PrivNote Self-Destructing Messages

I recently found a service that I enjoy using.  It is called PrivNote and it allows you to transmit small bits of encrypted text via a URL.  Here is how it works.  First navigate to https://privnote.com.  The very simple interface offers you a compose pane and prompts you to “Write your note here…”  You enter your message and click “Create Note”.  Your note is encrypted and you are given a URL that you can share with the intended recipient.  Privnote does not transmit the link for you – it is your responsibility to copy it and paste it into an email, text message, etc.  Once you have sent the note the real fun begins. Continue reading “PrivNote Self-Destructing Messages”

My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 5: Use Cases

At this point, my ultra-private iPod phone is setup and ready to use.  If you choose to follow a similar course, it is important to define how you will actually employ the device before you start to use it.  This will also dictate the tradecraft you should undertake to support your use case.  As I see it, there are essentially two ways this device can be used. Both will make you more private and secure.  It is up to you to decide how far you need – or want – to take it.

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My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 4

At this point in the process, the iPod has been initally setup, and the settings modified to make it as organically secure as possible.  At this point it is necessary to fund the iTunes account.  Even if you only plan to use free applications, the account must be funded before you can download apps.  The smallest denomination gift card you can purchase is $10 (I was unable to find anything below $15).

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My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 3

Yesterday’s post covered the initial device setup for my Private iPod Phone.  Today’s post will go through the settings that impact privacy and security.  The goal of these settings is to make the device as inherently hardened as possible.  These changes are designed to lower the footprint of the iPod by limiting the amount of information it transmits, making it less trackable, and generally less “noisy”.  These are all important factors to me when creating my ultra-private iPod phone.  Many of these settings can also be applied to your iPhone. Continue reading “My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 3”

My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of my attempt to create a private and secure iPod phone!  When I started this series I thought it would consist of three parts: procurement, setup, and use.  Setup took far more time than I expected, however, so I am going to cover this stage of the process somewhat more slowly.  One of the reasons I wanted to do this experiment was to see what roadblocks I might run into.  True to form, I ran into a couple of problems right off the bat.  This post will cover setting up the iPod phone intially, and modifying basic settings for privacy and security.

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My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 1

Some time ago I read an amazingly good article on using an iPod Touch as a secure/private phone.  I love the idea, and I have thought about it for quite a while.  An iPod Touch is remarkably similar to an iPhone, but potentially far more private and secure.  Recently I decided to try it for myself and see how easy (or hard) it would be to set up.  I also had unanswered questions about its actual use.  Part 1 of this article will cover device procurement and the lengths I went to for anonymity’s sake.  Part 2, 3, and 4 will cover setup, and Part 5 will cover actually using my new, ultra-secure and private iPod phone. Continue reading “My Ultra-Private iPod Phone 1”

How to Verify HTTPS Certificates

Hypertext Transport Protocol/Secure (HTTPS) is the backbone of internet security.  It is a ubiquitious encryption that secures connections automatically.  Users do not have to enable it, and the security it provides is strong.  The cases of Lenovo, Dell, and GoGo Inflight Wi-Fi are all well-documented instances of HTTPS tampering. Most users blindly trust the green padlock in their address bar.  You should always verify your connection is actually secure before inputting authentication credentials or financial information.  When using tools like the Tor Browser this is especially relevant.  It is also very important when using public Wi-Fi or other insecure wireless networks.  This post details how to verify HTTPS certificates to ensure your connection is secure.

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How-To: Tor Browser Bundle

My last post covered threat modeling the Tor Network.  While I have a very nuanced opinion of Tor, I do think it is ideal for certain use cases.  Unless contraindicated .  Using Tor is not difficult, but there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of.  This post will cover how to use the Tor Browser Bundle.

Download and Install the Tor Browser

The first step is to download the Tor Browser from https://torproject.org.  Before you install it you should verify the integrity of the file. The Tor Project has an excellent tutorial on how to do this here.  Additionally, I will begin to post checksums for the Tor Browser this month.  After you have verified the file, install it.  If you use a Mac, double-click the .dmg and drag the icon into your applications folder.  A few more steps are required if you use Windows, but setup is not difficult.  Instructions are available here.

Tor Browser Bundle

Begin Browsing with Tor

You are now ready to begin browsing.  Double-click the Tor icon.  Tor will as you to choose between “Connect” and “Configure”.  For the vast majority of use-cases connecting directly is your best option.  The “configure” option gives you the ability to use a bridge or proxy.  Using a bridge or proxy may be necessary if you are in a country or on a network that blocks Tor traffic.  Configuring a bridge or proxy is fairly intuitive, should you need to do so.

Tor Browser Bundle

When you connect to the Tor network, your request is first routed to a directory server.  This server will create your custom “circuit”, the network of three nodes through which your traffic will be routed.  When your connection is established, the Tor browser will open automatically.  You are now ready to browse through the Tor network.  The Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox.  Browsing with Tor is superficially no different than browsing with Firefox with one or two exceptions.

Using Tor-Specific Features

Clicking the Onion button opens some options not available in Firefox.  It also displays your Tor circuit and allows you to change the following options:

  • New Identity:  This closes all open tabs and discards any browsing data, like cookies.  A new, clean instance of the browser is then opened.  I do not recommend this
  • New Tor Circuit for this Site:  This feature builds a new circuit for the tab that is currently open.
  • Privacy and Security Settings:  See below.
  • Tor Network Settings:  Allows you to configure bridges and/or proxies if needed.
  • Check Tor Browser for Updates:  Always keep your browser up-to-date.  I recommend checking each time you open Tor because updates are frequently released.

Tor Browser BundlePrivacy and Security Settings:  Click this to open an additional dialogue.  The privacy portion has four radio buttons.  Leave all of these checked.  The security dialogue contains a slider and allows you to choose a desired level of security (low, medium-low, medium-high, high). These settings correlate roughly to threat models.  The higher your threat model, the higher a level of security you should choose.  I believe you should always use “high”.  It is less convenient and requires a working knowledge of NoScript, but if you are going to use Tor you should use it to its full potential.  On the other hand, ease-of-use may convince more people to use it overall.

Tor Browser Bundle 4

Potential Problems with Tor

Tor is imperfect for everyday use.  There are reasons it is not incredibly common.  Among them: the Tor Network is slow.  Traffic is routed through multiple servers, usually in multiple countries.  This inevitably slows your traffic.  Additionally, your traffic is slowed at least to the speed of the slowest server in your circuit.  You will also be forced to solve captchas to visit or log in to some websites, and encounter other minor inconveniences. You will also encounter security issues when using the Tor Browser.  I addressed some of these in my last post.  My next post will address one of them specifically: exit node security through HTTPS.

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Tor Threat Models

The Tor Browser Bundle is a terrific security tool.  Tor is a decentralized, anonymization network. To use it you need a specific internet browser, and it allows you to be as close to anonymous as one can be on the internet.  It also strongly encrypts your traffic, and best of all, it is free.  Readers have asked my opinion on Tor, and why I have not written about it.  There are some potential downsides to using Tor.  As a result, I have very mixed, very nuanced feelings about using it.  Before jumping into and using this tool you should take some time to consider these Tor threat models.  Though I typically analyze variations of the tool itself, my Tor threat models are in relation to use cases and user profiles rather than the tool.

Continue reading “Tor Threat Models”

Self Destructing Cookies for Firefox

If you have read any of my previous writing on internet browsers, you probably know I don’t like cookies.  Unfortunately, they are a necessary evil.  Without cookies most of the internet services we love would be impossible.  This is great when you need a website to remember login credentials, the items in your cart, or the pages you’ve already visited.  Cookies have a downside, however.  They allow websites to track your browsing.  This tracking is not limited to the first-party site you visited.  Once you have a cookie from a site it can see the other sites you visit, as well.  It can also share this information, making your history and habits well known.  Sites like Facebook even track non-users.  I work to prevent this to the extent possible.  I recently discovered an add-on for Firefox that is my new favorite for deleting cookies.  It is called Self Destructing Cookies. Continue reading “Self Destructing Cookies for Firefox”