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Modern field guide to security and privacy

Why it's harder than ever to remain anonymous on the Web

Even with apps and services such as Whisper and Tor, many obstacles hinder the new quest for online anonymity.

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This is an excerpt of a story from Passcode, the Monitor's forthcoming section on security and privacy. Read the full article here.

Online anonymity has never been more sought after and, at the same time, never more elusive.

Though the Snowden leaks woke the world to the prying eyes of government snoops and helped popularize services for people to cover their tracks on the Web, we are living in a time when governments around the world are deploying sophisticated technologies for digital eavesdropping.

Governments aren’t the only hurdles, either. In a world where data is money, anonymity is an enemy to online marketers, advertisers, and big tech companies that earn billions to monitor, track, and profile Internet users.

While online anonymizing tools may protect against many accidental and even malicious eavesdroppers, there’s no guarantee of completely avoiding the new array of surveillance capabilities, says Dan Kaminsky, chief scientist at New York-based security vendor White Ops.

“Absolute anonymity is not a particularly achievable thing,” says Mr. Kaminsky.

One dramatic example is Operation Onymous involving the recent takedown of more than 400 allegedly illegal websites operating on the Tor network by an international coalition of law enforcement agencies from the US and the European Union. Tor is widely acknowledged as the strongest anonymizing service on the Internet.

That operation was the second time in recent months that law enforcement has been able to uncloak sites operating on Tor. The first time was last fall, when they similarly managed to take down online black market Silk Road.

Those takedowns show that given enough time and resources, even people using a service such as Tor can be found out.

The increasing difficulty to hide on the Web isn't just bad news for people seeking anonymity for illicit activities. Digital rights advocates see these developments as having a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers or stifling opposition movements in places like China and Iran or on American activists who may have good reasons to keep their pursuits secret.

This is an excerpt of a story from Passcode, the Monitor's forthcoming section on security and privacy. Read the full article here.

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