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Anonymity on the internet - Digital Threat Digest

PGI’s Digital Investigations Team brings you the Digital Threat Digest, SOCMINT and OSINT insights into disinformation, influence operations, and online harms.

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The other day, my friends and I were discussing how truly difficult it is to stay anonymous online. As digital investigators who rely on open-source intelligence to gain information, we’ve come to realise how much of our personal lives are floating around for anyone to come find. While there are certain things you can do personally to limit how much of your personal information is readily available on online; being totally anonymous across your entire life is incredibly hard to achieve.

Several decades ago, George Orwell wrote in his book ‘1984’, which depicted a society characterised by near-constant surveillance, that “eyes follow you about as you move”. While, thankfully, neither 1980s nor 2020s have quite lived up to that dystopian vision’s darkest predictions, surveillance is a predominant part of our current lives. From cookies and trackers to phishing and malware, it appears that everyone – including internet providers, businesses, advertisers, governments, and hackers, is keen on monitoring our online activity. Whether it’s mining our data for personalised ads or exploiting our information for illegitimate purposes, threat actors can leverage the internet against us.

In the wider spectrum, the internet can serve a crucial purpose in facilitating a more open and equal exchange of ideas online. That said, anonymity and privacy, especially in the electoral process, should be mandatory features found in any democratic society. Because, while the internet can be a facilitator of good, it can simultaneously enable malicious intent such as fraud, hate speech, and disinformation designed to deprive individuals of their right to vote. Some governments have even imposed rigid restrictions on anonymity to suppress dissent – such as China’s social credit system as a means of state surveillance.

In the end, it may be difficult to find the right balance between ensuring anonymity whilst also allowing the flow of free expression simultaneously. Within the realm of open-sourced intelligence and research, anonymity is a key tool that allows us to remain safe and unassuming while delving into threats and behaviours that may otherwise go unnoticed. Having said all this, those wanting to protect themselves should at least remain vigilant to any publicly available personal information that could come back to bite them.

More about Protection Group International's Digital Investigations

Our Digital Investigations Analysts combine modern exploitative technology with deep human analytical expertise that covers the social media platforms themselves and the behaviours and the intents of those who use them. Our experienced analyst team have a deep understanding of how various threat groups use social media and follow a three-pronged approach focused on content, behaviour and infrastructure to assess and substantiate threat landscapes.

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