Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

Click on a link, any link – Get busted and go to Jail

Declan McCullough has been writing on tech stuff for quite a while. He recently posted an article about FBI Entrapment about a situation where the FBI posted some links on a message board that appeared to be links to obviously illegal pictures and video that were to an FBI run site. Some guy clicked on the links and a couple of days later got a visit from the feds, was thrown on the ground, handcuffed, tried by a jury of morons… er his peers and convicted. His attorney is trying to get things reversed. (by the way, “Hundreds” of people were nailed with this particular sting)

OK, Great, they busted some scumball. Child porn is illegal and repugnant. It’s much much worse than a sitting prez nailing an intern a year older than his daughter. So, no problem if you are a good upstanding citizen, right???

WRONGO BONZO- Go straight to jail, do not pass “GO”. Do no collect $200.

The fundamental flaw in this that was outlined in the article was that it appeared that the Feds were simply looking at the IP of the person who clicked, not the referrer. IOW, They saw that someone clicked on the link and followed it. They don’t know what link they really clicked.

For example, they might have clicked the links on the FBI post that read something like http://www.reallydisgustingillegalimmorralandandfatteningstufff.com/ OK, so that person should know they are venturing into possibly illegal territory. Note the stress on possibly.

Now, here is the problem where the FBI is using the “Kill them all, let God sort them out approach”. It has to do with the way anchor text works.

There are two parts to an HTML link, (1) the actual address that the link points to and (2) the text that is displayed for the user. Therein lies the problem and a huge potential that would allow people to ruin the lives of others. This has been widely known for some time. The whole Google bombing that led to Google showing a page on President Bush for the search term “miserable failure” is a result of just this type of manipulation.

 
How does it work?? The format for a link in HTML is something like
{a href=www.site.com } text the user sees. {/a}
{a href=www.site.com } text the user sees. {/a}
I can’t duplicate the html for the link easily here because I can’t include the brackets so I’ve used curly braces instead.

In the case above, the user would see text the user sees as the link but if they click on it, they would go to http://www.site. com/. Oops, one click like that and your life can be ruined.

The ability to do this is something that almost anyone can do. It’s not some arcane piece of programming. It is the most simple, rudimentary html. If someone wants to get nastier, they can do a little javascript or other programming to actually force their victim’s browser to “Click” on the link. Don’t like a particular individual? send them an anonymous email with one of these disguised links and watch the fun begin. Want to ruin lives at random? Set up a self help website for some serious medical condition and throw in a couple of disguised links.

So, what can you do to avoid the possibility of becoming like the main actor in a Greek Tragedy?
  1. Learn how to farm and speak Pennsylvania Dutch, Become a strict member of the Amish Community and avoid all electricity and electronic communications with the outside world.
  2. Make sure that your wifi connections are LOCKED DOWN. That’s Locked down in Caps, italics, bold etc. If you have an open wifi and someone wants to cause you pain or is just randomly causing pain, all they have to do is connect to your wifi and type in one of the links. You’re now toast. BTW – forget about fairness and due process etc. Prosecutors use these types of crime where everyone hates the perp, even if they aren’t guilty, to built their reputation.
  3. Make sure that you have NO virii or trojans on your computer. That is almost impossible because it is philosophically impossible to prove a negative (Ie you cannot prove that there are no trojans on a machine). However, a seriously infected machine might have apps that cause automatic clicking.
  4. Strictly control who has access to your machine. Gee, your kid has a couple of friends over and one of them clicks on an entrapment link. A week or so later, you are sniffing the pebbles on your driveway with a jackboot firmly planted on your neck.
  5. Consider learning about jury nullification. One of the reasons that this stuff can happen is because the judges and persecutors can do this is because they count on the ignorance of a jury. If you are on a case like this and you see obvious BS, then don’t rubberstamp the guilty verdict. Of course, if you choose this course, you might want to engage in item #1 above, Get rid of all your computers and join the Amish.
  6. Use cache cleaning software and other privacy apps. The guy in the story was largely convicted because of two, count em two, thumbnails. Anyone who has ever examined the contents of a browser cache knows that the user has almost no control over thumbnails that are downloaded. (see #5 above). However, if the jury of your peers happens to be a bunch of boobus ignroramus americanus whose knowledge base consists of the scores of every Phillies player and all the episodes of Seinfeld, you are cooked. Stick a fork in yourself, you are done. An even better idea might be to have a linux box that runs off a CD with absolutely no hard drive memory for any recreational surfing or for any surfing where you don’t need to download/save anything.
  7. Let your elected federal reps know that you think the feds might be overboard and hurting people. Of course, if you do this, refer to option #1 again.
  8. Never, ever, ever click on any links again, ever or look at the HTML source and do a whois before clicking on any links… Yeah right…

By the way, if you want to see how an ignorant police force and overzealous prosecutor can screw a person’s life up, check out the story of the substitute teacher in Connecticut. Julie Amero. The fact that she has suffered this long is a travesty.

Bernardo Gui is alive and well in 2008. Long live the Inquisition!!

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