Feeds

China's anti-censor software pimps user data

Dissident data for sale

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Roberts is unconvinced by the explanation from the circumvention tools suppliers. Even if the apparent sale of clickstream data were a simple misunderstanding, then the issue of user-identifiable data retention still stands.

"I don't understand how a website could be considered confidential," Roberts told El Reg. "I think it more likely that the confusion falls somewhere between the partners sharing the data."

"But in any case, the important finding that they are storing the data at all remains."

Roberts has published a more detailed response to the reactions of the circumvention tools firms here.

I’m happy that the data is no longer for sale on the website, but given all of these factors, I’m still concerned with the amount and sensitivity of the data being stored, the lack of disclosure to users about what data is being stored and how it is being used, and the care with which the data is being protected.

Roberts adds that he is not questioning the motives of those developing the tools, seeking to accuse them of making a quick buck, but rather criticising their lack of openness and privacy policies.

Who else is eavesdropping?

Roberts notes that any security shortcomings in circumvention tools leaves Chinese users with few alternatives. Technologies such as Psiphon and Tor offer anonymous surfing but have themselves been subject to problems, he writes.

"Lots of folks rely on personal VPNs to circumvent or otherwise secure their connections, but those VPNs are not inherently any safer that the local ISPs through which they are tunneling," Roberts adds, noting recent laws from the Swedish government giving it the ability to eavesdrop on VPN connections maintained by local ISP Relakks.

Similar issues involving the use of communication technology in China have cropped up before. Last October, Skype admitted that text messages sent through a Chinese version of the service were open to surveillance, blaming local partner TOM Online for allowing the eavesdropping.

The issue emerged after researchers from Citizen Lab, which is based at the University of Toronto, established that TOM-Skype was "censoring and logging" text chat messages containing certain keywords. The researchers were able to prove the breach because the surreptitiously logged data was kept on an open server.

We asked Ronald Deibert, director of the Lab, to comment on Roberts' analysis. He said that he was closely monitoring the debate about Global Internet Freedom Consortium tools stirred up by Roberts' recent post. He added that trusting a commercial virtual ISP or circumvention tools provider was an inherently risky proposition.

"The original notion of Psiphon (our circumvention tool) was to depend on personal social networks of trust as node operators, rather than other providers, precisely to avoid this problem," Deibert told us.

"We took some flack on this at the outset, and it was widely misunderstood, but it seems apropos now to reiterate it." ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Shellshock over SMTP attacks mean you can now ignore your email
'But boss, the Internet Storm Centre says it's dangerous for me to reply to you'
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
How to simplify SSL certificate management
Simple steps to take control of SSL certificates across the enterprise, and recommendations centralizing certificate management throughout their lifecycle.