Feeds

Privacy tool for Iranians withdrawn amid security concerns

'Haystack' could out dissident needles

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

A heavily hyped software tool created to help Iranian citizens evade government surveillance online was abruptly pulled from the web following findings it was riddled with vulnerabilities that could expose users' identities.

Members of the Censorship Research Center said they were withdrawing the Haystack tool and asked that all remaining copies be destroyed. The move came after hacker Jacob Appelbaum called Haystack “the worst piece of software I have ever had the displeasure of ripping apart” and warned it could jeopardize the lives of Iranians who used it.

The project's lead developer said here he was resigning. Those remaining vowed to have the program reviewed by outside auditors and then released as an open-source package.

It remains unclear how many people ever used Haystack and whether anyone actually depended on it to cloak their online activities from the prying eyes of Iran's government. What is free from any doubt is the tremendous amount of uninformed adulation the program creators received from mostly mainstream news outlets.

The Guardian, for instance, named Censorship Research Center Executive Director Austin Heap the the 2010 Innovator of the Year and called Haystack “a key technology used by Iranians to disseminate information outside the country in the protests that followed the disputed election result in June 2009.” Newsweek, the BBC, Forbes, Salon.com, and The Atlantic have also lauded the project, even though Heap now says it never made it out of development and wasn't widely used.

Haystack's promoters claimed it was an improvement over Tor and other anonymity services because it hides dissidents' communications in internet traffic that's officially sanctioned by the Iranian government. That allowed citizens to use it without calling attention to themselves and made it impossible for the government to suppress their traffic without blocking all internet communications, they said.

More from The Freedom to Tinker blog, Wired.com and the BBC is here, here and here. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.