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Five Letters Re: The FBI’s Cookie Caper and the VPN Imperative
Web Forensics Expert Mr. X. Replies: First let me explain how to look for cookies. The easiest way IMHO (there is more than one way to skin a cat, my favorite method involves using high-pressure air…) because it is easy and anybody can do it with little or no chance of [accidentally] nuking their own machine:
In Internet Explorer, go into the File –> Import and Export setting. You are given a choice of three actions – import from another browse, import from a file, or export to a file. Choose export to a file and hit "next." You are given three options to export — favorites, feeds, and cookies. Export cookies by selecting the box and clicking next. Save the file in a location that you can then find.
When you open the file all of the cookies you’ve used will show up. And since its a text file it is searchable. You can do a search on "FBI" … I did this and found:
fbi.gov TRUE / FALSE 1394696342 __utma 158289773.903355577.1331260742.1331260742.1331260742.1
fbi.gov TRUE / FALSE 1331626142 __utmb 158289722.214.171.1241260742
fbi.gov TRUE / FALSE 1347392342 __utmz 158289773.1331260742.1.1.utmcsr=dogpile.com|utmccn=(referral)|utmcmd=referral|utmcct=/search/web
So what this tells you is that there is a tracking cookie from the FBI on your machine. In this case this tracking cookie comes from dogpile.com (see the last line) which is a search engine that I use frequently. The problem is that you never know what they will call their cookies. The aforementioned example has nothing to do with your web site at all. And I’ve picked up in the past few hours since its Monday here (I scrub down each weekend) just doing searches for topics at work.
There is a similar method in Firefox but given the number of add-ons for Firefox and the different platforms it is on putting directions for each possible combination in would just confuse most people.
To eliminate the cookies and history you do that via the Tools –> Internet Options option and check off the "Delete Browsing History On Exit" box and/or hit the "Delete" button in the same space (should be on the opening tab of the Internet Options).
Yes, the only reason I noticed this was because they have not done anything to try to hide what they are doing. So the obvious stuff is well pretty darn obvious.
There are tools out there like Spybot Search and Destroy that will automatically eliminate the bulk of "bad" tracking cookies that are hidden as well. There are a number of things you can do to scrub your machine and get very paranoid about your browsing but they are not things that most people should do simply because if you don’t know what you are doing you have a good chance of [inadvertently] nuking your machine.
Here is a quote from the Tor web site:
Regards, – D.D.
I’m writing about your change of heart on posting the foresee-alive.js script. The FBI posts this code on their fbi.gov site. It is available here.
I thought that link might be helpful to some. I guess maybe those people that are savvy enough to read the script and interpret the code are probably already savvy enough to find it on their own, but I thought just in case I would send this on to you.
Also, I agree with your decision that it’s probably wise to not post the code directly, but I believe that since they did not post any copyright information it is therefore public domain like any other government publication. Otherwise, they would have to indicate it as a protected work from an outside party. But that’s my non-professional opinion, and "you’re the doctor" as they say.
Thanks for keeping the flame of freedom burning! – B.C.
Dear Mr Rawles;
Disabling cookies will not remove others’ ability to track you. At best, disabling cookies only makes it a little harder. There are plenty of other ways to track you, including data collection and silent install of malware on your computer to record your keystrokes. Here is an example.
Using a paid VPN does not ensure your security. Here is a good explanation as to why this is true.
Not all of the listed browsers are safe to use. Some are outdated (Netscape), and others are inherently flawed from a security standpoint (such as Internet Explorer). More importantly, only two that I know of offer Anonymous Browsing – Firefox and Chrome. Please add the Tor Browser to this list, which is by far the best method for anonymous browsing available to the average user.
SurvivalBlog.com [has a working encrypted https address, but] is not yet HTTPS Everywhere enabled. This means that even if the visitor is using the Tor network, traffic between a Tor server and SurvivalBlog.com is still unencrypted, and vulnerable to spying and/or attack. Please join the HTTPS Everywhere project.
Much of this may sound like an advertisement for the Tor Project, but the reason for that is that the Tor Project is the best method I have found to secure your privacy online, if used properly. (Never identify yourself on the Tor Network.)
Thanks for your consideration in these matters. Sincerely, – I Am John Galt
Dear Mr. Rawles,
At any rate, I found one: based in Chicago, I am now using CamoList VPN and have had a very nice conversation with the proprietor about bitcoin. Service is $5 a month. Bandwidth is up to 5 mbps, but that actually doesn’t matter to me since I live in the boonies and have to make do with 1 mbps on my end. Just thought I’d pass this along for anyone else who might be interested. – Buckaroo
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