Archive for the Anonymity Category

OTF-funded security/privacy FLOSS

As the readers of this blog almost surely know, I'm the author of NoScript, a web browser security enhancer which can be installed on Firefox and Chrome, and comes built-in with the Tor Browser.

NoScript has received support by the Open Technology Fund (OTF) for specific development efforts: especially, to make it cross-browser, better internationalized and ultimately serving a wider range of users.

OTF's mission is supporting technology to counter surveillance and censorship by repressive regimes and foster Internet Freedom. One critical and strict requirement, for OTF to fund or otherwise help software projects, is them being licensed as Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), i.e. their code being publicly available for inspection, modification and reuse by anyone. Among the successful projects funded by OTF, you may know or use Signal, Tor, Let's Encrypt, Tails, QubeOS, Wireshark, OONI, GlobaLeaks, and millions of users all around the world, no matter their political views, trust them because they are FLOSS, making vulnerabilities and even intentionally malicious code harder to hide.

Now this virtuous modus operandi is facing an existential threat, started when the whole OTF leadership has been fired and replaced by Michael Pack, the controversial new CEO of th U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the agency OTF reports to.

Lobbying documents emerged on the eve of former OTF CEO Libby Liu's defenestration, strongly suggesting this purge preludes a push to de-fund FLOSS, and especially "p2p, privacy-first" tools, in favor of large scale, centralized and possibly proprietary "alternatives": two closed source commercial products are explicitly named among the purportedly best recipients of funding.

Beside the weirdness of seeing "privacy-first" used as a pejorative when talking about technologies protecting journalists and human rights defenders from repressive regimes such as Iran or People's Republic of China (even more now, while the so called "Security Law" is enforced against Hong Kong protesters), I find very alarming the lack of recognition for the radical importance of the tools being open source to be trusted by their users, no matter the country or the fight they're in, when their lives are at risk.

Talking of my own experience (but I'm confident most other successful and effective OTF-funded software projects have similar stories to tell): I've been repeatedly approached by law enforcement representatives from different countries (including PRC) - and also by less "formal" groups - with a mix of allegedly noble reasons, interesting financial incentives and veiled threats, to put ad-hoc backdoors in NoScript. I could deny all such requests not because of any exceptional moral fiber of mine, even though being part of the "OTF community", where the techies who build the tools meet the human rights activists who use them on the field, helped me growing awareness of my responsibilities. I could say "no" just because NoScript being FLOSS made it impractical/suicidal: everyone, looking at the differences in the source code, could spot the backdoor, and I would loose any credibility as a security software developer. NoScript would be forked, in the best case scenario, or dead.

The strict FLOSS requirement is only one of the great features in OTF's transparent, fair, competitive and evidence-based award process, but I believe it's the best assurance we can actually trust our digital freedom tools.

I'm aware of (very few) other organizations and funds adopting similar criteria, and likely managing larger budgets too, especially in Europe: so if USA really decides to give up their leadership in the Internet Freedom space, NoScript and other tools such as Tor, Tails or OONI would still have a door to knock at.

But none of these entities, AFAIK, own OTF's "secret sauce": bringing together technologists and users in a unique, diverse and inclusive community of caring humans, where real and touching stories of oppression and danger are shared in a safe space, and help shape effective technology which can save lives.

So please, do your part to save Internet Freedom, save OTF, save trust.

NoScript is (again) finalist for Best Security/Privacy Add-On at About.com, show it your love here (you'll need to temporarily allow about.com).

Thank you!

Also Firefox's native implementation of the Do Not Track proposal will end using the eponymous header, after all. It will be shrunk to DNT for bandwidth sake, though, without the "X-" and on its way to be submitted as an IETF internet draft.

Waiting for Firefox 4, NoScript 2.0.9.7rc4 has already adopted the new header name, after Jonathan Mayer politely asked me some hours ago.

Firefox embracing "Do Not Track" directly, shortly after Adblock Plus and NoScript started experimenting with it, is great news of course.

Just, why exactly inventing yet another header ("X-Tracking-Choice") rather than reusing the "X-Do-Not-Track" proposal, which had even been endorsed by Sid Stamm himself?

Latest NoScript (2.0.9) supports the Do Not Track tracking opt-out proposal, joining AdBlock Plus in this experiment.

From now on, a web browser with NoScript installed warns every HTTP server it contacts that its user does not want to be tracked, i.e. that his data must not be collected for profiling and persistent identification purposes. I believe this is a safe assumption about the feelings of most if not all NoScript users.

As stupid as it may sound (why parties who are interested in tracking you would comply?), a mean to clearly express your will of not being tracked is going to be useful, especially when backed by law or industry self-regulation, as explained here. Therefore it seems in the interest of NoScript users and privacy-concerned netizens in general to participate in this effort.

In its current release, NoScript allows the "Do Not Track" feature to be disabled or tweaked by opening about:config and editing the noscript.doNotTrack.* preferences:

  • noscript.doNotTrack.enabled (self explanatory)
  • noscript.doNotTrack.exceptions, space-separated URL patterns of destinations which are not sent the "Do Not Track" message
  • noscript.doNotTrack.forced, space-separated URL patterns of destinations which are sent the "Do Not Track" message even if they match exceptions

A GUI for these options, and possibly finer grained controls (e.g. to allow some or all the 3rd party trackers on certain websites only) will be added in future releases.

Update

The header name has been changed in DNT, but the preferences to control it remain the same.

Bad Behavior has blocked 3204 access attempts in the last 7 days.