Note: This article was originally publish on my blog back on 10/4/06
Sun Microsystems Inc. Chairman of the Board of Directors Scott McNealy once said, "You have no privacy, get over it." That statement is more true today, then when it was originally said. Everyday, we are losing more of our ability and rights to protect our privacy.
Did you know that there is no such thing as true anonymity or privacy on the Internet? All you can do is mask your identity, and make it difficult for someone to know who you are. Although, in most cases its still possible for someone to track and identify you with enough work.
There is a lot of information about you that is leaked by your own personal Internet activities (such as surfing a web site, posting on forums, etc.). Then your computer and its applications (such as your browser, IM client, etc.) are doing their own fair share to help leak more information.
Anything that contains your name, address, etc. Is known as 'personally-identifiable information' (PII), because it can personally identify you directly. This information is generally provided by you to some web site or service (such as Amazon, eBay, etc.) that you may use regularly.
Information Leaked by your Applications
As I said earlier, when you visit a web site there is certain types of information about you that is revealed by your computers applications. A lot of this information (such as your browser cookies) are needed by web-based applications to be able to customize your experience.
Below is a brief list of some of the information a web site can know about you, just by visiting it with a regular browser and Internet connection:
For example, your instant message client may keep logs of all your conversations. Your e-mail client, keeps all the messages that you received and sent. Your VoIP client keeps a log of all the calls that you make.
Even if you clean all this information off your local computer, your application's service provider has logs and/or copies of it in their servers and databases. Its not uncommon for them to use this information to profile usage habits of their users. All this information is also available to local and federal law enforcement generally with the use of a search warrant.
Generally, no matter what network enabled application your using, the following information is always going to be left about you on some server somewhere.
With all the data stored on computers these days, a new area of computer criminal science has been created called 'digital forensics'. These are law enforcement personnel specially trained to find and retrieve specific information off a computer.
The tools that these people use are good at extracting the data they want. Generally the programs we use everyday are really good at leaving digital bread crumbs all over your computer's hard drive about everything that you do. These digital forensics tools are designed to leverage this information
On a side note, about digital forensics tools. Did you know that by using a pattern analysis program you can predict if something was written by a man or a women with almost 70% accuracy.
The way this technology works is by analyzing the words used in a message and assigns different values to them to determine if the text was written by a man or women. More information can also be determined by your writing style beside gender, such as your nationality based on the words that you use.
To see this tool in action, check out Gender Guesser or Gender Genie. With technology like this, it means that any of those anonymous posting or e-mail you might have created are becoming a lot less anonymous.
Note: This technology was created by Dr. Neal Krawetz of Hacker Factor Solutions.