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Eveline Lubbers on 28 Feb 2001 23:13:02 -0000

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Angela Gunn, AlterNet
Triangle Boy is a tiny piece of software that allows web surfers
to slip the nets of censors and go where they will. But it could
also be a nasty CIA tool for stealth attacks on "hostile" sites.


           Triangle Boy: A New Angle On Free Speech

           Angela Gunn, AlterNet
           February 20, 2001

           Viewed on February 26, 2001


           Triangle Boy could be the best thing to happen to Internet free
speech since federal judges laughed the Communcations Decency Act out of a
Pennsylvania courtroom in 1997. Its a tiny piece of software that allows
web surfers to slip the nets of censors and go where they will. It could
also, according to some critics, be a nasty CIA tool for stealth attacks on
"hostile" sites. Or could it be both? 

Protecting Net speech through anonymity isn't a new idea. For example, a
user who goes to the main page of SafeWeb.com, the company building
Triangle Boy, can visit any site on the Net without anyone knowing she's
been there. SafeWeb hides her information and won't allow any site to
deposit cookies or other user-identification debris on her computer. All
someone monitoring her computer would see is a long stream of traffic from
one site -- that is, SafeWeb.com.  

That's handy for users wanting to surf on work machines without leaving a
trail of hotjobs.com or hotbabes.com clicks for the boss to trace. As
Lawrence Lessig (author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and a
supporter of the Triangle Boy project) points out, such surfing is "the
sort our constitution protects through the technology of law."  

But if it's your government or your Internet service provider that's
monitoring you -- and according to Electronic Frontier Foundation experts,
dozens do -- they can easily block your compu ter from finding SafeWeb's
site. With few anonymous-surfing services available (Yahoo currently lists
about two dozen), it's a trivial task to block them all.  

Triangle Boy circumvents that problem by creating a network of Underground
Railroad surf ing waystations. Running the Triangle Boy software,
you-the-volunteer play a brief but pivotal role as a bend in the path
between users and SafeWeb. Let's say there's a surfer in a country with
restricted Net access -- say, China. That surfer could seek out (through a
search site like Yahoo or Google) people running Triangle Boy on their
machines and find, in this example, you. The Triangle Boy software then
redirects the surfer to SafeWeb, which notes your IP address and starts se
nding pages back to the surfer, disguising them as traffic from your
machine. (Net heads will recognize this as "spoofing," a tech maneuver used
by everyone from hackers to the guys in charge of making e-commerce sites
go faster. It's perfectly legal as long as you volunteer to be spoofed. )  

Since it's unlikely that you personally are interesting enough to attract
the attention of censorship dragnets, traffic that looks like it's coming
from you won't trip those filters.  

While blocking twenty-odd sites is simple, tracking down and blocking
20,000 is nearly i mpossible -- especially since, as SafeWeb CEO Stephen
Hsu notes, the Web is growing much, much fas ter than any tracking tool can
catalog it. Still, he says, governments such as those in Saudi Arabia and
China have been increasingly successful at controlling the flow of
information.  Just last month, in fact, over 1700 Net cafes in Chongqing
were required to install the "Internet Café Secur ity Management System,"
designed to block what Beijing calls "objectionable" content.  

If most surfers squeeze online through a small number of sites or service
providers (such as those Chongqing cafes) on their way into cyberspace,
censors only need to control those few si tes or service providers to make
large chunks of the Web invisible. That's why some countries require
citizens to use government-owned Internet services; it's a low-effort,
low-profile, high - efficiency grip on the citizenry's access, with
problematic sites blocked by the service provider before the surfer knows
anything's wrong.  

Triangle Boy's strength lies in numbers. The more volunteers, the harder it
will be for censors to block them, even at government-owned Net service
providers. Lessig thinks that would-be censors will respond to Triangle
Boy "like a child responds to a non-cooperating puppy: anger, frustration,
and then peaceful resignation." Think Napster: Lars and his printed lists o
f alleged Metallica pirates aside, it's hard to stop bits from shifting
around online if they're c oming from not just one but potentially
thousands of directions. (Another, less controversial example is the SETI
software that searches for extraterrestial life by using volunteer
computers' "quiet time" to process radio signals from space.)  

Triangle Boy provides as many jumping-off points for anonymous surfing as
there are volunteers.  In fact, since users don't take up time on
volunteers' Net connections for more than an ins tant, one volunteer could
be the jumping-off point for many users at once.  On the other hand,
Triangle Boy volunteers could also become unwitting human shields used by
CIA hackers. Last week the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the
Central Intelligence Agency has signed a contract with SafeWeb for an
"enhanced" version of Triangle Boy for the agency's own use. The
enhancements involve the CIA's advanced encryption technologies, which
will be melded with Triangle Boy to create a version of the software
accessible only to CIA employees and contractors. (Rumors that the new
package will be called "Triangle Spook" are probably false and, in fact,
are starting right here.) SafeWeb expects to deliver this version of the
software to the agency in April.  

Critics' most extreme claim -- that the CIA only wants Triangle Boy so they
can figure how to hack it and track it -- is fairly nonsensical, since the
CIA could get the same information by simply downloading the software and
examining it. More troubling is the thought that Triangle S pook could be
used for offensive attacks. Theoretically, the software could be used to
cloak the sources of a multi-pronged attack on a foreign banking or
communications systems; after all, a Triangle Boy users doesn't look any
more like CIA Director George Tenet than the Dalai Lama.  

CIA officials deny any plan to use Triangle Boy or its heirs in an attack
capacity, though electronic experts cite the CIA's and National Security
Agency's years-long efforts to develop cyber-subversion tactics as
sufficient evidence that the impetus is there.  

Tens of thousands of free-speech-minded folk could be deploying Triangle
Boy within six months, estimates Hsu, who'd "love it if every coder, every
artist" -- every independent thinker who has either a Web page or always-on
Net access -- "would load Triangle Boy and let it run." The child of
Chinese-born parents, Hsu would like to see his project increase free
speech in China and around the world through the minimal efforts of any
volunteer who wants to pitch in.  

           And if the CIA wants to road-test it too? Bring it on. 


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