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General Security Question


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#1 TwoSocks

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 02:29 AM

This may be an odd question and perhaps it will appear that I'm being overly paranoid, but I've got a question about computer security. I sometimes contribute to a forum in China. The forum is a government run forum which is definitely monitored by people associated with the government. For example, threads which include sensitive information are deleted by the monitors. When submitting a reply, if the reply contains any "key words" the monitor deems objectionable (such as the words Tibet, Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square Massacre, etc.), the reply will not appear in the forum automatically. Furthermore, some replies are read by the monitors before they are posted (which I guess is not that unusual). In short, the forum is very closely monitored and heavily censored. No big surprise.

I've had some ":heated" (but civil by American standards) discussions about politics with some of the people on the forum - most of whom are Chinese. Consequently, as time has gone on, it's become harder for me to get my replies posted from time to time. Let's put it this way, they certainly read each of my replies before posting them. If they object to something I've said or if I have released information about a news story that is not common knowledge in China (due to government censorship), the replies are never posted or the thread is never started.

All of this close monitoring got me thinking about something. I travel to China at least a couple of times a year. Before doing so, I must apply for a visa, which is granted at the discretion of the Chinese government. In the past I've had no difficulty getting a visa but, since I've now started contributing to the forum in China, I wonder if there is any way they can get my identity from the forum. If so, I am concerned that this may effect my chances of getting a visa into the country. I know I sound paranoid, but do any of you know whether it would be easy for them to get my real identification? When I signed up for an account with the forum, I gave them an email address that does not include my name and I also changed the "sent by" name so that my name would not appear when I send an email. I supplied them with nothing else.

Just wondering.........thanks for your help!

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#2 psych1610

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 05:42 AM

Hi, most likely the admins and moderators of the forum (if it's similar to here at all) can easily see your IP address. With this they can find out your ISP at the very least and the area where you're connecting from. Following from that I can only assume that if they tried hard enough (read: if they cared enough) they might be able to figure out who you are, especially if it's the government and they apply pressure to your ISP (probably differs depending on the country you're in and your ISP obviously). I know in the U.S. the chances of someone figuring out who you are exactly by your I.P. address is slim to none, but there you're dealing with the government and they're resources. I do believe you said the forum is run by the government.

I don't really know what the chances of them doing this are though, having never traveled nor dealt with the Chinese government. I guess my advice would be to be cautious. If you stirred up enough trouble they'll ban you from the forum.

Also, something to consider is that the people over there who are monitoring the forum aren't the ones handling your passport/visa/etc. So they would have to go through the trouble of blacklisting you maybe which might just be a heck of a lot of work in and of itself. Also, I'm sure you'd have the ability to fight that somehow.

Anyway, sorry for the long post. I guess what I want to say is if they try hard enough, which is to say very hard, it might be possible to figure out who you are but if you're just posting things they don't like and that are truly objectionable to them on the forum it seems to me the easiest way to handle it would be just to ban you.

Hope that helped a little bit.

#3 jhsmurray

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 05:58 AM

To my knowledge the only way to associate an IP to an individual is through the ISP. I am assuming you are not using a Chinese ISP. That in mind, unless you included information about yourself in the forum (such as your name), the Chinese government would have to petition the ISP to release this information. Chances of this: 0%. That's my take on it.

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#4 TwoSocks

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 09:30 AM

Hey, thanks very much for the replies and advice. I greatly appreciate it.

I don't think that I've gone far enough to warrant being banned. Any "objectionable" information that I've attempted to post (references to the 77 petitions filed to protest during the Olympics which were all denied, while some of the people petitioning have since disappeared, the age discrepancies with regard to the Chinese gymnast, as well as others) have never made it onto the forum. Other people living both inside and outside of China (Brits, Aussis, Kiwis, Americans, etc.) have written far worse than I have, but my goal is not to piss off the Chinese government as much as it is to have an open debate with some people in China.....well, as open as possible, that is. I would not be surprised at all, however, if the government keep tabs on people making inflammatory statements or those attempting to repeatedly discuss topics they know are off limits (Tibet, for example) or news that the Chinese government has kept from the citizens of China. And if there were a way for the monitors to identify these people, I also wouldn't be surprised if the monitors turned the names of these people over to the visa office, labeling them as potential problems should they enter China and denying them any future entry into China.

One last question: I understand that there are ways to hide an IP address, or perhaps to have the IP address constantly change (a different "dummy" IP address each time I signed into the forum, for example). Is this true? If so, is it difficult to make the necessary changes to my computer in order to do this? I know so little about these things so any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you again for your help!

#5 TwoSocks

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 10:16 AM

Ok, so I did some quick research and found that there are numerous companies that sell software that will hide an IP address. I also found that it is possible to use a proxy server to hide my IP address. Of these 2 options, which is better (ease of installation and use, minimal slowing down of speed while surfing the web, secure and reliable)? Do any of the software options allow me to hide my IP address temporarily and then reversing this by clicking a button? That is, is there software out there that is somewhat easy to use and.........well, idiot proof? If anyone can give me some input as to which software and/or proxy servers are best, I would really appreciate it. I am willing to purchase this stuff, as long as the price is reasonable. So, it doesn't necessarily have to be free. Thanks again!

#6 psych1610

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 06:24 PM

Hi TwoSocks, I wouldn't bother purchasing software to hide an IP address. I don't think it's worth your money. I think a proxy is a good and simple idea. For both of these products I wouldn't think there is any installation. Definitely no installation for a proxy, don't know about the software that masks an IP, but probably not. The software that hides the IP address would probably slow down surfing less, just because using a proxy is one more step to take in your surfing. Having said that though the slow down, if any with the proxy, would probably not be noticeable. I think both are secure and reliable enough. As far as hiding your IP temporarily, using a proxy would allow you to just close the window and start afresh. Both should be simple, easy, and well.. "idiot proof".


Final verdict: I say use the proxy. I wouldn't purchase the software unless you understood exactly what it did, how it worked, and whether you needed it. Personally, for this case, I'd say it's overkill. If anything, the proxy is free and temporary. If you decide you don't like it or it slows down your browsing then dump it.

Another option that hasn't been mentioned is talking to your ISP. It shouldn't be too much trouble for them to assign you a new ISP each time you connected to the internet (or if you're connected 24/7 like most, every X days). There may be an extra fee for it though. If do any torrenting though this probably will mess with that.

Yet another option is to use a software called Peer Guardian. It's mainly used for the bit torrent users but also seems applicable to your situation. It seems to block IP addresses that the lists deem harmful. You can check it out here http://phoenixlabs.org/pg2/ It's free and easy to work with also. Install, update the lists, and go from there. I use it and I actually block quite a few things coming from China, probably just coincidence. They advertise as being for privacy fiends so it seems like a good idea. It does run in real time and so if you have a slower PC the lag it puts on it might be noticeable but it's not on mine. Some people claim it uses bandwidth, I don't know but it doesn't slow down my surfing. Also, you can start it and turn it off at will while I think the stuff you were thinking about purchasing might be permanent.

This is one that I've used before: http://shareandcare.info/index.php?referre...n=profileby=266 Just enter whatever website you go to into the box. You can google for plenty more that are free and work.


Dave

#7 TwoSocks

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 06:47 PM

Psych1610, thank you very much for all of your help. It was really kind of you to take the time to educate me about this stuff.

Actually, since I use bittorrent from time to time, I signed up with BTGuard (a proxy server) and I've been using this for a few months now. However, it was my understanding that this proxy server would apply only to applications involving utorrent (the bittorrent client I use). I used the help section on the utorrent website to set this up. Would this likely protect me behind the proxy server all of the time, or would it only protect me when I have utorrent open and I'm downloading a file? Thanks again in advance!




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