Facebook’s Vulnerability Causes Arrest of Journalist

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The Australian Police arrested Ben Grubb, a 20 year-old journalist working for Sydney Morning Herald. The day before his arrest, Grubb had published an article about how a security researcher could break into someone’s Facebook account and steal  their private photos.

The Australian journalist got this information from security expert Christian Heinrich, who conducted a presentation on how to access photos from Facebook users’ accounts that were protected with privacy settings. The published story contained one of the photos "stolen" by Heinrich.

Ben Grubb was released a few hours after his imprisonment, but his iPad was confiscated in order to conduct an investigation. The Queensland police reported that "the investigation is looking at a hacking incident and the subsequent use of the property that was acquired as a result of that hacking".

While governments, politicians and parties are discussing the admissible levels of privacy invasions, social networking sites remain as the least protected places. Facebook’s Privacy Policy pays little attention to protecting internet privacy and defending the users’ accounts from unauthorised access: "We cannot ensure that  the information you share on Facebook will not become publicly available. We are not responsible for third party circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures on Facebook".

Worsening of Internet Censorship in China

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The Chinese government is going to blacklist universities and corporations for using VPN connections to access restricted websites. The Guardian reported that the Chinese government cracked down on VPNs and closed a loophole that allowed users to bypass their Internet censorship.

The users are complaining that since May 6th it has become very difficult to access sites such as Google and MSN. Moreover,  Apple's app store has also been blocked. Internet connections from China Telecom and China Unicom have become unstable, which makes using VPN services difficult.

Universities and corporate connections are suffering, due to the new difficulties, more than broadband connections. The Public Security Bureau has already blacklisted the Chinese Academy of Sciences, that is now asking people to avoid using "circumvention tools to access illegal content".

Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, doesn’t approve of the Great Firewall. She also claimed that the US would assign $19m to fight against Internet censorship in China and other authoritarian states. This funding will be part of the sum that  the US Congress has already allocated to combat against the Chinese Firewall.

How to Choose a VPN Provider?

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Protecting internet privacy and online security are very important for many users all over the world. Many people prefer to use VPN services to stay protected online. The use of VPN is reasonably thought to be one of the most reliable methods that provide you with safe internet browsing. But it is of crucial importance to choose a good VPN service provider, in order to be really protected. Selecting the best VPN is a popular topic on may internet forums where users share their experience of using different virtual private networks. We have collected some tips.

The first thing that should be taken into consideration is web anonymity. Many VPN providers give you pseudonyms, but not actual anonymity. If the company provides you with a unique IP address, it makes you uniquely identifiable because you are the only person using this IP address. Make sure that your VPN provider uses methods like crowding, multiplexing, latency normalization or traffic splitting / mixing, that can actually make you anonymous.

If you want to visit web sites that are restricted in your country, you should check in what countries your VPN provider has gateways. When using a VPN you can 'virtually' be any place in the world if there is a gateway there.

It is very important to make sure that your VPN provider doesn’t run its network on VPS/cloud servers. Cloud is an anti-privacy technology. Using a cloud or virtualized servers means that the traffic control is given up to a datacenter or cloud provider, what results in the VPN provider being weakly protected.

Use the following link to learn more tips: http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?p=1872039.

Internet Censorship in Africa

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Governments in Africa are afraid of protest movements and have decided to strengthen internet censorship in order to prevent them. Much attention has been paid recently to the blocking of sites in Egypt and Libya, to the filtering of the Internet in Tunisia and to the incarceration of the Moroccan bloggers. However, the situation in the rest of the region is also very difficult.

The filtering of websites has been used by the Ethiopian government for a long time. Moreover, some sites, such as political opposition websites, independent news sites and sites of some human rights organizations, are blocked in the country. The government is the only owner of Ethiopia's Internet infrastructure, which is why it exerts total control over it.

Despite the fact that all the sites are available in Burundi, the situation in the country isn’t any better, because users don’t enjoy Internet freedom. The internet filtering allows the government to track down users and to control their activity. For example, the editor of an online news site was arrested in 2010. And these practices are widespread in many African countries.

As for Sudan, people are free to use a lot of websites, but this access is under control. Researcher Patrick Meier claims in his blog post that the Sudanese government uses social networking sites to track down protesters. A group of people that called for protest was arrested; also many people that joined the street protests were taken into prison.

Innovations of the PROTECT IP Act

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The new US Internet censorship bill will soon be released. It’s called the PROTECT IP Act, that stands for "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property". The new bill gives a more accurate definition of sites “dedicated to unlawful activities” and gives more ways of restricting access to them.

COICA suggested using a  DNS blocking system to limit access to foreign "rogue sites". It also asked that credit card companies and advertising networks stop working with such sites. Also, according to the PROTECT IP Act, search engines will not be allowed to show search results from seized domain names. The bill reads that this decision "responds to the concerns raised that search engines are part of the ecosystem that directs Internet user traffic and, therefore, should be part of the solution."

But search engines, credit card companies and advertising networks will be protected by the law if they “voluntarily cease doing business with infringing websites, outside of any court ordered actions.” If a search engine considers a web site to be a law infringer, not only it will be able to disable their advertising, but it will have a legal right to do so.

The PROTECT IP Act also gives the right to trademark and copyright holders to go to court and target foreign domains directly,  without government mediation. However, they won’t be able to sue search engines and internet providers, only payment processors and advertising networks.

Can VPN Services Access Users’ Passwords?

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VPN connections provide their customers with safe data transmission and web anonymity. All the information your send using  a VPN is securely encrypted. Moreover, nobody can know your IP address, because it is also hidden. But  some users worry about whether it would be possible for the VPN service to see the passwords that they enter in the websites that they visit.

VPN services encrypt data travelling from your computer to the VPN servers that you use. From then on, your data is not protected anymore. However, if a web page is ssl encrypted, no one will be able to see any passwords that you might type in. Websites like Hotmail, for example, encrypt only the login process, but not the reading of the emails, whilst online banking services encrypt the whole session.

To strengthen your private data protection you can also use SSH or other "higher layer" encrypted services. These services provide end to end encryption, organizing a secure channel between two devices of the network. They ensure the confidentiality of the data transmitted over an unsecured network.”


The European Union is Toughening Privacy Rules

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The European Union is showing concerns about the protection of users’ internet privacy. On Tusday Viviane Reding, the European Justice Commissioner, claimed that she is going to insist on toughening the rules about breaches of privacy  in  online banking, video games, shopping and social media. “European citizens care deeply about protecting their privacy and data protection rights,” Viviane Reding said.

These concerns intensified after the much talked about cases of Sony PlayStation Network customers’ data theft and iPhone and iPad storage of location information about their users. Ms. Reding emphasized that the companies operating in the E.U. market should provide protection of their customers’ privacy and obey the E.U. rules that require notifying customers of security breaches “without undue delay.”

In comparison with the United States, national data protection authorities are much more powerful in the European Union. There are no organizations in the United States that take care of protecting internet privacy. The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, that have the opportunity to deal with this issue, work on the enforcement of fair business practices. But the US government is making some steps toward improving the situation. The development of the privacy bill of rights is a bright example of this.


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Microsoft’s Useful Tips for Privacy Protection

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This year, Privacy Awareness Week is taking place from the 1st  to the 7th of May. It is an annual event organized by Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities (APPA). The main aim of the organizers is to inform users about privacy issues and to help them defend their personal information. In connection with this event, Microsoft is giving some useful tips about protecting internet privacy in its blog. The article focuses on:

  • Personal Computer
  • Web Browser
  • Wireless Home Network
  • Personal Internet “Cloud”
  • Toys and Gadgets

First of all, it is necessary to avoid giving out your information to companies that you don’t trust. It is also safer to type in web addresses for banks and online services than to follow links that could lead you to trap sites.

Secondly, it is essential to update your software, especially your antivirus, and to install on your computer only trusted software, because malicious one can store your personal information. If a computer has malicious software installed, it can transmit your private data to the third party without notification. That’s why some services allow using temporary passwords on the computers that you don’t trust.

Moreover, if you have a wireless home network, make sure it is used only by authorized users. The wireless network should have at least Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), use a unique access point (network) name, and be protected with a password. Otherwise anyone else can use it to watch your online activity or to do illegal things that may compromise you.

Do not take lightly the advice to use strong passwords. Password protection is important not only for wireless networks but also for your social network accounts, e-mail and any personal internet “cloud”. Be creative when you create them, remember to change them from time to time and try to use different passwords for services you use. It will help you to protect your personal information from theft.

See more tips here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/nzgovtech/archive/2011/04/29/take-control-of-your-privacy.aspx

Freedom on the Net 2011

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Recently, Freedom House has released its report Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. The report contains information about internet freedom in 37 countries. It says that the violation of users’ rights has increased and has become more varied during the last few years. Among the main threats to online freedom are the cyber attacks, politically-motivated censorship and government control over internet infrastructure.

Bans against access, restrictions on content and users’ rights violations were the major points of evaluation regarding internet freedom  in the countries studied. In accordance with the report, Estonia has the highest level of internet freedom. The United States are on second place and Iran is last. Eleven other countries are evaluated as "Not Free", among them Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. There are also plans to restrict the internet freedom during the next twelve months in countries  such as Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The situation is very difficult in the countries where internet is under the total control of the governments. Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report, claimed that “the ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world. A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media”.


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Violation of Sony Customers’ Privacy

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Sony PlayStation Network and Qriocity, online music and video services, have not been active for almost a week. The day before yesterday Sony finally admitted that both services have been hacked and that personal information belonging to 77 million network users was stolen by an unauthorized person.

Sony informed its customers that the third party got access to their private data, such as names, addresses, birth dates, login details, password security answers and e-mail addresses. Patrick Seybold, Sony's Corporate Communications and Social Media Senior Director, also declared: “Whilst there is no evidence at this time that credit card data has been taken, we cannot rule out that possibility”. 

After the attacks, the services were turned off to prevent further  information theft. Sony engineers are currently working hard  to fix the security breaches. The company promises that some services will be restored within a week, but users will have to change their logins and passwords when the services become available.

A lot of users are not satisfied that the company didn’t inform them about the violation of their privacy immediately. Senator Richard Blumenthal claimed that “although the breach occurred nearly a week ago, Sony has not notified customers of the intrusion, or provided information that is vital to allowing individuals to protect themselves from identity theft, such as informing users whether their personal or financial information might have been compromised. Nor has Sony specified how it intends to protect these consumers.”


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