Tor, An Ethical Dilema

tor

Over the summer I have been following reporting surrounding the TOR project. I have learnt some interesting things. I must admit that I tried to download the browser but I couldn’t work out how to get it up and running, but that is probably more due to my own incompetence than anything else.

Tor has some serious issues as far as ethics goes, because it is designed to help people to remain anonymous as they use the net. This may to some seem perfectly justified given that Google and their friends are monitoring our every move and storing it all for resale later, but it is also great for criminal activity.

Recently reports emerged from Russia that the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet. Obviously his aim is not to stop people from anonymously using the Internet, but to fight crime. The agency initiated the move as internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters, giving the FSB an obvious interest in limiting the use of such software.

Other reports claim that not all of Russian law enforcement are in agreement, because criminals tend to overestimate the protection provided by the Undernet, act recklessly and allow themselves to get caught. Here the so-called Undernet is the key though, as anonymity is difficult to police.

Other reports state that “Security experts have accused US law enforcement of taking advantage of a flaw in the Firefox Internet browser then exploiting it to identify and potentially monitor subscribers to Tor”. It appears that the malware comes from the USA, but nobody is admitting to creating it, and as the Russians accuse the FBI and vice versa, any truth will be difficult to find.

One truth is however that Tor allows for the proliferation of various forms of criminality and exploitation that I would rather not go into here. The problem remains though, do we have the right to online anonymity? If not who has the right to stop us?

To return to following the news, I read that workers at the NSA and GCHQ in the UK have been accused of leaking information that they have regarding flaws in the workings of Tor. These two organizations are extremely interested in the browser for the obvious reasons above, but there is more that you might expect here. According to the BBC “The BBC understands, however, that GCHQ does attempt to monitor a range of anonymisation services in order to identify and track down suspects involved in…….crimes”.

But! Tor was originally designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and continues to receive funding from the US State Department. It is used by the military, activists, businesses and others to keep communications confidential and aid free speech.

And it turns out that the investigating agency rely on Tor for their own work, to keep themselves safe and anonymous, so they seem to be in a bit of a contradictory position to say the least.

So there appear to be many unanswered questions about the level of anonymity achieved, who has access, who works to destroy and who works to aid the project, and once more I find myself looking into a murky world.

What is Shodan?

EDITOR NOTE: This is Jonny’s 75th post on Technology Bloggers! Jonny was a complete newbie to blogging when he wrote his first post (about prosthetic limbs) but he is now somewhat of an expert – although he probably wouldn’t agree! – note by Christopher

Recently a couple of articles have appeared on large US websites about a type of search engine called Shodan. This search engine has been about for about 3 years, but it is different from Google and its cohorts in many ways. I looked at it and could not understand it at all, so what is it then and why is it causing such concern?

A screenshot of the Shodan website

Expose online devices

I have seen Shodan described as “The scariest search engine on the Internet”. This CNN money article explains that Shodan navigates the Internet’s back channels. It’s a kind of “dark” Google, looking for the servers, webcams, printers, routers and all the other stuff that is connected to and makes up the Internet.

What interest could there be in such capability? Well a lot apparently. The system allows an individual to find security cameras, cooling systems and all types of home control systems that we have connected to the Internet. (See Christopher’s series about his British Gas system here).

One serious problem is that many of these systems have little or no security because they are not perceived as threatened. Shodan searchers have however found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.

Hacking apart it turns out that the world is full of systems that are attached via router to the office computer and web server, and on to the outside world. Access for anyone who can find them and might like to turn of the refrigeration at the local ice rink, shut down a city’s traffic lights or just turn off a hydroelectric plant.

The Shodan system was designed to help police forces and others who might have legitimate need for such a tool, but what when it gets into the wrong hands. Security is non existent, just get your free account and do a few searches and see what you find.

See this Tech News World article for a further look at the ethical and practical issues that such a freely available product might bring

Regular readers will be aware of my interest in these types of problems through my work at the Bassetti Foundation for Responsible Innovation. I am not sure how the development and marketing of such a tool could be seen as responsible behaviour, but as I have been told on many occasions during interviews there are plenty of other ways of finding out such things. These types of systems are gathering already available information to make it usable, nothing more, so not doing anything wrong.

Do you agree?

SEO – becoming a victim of your own success

If you succeed, others copy you. Some say that this imitation should be seen as flattery. Those who are being imitated may just think you are being plain darn rude.

This is a story of how I had an idea, and that idea trued into an overnight success – with yours truly receiving nul points for it.

Okay, I am over dramatising things here.

SEO

Quite ironically, one of the toughest industries to succeed in is SEO, as the market is hugely over saturated with literally tens of thousands of people and firms, offering their services to help you “reach top of Google” or rank “on page 1 for your keywords” – believe what you will. Food for thought: Google the term ‘SEO’, and there are (to quote Google) “About 224,000,000 results“. Who is top? No, not the best SEO agency, but Wikipedia – naturally!

My Success

Anyhow, the story goes that I had an idea, an idea to make a new image for an article. One of our writers had contributed a guest post, and in that article they talked about SEO. I thought that an interesting image to accompany the article would be an upward pointing arrow (to demonstrate improvement) and the word ‘Google’ balanced on top.

I found an image off the internet, and took Google’s logo for the text, and set about making a large, high quality version of my idea.

The image I created can be seen below.

SEO Graph - GoogleQuite a good image I thought. Apparently, other people like it to. After just 4 months being live on the blog, many other people have found it in Google, and the image now ranks in the top 25 images when you Google Image Search the term ‘SEO’, and the top 10 when you type ‘Google SEO’.

Okay it ranks on an image search, not a ‘web search’, however I still got an image of my design and [part] creation, very high in the SERPs for a very difficult keyword.

The Problem

The problem was the aforementioned popularity. As I opened: “If you succeed, others copy you” – it’s true.

After just a few weeks of the image being live, it had been copied, and Technology Bloggers (the image source) was no longer the site that showed up with the image, as other sites with higher reputations (in Google’s view) stole our limelight.

As the images creator, I believe that when people find the image in Google and then click on it, they should be taken to our site, as without this site, there would have been no image! However we don’t show anymore.

Stealing Images

This lead me to think about stealing images. I was unhappy that other people were taking my work and passing it off as their own, and benefiting more than me because of it.

However who am I to moan, as I steal images too. If I like an image I will use it in an article. Is this right? Possibly not.

Ideas lightbulb

The ‘light bulb’ image I used in my post yesterday.

That said, when using images, I tend not to lift the image straight off a website and put it in my post, I will usually modify it in some way first, so that the image is different from the creators version. I feel this is slightly more justifiable than just ‘stealing’ another’s work.

Take the image in my post on Monday, the idea light bulb, that wasn’t my image, but I resized it and added some text to it – therefore making it a variation, not a copy.

In my Google SEO image, the SEO graph image was an origional image, as was Google’s logo; neither of these images belonged to me, but I still used them.

Right and Wrong

I feel that straight out lifting and pasting images is wrong, and anyone who has ever suffered because of my use of their image, I apologise, get in touch and I will see what I can do.

If you modify an image in some way to make it your own, then I feel you are in a slightly different position.

The Fight Back

As you have probably gathered by now if you are a loyal reader, I [sometimes] have a mild case of perfectionism and am one to constantly tweak, change and improve.

After a while I started to dislike the image I had made; the letters were a little skeewiff and the shadow at the bottom finished a little abruptly.

So I went back the the drawing board and remade the image, but better.

I knew if the last image was successful, and this one was better then it would probably be more popular and therefore shared even more, so I hatched a plan. I decided to watermark the image, very faintly, with Technology Bloggers web address. I don’t really like watermarking much, but it seemed to be the only option I had.

Below is the new image.
Google SEO ChartNotice that there is no watermark on the smaller version of the image, however if you click on the image, the big version does bear the watermark. If you want to use a small version, fine, no problemo. If you use the big version, you advertise our site – simple. That way, if the image is stolen, all credit is not lost, and hopefully, Technology Bloggers should show in the search results for the image, as we have the biggest version hosted on the site.

UPDATE: I have updated the SEO image again! Click the link to view the new version. 🙂