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Anonymous Remailers Survive Politech Attack

Privacy, free speech networks not cowed

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The anonymous remailer network isn't closing, despite an alarmist and inaccurate story by Wired's Declan McCullagh, and postings to his own widely-read Politech mailing list.

Len Sassaman, a security expert and privacy advocate who runs the Randseed remailer, is cited by McCullagh as having "pulled the plug" on his system in the wake of the World Trade Center bombings, and the report hinted that others had too.

But Sassaman's system didn't go off-line and McCullagh, it turns out, hadn't been in touch to check. An announcement rapidly followed explaining that Randseed had been switched into middleman mode, which simply prevents it from being the last machine in the remailer chain.

And real-time statistics at press time showed thirty six Type II 'Mixmaster' remailers in operation, more than are usually running. Many more Type I remailers were also active.

Sassaman told us that the precaution was to preempt concern about hate mail or threats being made using the system. His remailer processes around three thousand messages a day, and out of a million messages over the past year, only two have drawn the attention of the authorities.

However, simply because one machine goes into middle man mode doesn't weaken the remailer system: the chain only needs a single system operating in both entrance and exit modes to be effective, and given a geographical dispersal of remailers, it's unlikely to be compromised by a crackdown in the wake of the New York and Washington atrocities.

"These terrorists probably don't use anonymous remailers," explains Sassaman. "They don't know if the machine they're using could be honeypot. But disturbed individuals could capitalise on the terror of the attack by sending in false information or additional bogus threats."

"But equally," he adds, "the mailer network could aid the investigation, providing a channel for people with legitimate information who fear for their lives, and don't trust the protection that the United States could offer them."

Anonymous remailers networks are effective not (as asserted in another McClunker) because the operators don't keep logs, but because no operator on the chain is aware of both the sender or the contents of the message.

"Stay operational," advised remailer operator Michael Shinn in a follow-up post to the Remop list:-

"If we give up all that is American to secure some safety, and freedom of speech is one of the many things that is truly American, then the terrorists will win. And thats what the terrorists WANT: for America to be destroyed. Shutting down freedom of speech would be to do the terrorists job *for them*. I will not surrender to terror. I will not carry out the will of these cowards. They will have to do it themselves: I'm keeping my remailer up."

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