mailing list archives
Popular Net anonymity service back-doored
From: "Thomas C. Greene " <thomas.greene () theregister co uk>
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003 21:56:22 -0700
Popular Net anonymity service back-doored
Fed-up Feds get court order
The popular Java Anonymous Proxy (JAP), used to anonymise one's comings and
goings across the Internet, has been back-doored by court order. The service
is currently logging access attempts to a particular, and unnamed, Web site
and reporting the IP addys of those who attempt to contact it to the German
We know this because the JAP operators immediately warned users that their IP
traffic might be going straight to Big Brother, right? Wrong. After taking
the service down for a few days with the explanation that the interruption
was "due to a hardware failure", the operators then required users to install
an "upgraded version" (ie. a back-doored version) of the app to continue
using the service.
"As soon as our service works again, an obligatory update (version 00.02.001)
[will be] needed by all users," the public was told. Not a word about Feds or
Fortunately, a nosey troublemaker had a look at the 'upgrade' and noticed some
unusual business in it, such as:
"CAMsg::printMsg(LOG_INFO,"Loading Crime Detection Data....\n");"
"CAMsg::printMsg(LOG_CRIT,"Crime detected - ID: %u - Content:
and posted it to alt.2600.
Soon the JAP team replied to the thread, admitting that there is now a "crime
detection function" in the system mandated by the courts. But they defended
"What was the alternative? Shutting down the service? The security
apparatchiks would have appreciated that - anonymity in the Internet and
especially AN.ON are a thorn in their side anyway."
Sorry, the Feds undoubtedly appreciated the JAP team's willingness to
back-door the app while saying nothing about it a lot more than they would
have appreciated seeing the service shut down with a warning that JAP can no
longer fulfill its stated obligation to protect anonymity due to police
Admittedly, the JAP team makes some good points in its apology. For one, they
say they're fighting the court order but that they must comply with it until
a decision is reached on their appeal.
Jap is a collaborative effort of Dresden University of Technology, Free
University Berlin and the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (ICPP). A press release from ICPP assures users
that JAP is safe to use because access to only one Web site is currently
being disclosed, and only under court-ordered monitoring.
But that's not the point. Disclosure is the point. The JAP Web site still
claims that anonymity is sacrosanct: "No one, not anyone from outside, not
any of the other users, not even the provider of the intermediary service can
determine which connection belongs to which user."
This is obviously no longer true, if it ever was. And that's a serious
problem, that element of doubt. Anonymity services can flourish only if users
trust providers to be straight with them at all times. This in turn means
that providers must be absolutely punctilious and obsessive about disclosing
every exception to their assurances of anonymity. One doesn't build
confidence by letting the Feds plug in to the network, legally or otherwise,
and saying nothing about it.
Justifying it after the fact, as the JAP team did, simply isn't good enough.
Telling us that they only did it to help catch criminals isn't good enough
either. Sure, no normal person is against catching criminals - the more the
merrier, I say. But what's criminal is highly relative, always subject to
popular perception and state doctrine. If we accept Germany's definition of
criminal activity that trumps the natural right to anonymity and privacy,
then we must accept North Korea's, China's and Saudi Arabia's. They have laws
too, after all. The entire purpose of anonymity services is to sidestep state
regulation of what's said and what's read on the basis of natural law.
The JAP Web site has a motto: "Anonymity is not a crime." It's a fine one,
even a profound one. But it's also a palpably political one. The JAP project
inserted itself, uncalled, into the turbulent confluence between natural law
and state regulation, and signaled its allegiance to the former. It's tragic
to see it bowing to the latter. ®