Privacy on the Internet – Maintaining your Anonymity Online – Part I

Posted on May 24, 2013




Very few people worry about their privacy on the Internet. And when the unthinkable happens (like their facebook family pictures ending up in the wrong hands or their identity being impersonated) they begin looking for ways to secure their privacy on the Internet.

Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) is a military term and refers to the gathering of Intelligence by using interception of signals. The Communications Intelligence (COMINT), a subset of the SIGINT, is more applicable to the monitoring of communication in context of the Internet.

Blanket Surveillance tools allow Big Brother to monitor your every move online – from your IRC Chats to your YAHOO Messenger, and from your twitter to your SKYPE, Whatsapp, Viber and other applications that you might never have thought would be susceptible to Interception.

In this two series article, I’ll frame the issues relating to individual Privacy and then move on to the tools and ways used to subvert the individual Privacy. In Part II of the Article, we’ll look at ways to circumvent the tools so that you are virtually untraceable on the Internet!

Out of sheer co-incidence, when I wrote the above words, Edward Snowden came along claiming that  NSA had a mass-surveillance program called the PRISM. The following slide from The Guardian tells you about the scale of this operation.

Companies participating in PRISM

Companies participating in PRISM


See the list of the companies at the top of this slide? Microsoft, Skype, AOL, Facebook, Youtube, Google and all the tools that we, the public, usually use on the Internet! Of course, it is very easy for these companies to issue a statement saying that ‘We didn’t know about it’. It takes character and integrity to admit wrongdoing, something that a Capitalist enterprise is likely to be missing.

Here’s a snapshot of what happens when you try to logout from yahoo messenger and you are sure that you are logged in from a single device only.

Real-Time surveillance

Yahoo Messenger real-time surveillance. If this happens too often, be sure that you are an ‘object-of-interest’

The authorities doing the surveillance have a very genuine concern and that is that rogue entities are out to destroy the civilization based on their twisted doctrines. At the same time, the privacy of an individual is also of concern. Can someone be allowed to record all voice conversations, internet activity, video conversations on the Internet?

Anyone would find it extremely disturbing that an infrastructure would be watching him / her at all times by recording phone conversations, video chats, tracking movements (using my cell phone or otherwise), and keep tracking of their internet usage behavior.

Pakistan is high on the list of countries where there is ‘blanket surveillance’ of the Public Internet and communication in general. Switching to encrypted methods requires substantial investment. Remember that your Skype, Yahoo, Facebook, Hotmail, Outlook, email, Video and Audio chats are all recorded in Pakistan. Unfortunately, people from the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) do not have strict procedures in place and neither are they accountable to a court of law — so your privacy can be compromised with the right connections.

One option that you have to remain private is to stop using the Internet altogether, a difficult proposition for many.  Why not? Use a mechanical typewriter. Use special inks to write your message. Use pigeons to transmit those messages like Price Saleem used to….to her Beloved Anarkali :-).

In the next article, I’ll cover the Privacy Laws in Pakistan, which never provide protection to an individual and the tools you can use on the Internet to protect your communications in general.