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[ISN] Crypto Users Can't See FBI.gov
From: InfoSec News (isnC4I.ORG)
Date: Thu Jul 06 2000 - 23:41:02 CDT
by Chris Oakes
2:35 p.m. Jul. 6, 2000 PDT
Is the FBI blocking privacy-equipped browsers from its website?
The question goes unanswered a week after users of a commercial
privacy service found themselves unable to access the Federal Bureau
of Investigation's fbi.gov site.
"You can't access fbi.gov if you have a Freedom 'nym' running,"
confirmed Dov Smith, spokesman for Zero-Knowledge Systems, which runs
Freedom.net, the privacy service affected by the problem.
Zero-Knowledge began an investigation after postings by users of
Freedom mentioned the problem last week on the "cypherpunks" mailing
list, a popular discussion forum for privacy and encryption
The company and the FBI have yet to find a likely cause, which could
be political or technical in nature.
Zero-Knowledge's Freedom service uses encryption and other security
technology to secure users' identities as they traverse the Internet.
Freedom subscribers create multiple digital identities called
pseudonyms -- or "nyms" -- each associated with different Internet
activities. The nyms use a network of proxy servers, strong encryption
keys, and digital signatures to prevent identifying data from flowing
out of users' computers.
The FBI has publicly stated its concerns about the use of strong
encryption on the Internet mainly because of the obstacles scrambled
data poses to law enforcement.
That's why eyebrows went up when Freedom users typed fbi.gov only to
find the FBI's website just doesn't load. Meanwhile, users who
disabled their "nyms" were able to access the site as usual.
Was there an ulterior motive in the FBI's cyberspace no-show? The
mailing list participants have drawn a connection between the problem
and FBI Director Louis Freeh's past statements about encryption's
danger to crime-fighting efforts, according to Smith, whose company
monitors the mailing list.
But Zero-Knowledge isn't ready to read political meaning into the
incident, which Freedom users said is the first time they have been
blocked from a website.
"It did raise eyebrows and I think it's probably a very sexy story for
a lot of people because of the positions the FBI has taken on strong
crypto -- and the fact that we are a company that deploys very strong
cryptography," Smith said. "Hopefully we'll get to the bottom of that
Just as it told Zero-Knowledge representatives, the FBI said it has no
answers as to the cause of the problem but in general it would never
seek to block access to its site.
"I can't speak to whether or not there's a problem, but I can tell you
on our part there's no intention to deny anybody," said FBI spokesman
Rex Tomb. "That I'm aware of, there's no attempt to block anybody from
looking at the FBI's Web page and there's no incentive for us to do
it," said Tomb.
He added that the FBI site has never blocked any kind of Internet
traffic. "The more people that can see that page the more we like it.
That's the whole reason we have it."
"I'm going out on a limb here -- could it be that this software makes
it difficult to interface with firewall or other considerations?"
He said Zero Knowledge is hoping to collaborate with FBI engineers to
explore all possible causes from an intentional "blockage" to a so-far
unprecedented technical problem with Freedom software.
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