Leonard J. French

Attorney & Counselor at Law

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How to get caught doing illegal things on the internet


Anonymizers only go so far

By Leonard J. French, Esq. – Posted: 18-April, 2012 – 10:33 EDT – Edited: 18-April, 2012 – 12:19 EDT

Willems Indictment Image

Federal authorities and a grand jury have indicted eight men accused of selling drugs over the internet. While this crime is nothing new, these men attempted to mask their internet identities by using Tor, a software package that purports to anonymize your internet connection and mask your true IP address. Many internet users believe they are safe behind their Tor nodes but this story shows how you can still be identified through your real-world interactions.

Anonymizer services are nothing new. Ever since the first round of RIAA lawsuits, savvy internet users have known about the perils of exposing your public IP address while downloading likely-illegal copies of music, movies, and software. An an internet attorney, I represent clients who have been identified solely by the IP that was public when potentially infringing material was downloaded.

Many anonymizers work in much the same way: a single, public IP address is used as a 'node' for multiple (read: many) users to connect through. Traffic through the node gets assigned an anonymous internal address in much the same way Network Address Translation (NAT) does. The node passes traffic between the public internet and its users, purposefully omitting any logs of any IP addresses.

For the most part, Tor works as advertised, even garnering an article from the EFF on the legal ramifications of running a Tor node oneself. But the indictees in our story made the fatal flaw common to all internet users interacting with the real world: in needing to receive cash payments and money-transfers and respond to customer service requests (yes, customer service), they provided non-anonymous contact information which could be traced back to their 'organization'.

Is this a flaw with Tor or other anonymizer services? No. It is a fundamental flaw with any activity (read: illegal activity) which requires interaction with the real world.

And while downloading potentially-copyrighted material using said services remains safer than using bittorrent, I would still recommend simply not doing that sort of thing as the industry's eyes are squarely on breaching these technologies in the 'ASAP' time frame.

Should you or yours find you are the subject of such a copyright-infringement lawsuit or subpoena, please contact me at (888) 801-8681 or ljfrench@leonardjfrench.com.

- Leonard J. French, Esq.

P.S. Attached: a copy of the 66-page indictment.

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