SafeWeb not so safe?
February 12, 2002 1:20 PM   Subscribe

SafeWeb not so safe? It was pitched as a "web anonymizer." It was supposedly even "CIA proof." Now some holes have been found.
posted by yesster (13 comments total)
I haven't used an anonymizer service. But a couple of questions for you:

1. Should anonymous surfing be allowed? Or is it one of the things on the ever-growing list of sacrifices in the name of security?

2. Given our US government's history of subversive surveillance activity, do you think it likely that at least one of the anonymizer services is a front for the CIA or other agency? I think it is at least plausible. The folks you would most want to monitor would be the ones most desirous of anonymity. What better way to monitor them than to give them an "anonymous" portal that can be monitored directly.
posted by yesster at 1:26 PM on February 12, 2002

"Hey, I won a free speedboat in some sort of police auction! It says I just have to go use this anonymous portal thingy to find out where to go to pick it up!"
posted by dong_resin at 1:43 PM on February 12, 2002


1. Outlawing it would remove a valuable tool from the hands of honest folk while only making it slightly more difficult for criminals to do. The whole "outlaw [x] and only outlaws [x]" thing...

2. Let's just say I don't think the CIA funded safeweb because they want people to have more privacy.
posted by whatnotever at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2002

Should anonymous surfing be allowed? Or is it one of the things on the ever-growing list of sacrifices in the name of security?

You'd still need to access the Web servers of the anonymizer service, which means they'd have your real IP address in their server logs, which could be subpoenaed by a court of law. It's never WHOLLY anonymous, I think.
posted by Danelope at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2002

I find these things much more useful as proxies to deal with local DNS issues than anything else. Damn Akamai for plugging that hole...
posted by NortonDC at 1:55 PM on February 12, 2002

too bad zeroknowledge called it quits.
posted by lescour at 1:57 PM on February 12, 2002

There's a long standing connection between safeweb in particular and the US CIA. Cracker/Hacker types I've seen speak at conferences have repeatedly shown evidence and advised those against using it.
posted by mathowie at 1:57 PM on February 12, 2002

It's never WHOLLY anonymous, I think.

Online signups. Laptops. Phone booths. Draw your own conclusions.
posted by walrus at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2002

mathowie, the CIA has been rather open about their investment in Safeweb. Or at least, Safeweb has been about the CIA's investment.

whatnotever: It does remain illegal for the CIA to spy on American citizens. An obvious reason for the CIA's interest would be a means of secure communication for informants and agents abroad, one where there is enough use by the public to obscure the covert uses. (viz. Cryptonomicon, which deals with the need to sometimes conceal even the fact that you are sending a message, let alone encrypting it)

I'm not saying they wouldn't, or they couldn't; I'm just saying that there's nothing showing they are. And they're not supposed to.
posted by dhartung at 2:29 PM on February 12, 2002

I am in no way a techie but doesn't it seem odd that the CIA would fund a free site so that you can be anonymous? Why would they want to do this? Answer: Safeweb also offered proxies and ways of getting around filters. Filters are used in countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, etc where the govt decides what you can and can not watch. This was the CIA;s way of helping citizens in those countries to fight imposed censorship.
When did SafeWeb close shop? Right after Sept 11. Clearly it became more important that no citizens use proxies and anonymous stuff funded by CIA than it was to allow foreigners to beat censors in their countries. Of course you can still get proxy thingies and anon service elsewhere, but the CIA was not about to fund it any longer.
And now we discover that it had holes...Bet they knew it right along.
posted by Postroad at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2002 [1 favorite]

The number one search phrase to my personal list of links is "Trisha Campbell", a very close second is "Silent Surf". So obviously people want to have some sort of privacy when they use the web, which to me, means that such technology will exist.

Q. Should people be free to do things like use the web in private?

A. Did Bush steal the election?
posted by tsarfan at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2002

Better the world governments (corporations, groups etc.) lose the ability to surveil citizens than citizens lose the ability to speak without fear of reprisal.

In fact lets get rid of the laws allowing search warrants and wire taps etc. I don't care if those things can stop crime or terror or little kids going home with scrapped knees and hurt feelings. Those things diminish society more than they benefit it.
posted by willnot at 4:20 PM on February 12, 2002

Making government snooping illegal doesn't work. Governments are big, rich, curious, and frequently unscrupulous. Bad guys will always pick locks and steam open envelopes. You'll catch a few, but most of the best at being worst will get away.

To keep secrets, you need to stay ahead of snooping technology. And even so, you'll betray her.
posted by pracowity at 2:41 AM on February 13, 2002

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