Tracing the Network, Tracing the NSA

NSA EagleIn many ways, I can credit the NSA along with the excellent reporting of Nate Anderson for why I’m so interested in surveillance technologies. In particular, when the story broke in 2005 that the NSA was likely engaged in massive wiretaps of domestic and international data traffic I was drawn to the power and capacity for the ‘net to be used for truly broad-based surveillance efforts. This interest was heightened when Nate published the first of a set of articles on deep packet inspection (DPI) for Ars Technica. Without these two key moments, along perhaps with some interesting reporting on copyright, I’d probably still be thinking through the conditions of ontological psychology through a Heideggerian or Hegellian lens.

Given that I am engaged in research into surveillance technologies, and have the absolute pleasure to be associated with truly excellent scholars, activists, advocates, collaborators, and friends who share similar research interests, I wanted to take a moment to ask you, my readers, to help us map data traffic. As you may be aware, the NSA is reputed to have installed systems in various networking hubs that lets them examine massive amounts of data traffic. It’s not entirely known how they inspect this traffic, or the algorithms that are used to parse the fire hose of data they must be inundated by, but researchers at the University of Toronto have a decent idea of what ‘carrier hotels’, or major Internet exchange/collocation points, have likely been compromised by NSA surveillance instruments.

As part of their own respective research projects, they are developing a tool that will let them map data traffic on a Google Earth (and hopefully, later Google Maps) diagram. The intent is to ultimately show the end-user where their data traffic flows, to give them a better understanding of the likelihood that their data traffic is being inspected by national security sources. The researchers involved, Dr. David J. Phillips, Dr. Andrew Clement, and Prof. Nancy Paterson, (all members of the same New Transparency Project I’m a member of) are asking for our help to accomplish the goal of identifying the likelihood that our data traffic is being surveyed. Below is the set of instructions that Prof. Paterson has asked readers to follow to assist them in testing the earliest version, of their software that will map data traffic in an effort to trace data traffic.

I have a favour to ask for the IXmaps research project – could you ask any colleagues, friends to run a program for us? (runs under Win XP) We need people to run it who are located in North America, at locations as far away from Toronto as possible.

  • at – click ‘Traceroute generator’ in the top left hyperlink menu
  • Download IXmaps Traceroute Generator 0.8.4 (faster, requires administrator privs.) or the slower one (that requires no administrator access to install this small program on the computer)
  • look for TrGen in the Win XP program menu and run it
  • it asks for the person’s name and postal code
  • they can select from a pull down tab that has a couple of ‘batches’ to run – please run them all – takes about 10 minutes
  • if there are any questions, leave a comment on this blog post and I’ll put you in contact with the programmer designing the backend of the system

Once you’ve run the traceroutes, they should appear on the ixmaps website shortly thereafter and you’ll be able to see where your packets ‘moved’ in North America. The project is still very much in a beta stage, in the sense that while it doesn’t risk damaging anything on your computer, there is a possibility that the program doesn’t work properly to upload results to their servers, ends up in a loop, etc. If any of you, my readers, could test out this program for the researchers involved it would be incredibly helpful in furthering the cause of rendering transparent the modes of surveillance we are subjected to as our packets race around the Internet.

Please help. For only 15-20 minutes of your time, you can assist in rendering transparent incredibly broad surveillance practices that intrude into our collective online privacy.

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