One very important aspect of privacy that is usually overlooked is that of discretion. If you want to remain private, then it’s important not to stand out – in IT circles it’s often called security by obscurity. I remember once having to investigate unauthorized use of a database system by an employee. The scenario was that this particular application could be used to look up all sorts of personal details about people however this was strictly forbidden.
When I started to investigate, it took about 2 minutes from looking at the logs to identifying the culprit. The logs were huge, but all access was identified by the user access name in one column. The usernames were all in a long format like this – user/2347643-1964 all except one whose username was Bob21 (slightly changed to protect the stupid), and it stood out a mile. The user had created his own account and used it to look up details of a love rival, but had failed to keep to the same username format as everyone else. It yelled – check me out, very loudly indeed – he was discovered and subsequently lost his job.
The point is that it’s all very well having a super secure and encrypted connection, however if this is too obvious you run the risk of making yourself a target and inviting investigation. This is particularly relevant in using a proxy or VPN or proxy to hide yourself online. Sure they work and a properly configured VPN over port 80 does keep you very secure, however if anyone looks at the logs the VPN user can stand out.
The reason is that in standard ISP logs a normal web user will have a variety of internet requests to all sorts of different web servers and IP addresses. The VPN user will have all those hidden and will interact with the single IP address of the VPN server. This stands out, the same IP addresses being connected almost permanently and no requests made to anywhere else. The IP address is either a fascinating web site or more likely a proxy or VPN – it’s also simple to search and filter for this sort of behaviour.
Fortunately it is possible to hide VPN traffic by using certain highly secure VPN services which can be made almost invisible too with a few carefully configured options. Here’s an example of those settings that you can configure in Identity Cloaker.
After all if you’re streaming video from a recognised site, do you need encryption? Is it a secret? You might already run openvpn over https too, and by making this sort of behaviour accessible and readable you control what aspects of your online activity is private and which isn’t. These are simple tricks but extremely useful if you’re serious about tying to hide VPN traffic properly.
It’s not that difficult if you have these options in your VPN service to melt back into the crowd. However it makes a huge difference to the level of privacy you enjoy. A little obscurity is an essential element in keeping yourself safe online, any security adviser knows all too well that you should avoid making yourself into a target.