How NOT to Stay Anonymous Online

Staying anonymous online is BLOODY HARD. So, in a previous post, I wrote my technique for getting anonymous online:

  • Buy a burner phone to make a new, clean Google or Yahoo address.
  • Use the clean account for only making new accounts and/or things you want to stay anonymous.
  • Use heavily encrypted software like Tor Browser, Signal for text messages, Riseup for email.

I used my cleanest email to send an anonymous letter-to-the-editor… and blew my cover immediately. Pretty much the first time I used the account.

Let me walk you through my mistakes:

  1. I sent the wrong attachment. Wanting to be formal, I gave the document a simple name, and immediately lost track of where I’d saved it. So the document with the same name on the desktop… that got sent. By me.
  2. I used Microsoft Word. All word processing software keeps track of your identity, if you’ve registered the file. The metadata, the “document properties,” tracks the creator of the file. I wrote my anonymous letter on software that had my name on it.

On the other hand, I did two things right:

  • Start by contacting only sources invested in privacy. If you make your mistakes in front of allies, you are less likely to get burned. Journalists, union activists, political activists, doctors, and lawyers are all invested in the idea of personal privacy. Your data would be vulnerable to a court order, but not much else. Similarly, a wise anonymous net denizen would send their work to an ally or co-conspirator first, just to check the system.
  • Clear the Metadata. I wish I’d done this the first time! But the second time, I used Open Office, checked the document’s preferences, and reset them to NOT include user data.
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