Friday, February 1, 2008

Anonymity Online - Rising Demand for Anonymity Services - The Dangers of Using A Proxy Server

The Patriot Act and similar amendments passed in countries all over the world increased the demand for services, which redirect your traffic through a proxy server & encrypt it to prevent other internet users and even your ISP from spying on you.

All for instance your ISP is able to see is that you established an encrypted connection to a server, nothing more.

Using a proxy server is not completely secure, though. To communicate with your desired server providing the website you want to visit, the proxy has to decrypt your traffic and thus the internet provider of the proxy server is able to see the unencrypted data stream. This can be avoided by chaining proxies together or by simply using a service like Tor which redirects your traffic through 3 proxies, so called "nodes". This way, it is almost impossible to identify you, but...

the 'big but' here is, that the exit node decrypts your traffic again to communicate with the server you are trying to reach, e.g. This means, that the exit node can easily spy on the contents of the packages you send through the tor network, like for instance unencrypted passwords and basically everything else which is not SSL encrypted. This can be used against you in many ways:

Absolutely everyone may provide a Tor node. The government, criminals, ... Although the exit node providers don't know who is sending & requesting the traffic being redirected through their node, they can use the data they can "phish" this way against you anyway. Furthermore it is pretty easy to figure out who you are by simply interpreting the recorded packages.

An alternative to Tor and similar services are VPN services. Same problem applies here: The VPN service provider can easily view your unencrypted traffic & use it against you. It happened at least once that law enforcment infiltrated such a service and brought a whole organisation of internet criminals down.

The conclusion therefor is, that such ways to remain anonymous might be efficient but you are always forced to trust the provider of the proxy/VPN service you want to use. In reality, this cannot be achived. You do not know who is behind a service and even if this person can be trusted, he or she will definitely not be allowed to tell you that the service is infiltrated by the government, not to mention the danger of such services being hacked.

So you should definitely think twice about the necessity of such a service for your needs.

Phil Wegner, moderator of a big internet business related forum.

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