The ability to use remotely loaded images in HTML emails for tracking has been known for years, but perhaps not widely known.
The On The Media: TLDR podcast just re-surfaced the issue in the above article, where they talk about a free Gmail plugin called Streak, which provides this capability.
It automatically embeds the hidden images in emails you send, then lets you see when and even where the recipient opens them.
Because they appear to use IP address based locations, you can block the “where” part by using Anonymizer Universal.
You can block this tracking completely by turning off the loading of images in your emails. Of course, if you then choose to load images, know that you are also enabling tracking. If you block image loading you will also find that your email become much less attractive and significantly more difficult to read.
This article makes an interesting argument that sanctions against repressive regimes, particularly sanctions that block providing communications and security technologies to end users, harm dissidents more than they do the repressive regimes they are designed to target.
In particular, companies are unable to provide cryptography and anonymity tools to the people who really need them.
The linked blog is from last year, but just came to my attention. It discusses a use for Anonymizer Universal that I had not thought about before.
The author’s problem was that his MiFi mobile hotspot kept dropping the connection any time it was idle for more than a short time.
His solution was to enable the Anonymizer Universal VPN, which then generates frequent “keep alive” traffic to maintain the VPN connection, and at the same time keeps the MiFi awake.
The law also requires web hosts to store all traffic information for two years. While the putative purpose of the legislation is privacy protection, it is widely assumed that this is an attempt to grab more control of the Internet, which has been repeatedly blasted by the Turkish government reporting on government corruption and graft.
As usual with these attempts at censorship, interested citizens can generally get around them. VPNs like Anonymizer Universal allow anyone to punch a hole through the national censorship firewalls to access any content.
I would be very interested to hear about efforts to block tools like Anonymizer in countries enforcing Internet censorship, like Turkey and the UK. Blocking of circumvention tools is already well documented in both China and Iran, and has been seen sporadically in many other countries.
UPDATE: According to Errata security the NBC story about the hacking in Sochi total BS. Evidently: They were in Moscow, not Sochi. The hack was from sites they visited, not based on their location. They intentionally downloaded malware to their Android phone. So, as a traveler you are still at risk, and my advice still stands, but evidently the environment is not nearly as hostile as reported.
According to an NBC report, the hacking environment at Sochi is really fierce. After firing up a couple of computers at a cafe, they were both attacked within a minute, and within a day, both had been thoroughly compromised.
While you are vulnerable anywhere you use the Internet, it appears that attackers are out in force looking for unwary tourists enjoying the olympics.
Make sure you take precautions when you travel, especially to major events like the Sochi Olympics.
- Enable whole disk encryption on your laptop (FileVault for Mac and TrueCrypt for Windows), and always power off your computer when you are done, rather than just putting it to sleep.
- Turn off all running applications before you connect to any network, particularly email. That will minimize the number of connections your computer tries to make as soon as it gets connectivity.
- Enable a VPN like Anonymizer Universal the moment you have Internet connectivity, and use it 100% of the time.
- If you can, use a clean computer with a freshly installed operating system.
- Set up a new Email account which you will only use during the trip. Do not access your real email accounts.
- Any technology you can leave behind should be left back at home.