Anonymity on the Web … Good or Bad

How do you feel about anonymity on the Web? Is it a good thing or is it bad? Of course, it depends …

Like most other technologies, “anonymization” can be used for good or evil. But who is going to be the judge, the arbiter of appropriate behavior? It very much depends on your alignments, political or other, as to whether you believe that certain anonymous posts and leaks are appropriate, legal, moral, etc.

The fact of the matter is that the ability to hide the origin of a message or transaction on the Web has been around for many years. I recall that we used server-hopping services for the FS/ISAC in the late 1990s, enabling financial institutions to submit information about incidents in an anonymous, yet authenticated manner. The intention was to encourage financial institutions to submit, without specific attribution, information that they would otherwise not be willing to share for fear of financial and reputational repercussions. Such information was considered to be useful to other institutions and would result in the strengthening of the security of the finance sector in general. In my opinion, that is a good thing. After all, the bad guys share, why shouldn’t the good guys do so also? And if anonymity facilitates such sharing, so be it.

And now such anonymizing technology is clearly mainstream, top of mind, and was featured in a December 19, 2010 column in “The Medium” series in The New York Times Magazine by Virginia Heffernan with the title “Granting Anonymity: Tor gives us the freedom of secrecy.” As Ms. Heffernan points out, the Tor mechanism of creating “virtual tunnels” through the Internet was introduced in 2001, so it also is by no means new.

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