Is a good secure service for lefty activists?
January 7, 2012 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Security Nerds: What do you think of using for secure online communications for leftist movements?

I ask because as astounding number of activists here at Occupy Wall Street are using Gmail and google groups these days. Is this something to worry about? Is riseup a decent alternative?
posted by willie11 to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It might be helpful if you could articulate some of the specific concerns you have regarding individuals using Google services.
posted by SemiSophos at 10:52 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

What reason do you have to trust these people more than Google? What reason do you have to believe that they are resistent to being shut down?
posted by themel at 10:57 AM on January 7, 2012

I was hoping to have folks weigh in on those questions...
posted by willie11 at 11:03 AM on January 7, 2012

I can't speak to their security, but if you define "good" as "always or nearly always functional," just a quick look at their main page system updates shows that they've been down/nonfunctional more than ten times since last October. They also keep asking for money, which tells me that they are constantly at risk of not being able to keep up with demand for their services.
posted by juniperesque at 11:17 AM on January 7, 2012

The name is a little too on-point for me to really give them any credit.
posted by rhizome at 11:19 AM on January 7, 2012

I wouldn't be inclined to trust riseup any more than Google. I would be more inclined to use Google or Facebook, though, since social movements are dependent on network effects, and using what people already know significantly lowers the barrier of entry for prospective participants.

The thing about security is that it's actually kind of difficult to comprehensively pin down. The question "Is this secure?" is best answered with "From what?"

If you're worried about people eavesdropping on your communications in transit between your computer and your email provider, SSL has you covered, regardless of if you're using RiseUp or Gmail. After that? It's decrypted and then stored or relayed through multiple machines on the internet to its final destination, any of which could copy the message before passing it on. There goes your privacy.

But wait! RiseUp claims that they keep minimal logs, limit data sharing, and will "actively fight any attempt to force Riseup Networks to disclose user information or logs." That's great rhetoric, but what happens when they're actually facing a court order?

They also disingenuously tout that "your data is encrypted." Great, but who has the keys? Oh, right, they do. That sort of encryption will protect you from exposure if a backup tape gets stolen, but, again, what happens when their servers are seized or they're the subject of a court order? There goes your privacy.

Lastly, as juniperesque points out, how do you ensure your account's longevity? What happens when they run out of money, or their servers crash? There goes your ability to communicate, securely or not.

The crux of the matter is that you can only design a secure system if you know what sort of security you're trying to ensure. Which is to say, what information are you trying to protect, and from whom?
posted by SemiSophos at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, they've been around for a long time, so they have staying power. They have connections to the NLG and have successfully resisted complying with subpoenas in the past. They seem to be primarily used by Seattle/PNW groups that aren't necessarily all that revolutionary. They've put out crabgrass, so you could host your own if you want.
posted by dhartung at 11:41 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why not make everyone use OpenPGP?
posted by Bangaioh at 12:21 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

As SemiSophos said in the first comment, what you really need to do first is figure out your threat model. (And stay on top of this if your threat model changes in the future.) In other words, who is your opponent, what is your opponent trying to do, and what resources are they going to use?

OWS is a pretty open organization. I suspect that the easiest way for anyone to investigate OWS is to infiltrate. Securing your communications won't help much against moles or agent-provocateurs. (But even the infiltrators are part of the 99%, so are they really infiltrators? Maybe they just think they are. IMHO OWS's openness is a strength, not a weakness.)

My gut feeling is G and R are roughly equivalent for you. Google has some advantages. Google's not ideologically dedicated in the way Riseup is, but it's a huge organization with huge resources, and they do want to be somewhat secure so that Joe Middlemanagement feels OK putting the draft TPS reports on Google Docs. In both cases, your communication with them is encrypted but they can read your stuff once it reaches them. Google's size might make communications with them less susceptible to traffic analysis. Neither one is going to withstand a concerted legal investigation with court orders and NSLs and such.

You should encourage people to use end-to-end encryption like PGP if they are willing to, though. In the event that your threat model changes, the trust/authentication network it'll give you will useful. (On the other hand, it makes network analysis much easier for an opponent who wants to know who's a key member of the group, so be sure to point that out to people at any keysignings.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:38 PM on January 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't have qualifications to meaningfully weigh the advantages/disadvantages of Google vs Riseup in terms of security technology. So far as I can tell from the activist folks I know in Philly and New York, they've shown themselves to be competent and trustworthy (I was going to link to the NLG case dhartung cites above).

In terms of actually maintaining secure communications, there's a lot more to do than just use Crabgrass. More details on internet security for left/anarchist folks can be found through HackBloc zine, which publishes useful updates and relevant news about activist security online. The resources page is something I'd recommend looking at: security resources.
posted by brackish.line at 5:19 PM on January 7, 2012

I would trust them about as much as any other service out there. Assume they're compromised and don't discuss things on there that you wouldn't discuss in a coffee shop. Also, by only communicating via highly-secure/back-room/cloak-and-dagger methods your end goals seem more nefarious and dangerous.

sorry for the conspiracy talk below, but I feel it needs to be said:
If our government (NSA) wants to know what you're doing/typing then they'll figure it out via backdoors (on your comp or the system you're using), keylogging (hardware or acoustic (I've actually seen this work with a mic listening to the capacitors in a comp expand and contract as keys are typed)) or using old-fashion infiltrators.
posted by zombieApoc at 10:23 PM on January 7, 2012

"secure online communications "

Once Room 641A became public knowledge there isn't a reason to think ANY online communication is secure anymore. End to end encryption as described by hattifattener is the only method worth considering.
posted by anti social order at 8:24 AM on January 9, 2012

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