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Feb. 11, 1999 >> 1:00 pm EST
John Bryant's
Sci-Tech Title


Privacy Software Promises Net Freedom


INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA, 1999 FEB 10 (Newsbytes) -- By Adam Creed, Newsbytes. Privacy while using the Internet for e-mail and surfing the World Wide Web now has a name: Freedom version 1.0. The soon-to-be-released software claims a powerful set of features -- a completely secure and private Internet experience.

If the software lives up to its promise it will be a beneficial tool to people wanting to use the Internet without the threat of someone eavesdropping on their e-mail conversations, tracking their Web site visits and compromising their confidential business communications.

Although the risk to the average Net user is minimal, you only have to read recent reports about police access to Internet service provider logs, collection of personal information and Pentium chip IDs to know that this is one hot topic that concerns Internet users and the software hopes to capitalize on this interest.

The aptly named Canadian-based Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc. plans to distribute a preview version of Freedom at Demo '99 this week in Indian Wells, California.

"When you browse the Internet, your personal information is routinely collected and often distributed without your knowledge or consent," said Austin Hill, president of Zero-Knowledge Systems.

Hill claims Freedom allows an individual to safely browse the Web, participate in public discussions, chat and send e-mail without revealing any personal information. It combines various services, some of which are already available on the Web in diffferent forms, such as anonymous newsgroups and cookie management features, into one package.

The software runs in conjunction and in the background with Internet software, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Communicator. It uses high-grade public key cryptography, ranging from 128 to 4096 bit strength, to automatically encrypt the contents of any Internet transmission, including e-mail, chat room, Web browsing and newsgroups.

When sending e-mail both the sender and recipient's addresses are encrypted, as well as the message itself. Packets are routed through between three to five different Freedom servers. These servers each remove one layer of encryption and source IP addresses before passing data packets on to the next server. Freedom says that no single server in its system ever knows both the source and ultimate destination of data packets sent by the user.

The software, server security and integrity of Zero-Knowledge Systems will undergo intense scrutiny by privacy advocates and Net security experts before acceptance. Among tentative concerns about Freedom initially voiced to Newsbytes are issues of trust in Zero-Knowledge, the need for both parties in an e-mail exchange to have the software and the importance of a critical mass of users.

"Users have to trust Freedom with all their communications routed through its servers," said Danny Yee, board member of online freedoms group Electronic Frontiers Australia.

If the recipient of the Freedom-secured e-mail doesn't have the software, it is probable that the privacy of the communications breaks down. "Unless the receiver has some kind of crypto support, e.g. PGP, Freedom, S/MIME, and so on, then there's no way to get secure e-mail to them," said Yee.

Zero-Knowledge plans to sign up Internet service providers to host a Freedom server for the use of their customers. In this way they can address the potential bottlenecks caused by all traffic being routed via the Freedom servers on their network. This move has an interesting duality about it that could, on the one hand, make the risk of compromise greater, or, on the other hand, increase the integrity of the system.

There is safety in numbers. The more people using such a system, the less attention individual users would draw to themselves -- whether from government security agencies or from crackers.

"If every ISP had such a server, that would make traffic analysis a lot more difficult," said Yee. "Traffic analysis will also get harder the more people are using the system."

"But the more servers there are the more possible vulnerabilities there are, though a correctly implemented system should be able to ensure that if one server was compromised the others would not be exposed," continued Yee.

Lastly, security experts note that although Freedom can give an anonymous Web browsing experience, it does not intend to prevent crackers accessing a user's computer directly. "This software will not protect your computer itself from being hacked," said Simon Johnson, technical director of Shake Communications. "However, it will prevent a Web server from knowing your real IP address."

Trial version of the software and a white paper will be available on the World Wide Web at .

Reported By Newsbytes News Network,

(19990210/WIRES ONLINE, PC/)

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