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repost(?): Why i am not truly pseudonymous yet (was: Re: keyword scanning and countering writing style analysis)
I tried to send this message to the cypherpunks in April 1998.
I suspect that this, and many other messages that i sent, never
reached the cypherpunks list.
If any of you remember reading this, or have a copy of it in
your archives, please let me know.
------- Forwarded Message
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998 07:06:44 +0200 (MET DST)
From: Zooko Journeyman <[email protected]>
To: [email protected]
Subject: Why i am not truly pseudonymous yet (was: Re: keyword scanning and countering writing style analysis)
References: <[email protected]>
I think that the state of the art on this is probably close to
the boundaries of the science of machine learning.
I recently saw a presentation by a researcher from Bell Labs.
His machine learning system, which is being patented, had
success rates better than competing systems (including better
than a hand-scripted system!) at identifying into which
categories a phone call or letter to AT&T fell: "Billing",
"Subscription", "Complaint", "Delay", "Installation", etc.
Presumably the NSA has similar systems with all of our favorite
keywords. (Toto: insert funny jokes here.)
Anyway, if _i_ were forced to bet on it, i would say that such
systems are not yet good enough to reduce the cost of matching
nyms to "insignificant", but that such systems probably _will_
be that good before too long (and our old articles will still
be useful as data then...).
Now the question about counter-measures, i don't know. (There
is a trade-off between safety and expressiveness here. We
could all buy a copy of AltaVista's translator software and
language databases, and then run our missives through a couple
of pidgin foreign languages before posting them. [Toto: insert
funny joke about JYA here.])
I think this issue is growing in importance. I currently use a
very weak nym, which anyone with a little skill should be able
to crack [Toto: bonus points if you _privately_ send e-mail to
one of my eunymous accounts]. I'm starting to think that this
is the worst of both worlds, as potentially malicious sorts are
not significantly slowed down, while potentially beneficient
people are kept a bit more distant from me and are thus less
likely to be of use to me. (e.g., people who know me as Zooko
wouldn't notice if "Anna Rosenbaum" (my real name) were to
disappear one night, and vice versa.)
By the way, the reason for my failure should be instructive:
my nym is so crackable not because of any technical detail
having to do with remailers or encryption-- it is that
i foolishly posted articles containing both nyms in the distant
past, and those articles are now a permanent part of the The
Net instead of decaying and disappearing like articles from
even earlier years did.
Another issue for me is the onerous cost of starting a fresh
nym. The benefits (true pseudonymity) are uncertain (the bad
guys' techniques might crack my best effort using current
technology (especially because of textual analysis as per the
original topic of this message)), and the costs are that i lose
the advantages of concentration of reputation into a single
(I've already observed this, a little, with my current set of
weak nyms. Adding a strong one would only exaccerbate my
A final problem i have with true pseudonymity is that i _like_
meeting people in Real Life, and not only to fight or fuck
Okay, this has been long and rambling, but i hope useful to
some of you. One more point before i go:
There are two ideas of pseudonymity that i have considered. In
one, you are truly the only person who knows that the nym maps
to your body. This has obvious advantages, and obvious
disadvantages. In the other (which is basically what "Zooko"
is and was intended to be), there is a large, ill-defined group
of people who also know of the mapping. This has its
advantages too-- social advantages (which are very important!),
but the disadvantage is that it is trivially cracked by a mole.
[In fact, i think i recall that about the time "Zooko" appeared
on the scene one "Adam Back" sent me e-mail saying, "Hey-- you
write a lot like Anna Rosenbaum did... Are you her?".]
[So if anyone wants to do me a favor, look about in your
archives and dissociate "Zooko" with "Anna". Thanks! It might
actually do me some good in the long run, although not, of
course, against the likes of the NSA. Perhaps against others.]
P.S. For an Nth reason that i don't have a strong pseudonym,
i never bothered to learn how to use a remailer front-end. Now
with Xemacs 20 and Mozilla out, i could probably handle it...
P.P.S. Today i found the 3rd person, including myself, who
has used the name "Zooko" on the net.
.----, | mailto:[email protected]
. / | http://www.xs4all.nl/~zooko/public.html
. / | "Any technology which is distinguishable
+____. | from magic is insufficiently advanced."
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