Haystack Anonymity Software Earns a Warning, But There Are Workarounds

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 14, 2010

Although there are many software packages, including a number of open source ones, used throughout the world for anonymous web browsing and online communications, Haystack is one that has been widely in the news lately. The Censorship Research Center (CRC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have both issued alerts saying that testing of Haystack software in Iran is being halted due to security concerns. "Based on this announcement, we recommend that users stop using all versions of the Haystack software immediately," advises the EFF. However, there are many other resources that people in places with restrictive Internet policies use to communicate.

It's not clear whether the brouhaha over Haystack arose from the exposure of a particular user in Iran, but there is no question that in places like Iran and China the consequences of using software designed to keep communications anonymous can be severe. Nevertheless, there are many products and services used in this area other than Haystack.

For example, Sesawe.net is a portal that provides many, many ways for users around the world to circumvent tracking when online.  Visitors to the site can display language on it in many languages by toggling with the toolbar atop the page.

Tor, from the Tor Project, is one of the most powerful and flexible open source solutions for online anonymity. As Slashdot notes, you can use the Firefox extension HTTPS Everywhere to take advantage of the power of Tor very easily. We covered both Tor and the extension here

Lisa has also covered how many users browse anonymously on Android phones with Tor, here.  Thanks to a grant from the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge and the team behind The Guardian Project,Tor browsing with Android works well.

FLOSSManuals, which we've covered many times and which includes useful documentation for free software, also has a complete manual on how to surf anonymously from any part of the world.  If you're new to anonymity apps, it's probably the best place to start.

The warning over Haystack is instructive. While there are lots of freely available ways to avoid censorship on the Internet no matter where you live, the penalties for getting caught in certain countries are severe. That said, there is no question that people who value freedom all over the globe will continue to communicate online anonymously.