How anonymous is an Internet user, and is it possible to truly achieve anonymity online? Surprisingly most people think online anonymity is achievable, in fact, many people assume anonymity is an inherent feature of the Internet, but the truth could not be more contradictory.
Anonymity was not invented nor promised with the Internet. The use of anonymity has occurred throughout history. Authors have often written anonymous articles in fear of government prosecution, allowing them to bring on government reform or potential revolutions. Even Benjamin Franklin concealed his identity by signing letters to the local newspaper as “Silence Dogood”.
Money is an example of anonymity. In today’s world of bank checks, credit and debit card transactions, many people still refuse to use them and use cold hard cash so as to not contribute to the growing databases of consumer buying habits.
Ever since the invention of the computer, anonymity has been under attack as credit card companies track consumer-spending habits, search engines track interests, online retailers track buying trends. There are databases designed to track nearly everything you do. Have you ever tried to enter your name, address or phone number in a Google Search?
As ironic as it is, some people still believe that when they login to use their favorite chat software or web site, they can say or type anything they wish under the guise of anonymity. They believe this simply because they have a nondescript screen name like “DolFan13” or “CoolDude”, which protects their identity.
The Internet was originally designed in the 1960’s by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). By the end of the 60’s the Internet was known by the name ARPANET and was brought online in 1969.
The original design of the Internet was to provide a communications network that would work by rerouting traffic around damaged areas of the network; including damage from nuclear attack as stated by the RAND study.
Without getting into a complete dissertation of Internet communication protocols, the Internet was designed to track everything you do or say. The best you can hope for on the Internet is pseudonymity as true anonymity dictates that no identifying information be recorded anywhere, which is contrary to the very nature of the Internet.
Some of you may be saying, “What about those web sites designed for Anonymity?” Well the truth is they do protect your identity to some degree. They are designed to protect your identity from the general public.
When dealing with anonymity on the Internet, it is not a matter of keeping your identity secret, it is a matter of how much trouble will it be to establish your true identity. The only thing that prevents the world from knowing your true identity while online is policy. If push comes to shove your activity on the Internet can be traced. It may require a court order, for your identity can be discovered.
If you still think anonymity exists online just ask Robert Tappan Morris what he thinks. Morris is the son of former National Security Agency scientist Robert Morris, and is the creator of the Morris Worm, the first computer worm to be unleashed on the Internet. He was convicted in 1990 for his crime.
If you are still skeptical and think you can still be anonymous if you use a public computer, then just ask Adrian Lamo how anonymous the Internet is. Lamo’s claim to fame is his break-ins at major organizations like The New York Times and Microsoft. Dubbed the “homeless hacker,” he used “anonymous” Internet connections at Kinko’s, coffee shops and libraries to do his intrusions. His identity was also discovered and revealed.
David Anthony Kennedy, the fourth child of Robert F. Kennedy once had this to say about anonymity on the Internet. “One of the nice things about the Internet is people aren’t terribly anonymous; they only think they are. Lots of footprints get left all over the place by people who are a little unwary.”