steve Gibson independently tweeted something I had just written, although I must admit he did so much more succinctly and eloquently than I. Steve wrote “We can no longer safely delegate our security because our delegates may be compelled to secretly violate our trust.”

Taken together with what I wrote last week this sums up the problem everyone faces when seeking to insure their personal privacy. If you use the PGP encryption program described in this column last week, then only you and the recipient of you message can read it. If you trust anyone else (your computer tech, your email service, etc.) you can never know if that other party was forced to turn over your information and to keep quiet about doing so. That means you really need to go to the web site to learn how to do everything for yourself. The fact is that millions of computer users who want to communicate securely simply lack the technical expertise to be able to do so for themselves.

In other security-related news, I am both saddened and disturbed to read that the two leading providers of encrypted email have shut their doors, leaving all their security-conscious customers without an email server.

Lavabit, the secure email service used by, among others, whistleblower Edward Snowden has abruptly shut down with a message from owner Ladar Levison saying “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot…” So he cannot even say why?

Phil Zimmermann, president of Silent Circle and inventor of PGP shut down its secure encrypted email service with the message “We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.” Many industry pundits see the closing of these two companies portending that more and more online companies will choose to move their business outside the jurisdiction of the United States.

In other unrelated internet news, Eric Eoin Marques who operates Freedom Hosting has been arrested in Ireland and is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to face charges. An FBI special agent describes Marques as “the largest facilitator of child pornography on the planet.” Soon after his arrest, all the child porn sites on the servers at Freedom Hosting were replaced with a message saying the site was unavailable. Then, in what might be nothing more than a coincidence, some security researchers noted a Javascript on the page and investigated to see if it might be malicious. It was not, but all the inquiries led to a server located in Ashburn, Virginia and all evidence points to this address being used by the FBI.

The Javascript simply used a variation of the technique any legitimate web site uses when it redirects your web browser to show an advertisement. Any time that happens, the ad agency server is able to track who saw their ad. As it turns out, in spite of all efforts to hide your IP address, all attempts to use an anonymous proxy server, all methods of hiding your location, the FBI can track who viewed the notices of those shuttered porn sites. Courts have already ruled it legal for ad agencies and others to collect this data in this way, so the FBI would not have done anything illegal if they collected these addresses.

The FBI is not acknowledging any of this, but in this writer’s personal opinion this is a beautiful example of a government agency working entirely within the law to enforce the law and shut down these smut peddlers. And if the FBI now has your address? Before they come to your door you could remove the hard disk from your computer, smash it with a hammer, drop the pieces in a river, and then please seek competent psychiatric help.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)

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