Security researcher creates an online anonymity device, ProxyHam which can connect anonymously to a Wi-Fi located 2.5 miles away
ProxyHam allows its users to connect to a far-away public Wi-Fi network putting them miles away from their IP address and thus helping them with an additional layer of anonymity.
In this era of government surveillance there seems to be a tough war between the online surveillance and anonymity. Using specialized tools such as Tor and VPNs is no longer helping users to protect their privacy. The IP address of the user plays a vital role and detection of user’s IP address gives away all the essential details of that particular user breaking their anonymity.
Benjamin Caudill, a security researcher, however has created an online anonymity device which can help users to add an extra layer of obfuscation to the online user’s location. This device could be of great help in protecting the anonymity of whistle blowers, dissidents, journalists and the criminals.
Caudill’s innovative device is known as ProxyHam, also known as “hardware proxy” helps user to connect to a far off public Wi-Fi network through an unidentifiable low frequency radio channel. This entire setup makes it difficult for the government authorities and the snoopers to determine the actual location and real identity of the Internet traffic. Thus even if snoopers manage to hunt the users through multiple layers of proxy connections and reach their IP address it will not reveal the real identity of the user.
Lets check what is this novel device made up of:
ProxyHam basically is an open source device which comprises of a Raspberry Pi computer attached to a Wi-Fi card which is further connected to three antennae. One of the antenna connects the device to a Wi-Fi network which is placed at a public place and the dual antennae is connected to a radio connection which transmits the Wi-Fi signals at a frequency of 900 MHz.
Thus ProxyHam connects the user to a far off Wi-Fi network which could be placed between one and 2.5 miles depending on the interference factors such as landscapes and buildings. On the other hand the 900 MHz radio connection helps in relaying the data back and forth to the user.
Hence, even if the snoopers or investigators manage to completely trace user’s internet connection then it will lead them only till the IP address of ProxyHam box which has been planted in some remote library or public place and which is transmitting the low level radio frequencies in some direction which is thousands of feet away.
Caudill, a researcher for the consultancy Rhino Security Labs, compared his device to the typical approach which people generally use to hide the source of their Internet connection. One way could be to use their neighbor’s Wi-Fi or work from a coffee shop instead of home.Caudill then even pointed the danger of these tactics and said: “But the problem with Wi-Fi as a protocol is that you can’t get the range you need. If the FBI kicks down the door, it may not be my door, but it’ll be so close they can hear me breathe.” He further added: “[ProxyHam] gives you all the benefits of being able to be at a Starbucks or some other remote location, but without physically being there.”
Caudill plans to showcase the ProxyHam next month during the DefCon hacker conference which would be held in Las Vegas. During the conference he will teach the attendees to build the device thus he plans to release the hardware specs, the source code along with the blueprint of the device. All the instructions will be displayed on his website and ProxyHam’s Github page upon the launch of the device. The device is actually made of two parts, one will be similar to a size a large dictionary which would contain the Raspberrry Pi computer that would be connected to a Wi-Fi card along with a small 900 MHz antenna. This needs to be placed in some public place. The other part would be a radio connection which user needs to plug in their ethernet port.
Caudill says that his main purpose is to help the whistle blowers, dissidents and other sensitive Internet users for whom VPNs and Tor may not provide the essential security. A malware can bypass Tor and thus reach user’s IP address and send this address to the attacker. On the contrary, Caudill says, if these people use ProxyHam such attacks could only help investigators to reach the ProxyHam device but not the user. And any which ways the ProxyHam would be placed almost 2.5 miles away from the user.
Now, as far as the detection of radio frequencies on the user’s end is concerned, Caudill has solution for that too. He says the wireless signals of ProxyHam are designed in such a manner that it would resemble the frequencies that normally emits from cordless telephones as they use the same frequency. Thus he says: “There are a ton of devices jumping into that space and communicating there. It’s not feasible to say ‘we’ll chase down everyone who has this device communicating on this frequency.’ It’s a needle in a haystack.”
Micah Lee, a security technologist for The Intercept and occasional developer for the anonymous whistle-blowing software SecureDrop suggested that until the security of ProxyHam has been thoroughly proven it is better that no one should entirely depend on ProxyHam alone. Lee added that one can use ProxyHam in combination with the existing anonymity software such as VPNs and Tor. Lee says: “It seems like a thing to augment your Tor usage rather than replace it. In that sense, it seems like a good idea. No matter how many hops over the Internet you use, if there’s someone spying on everything, they can connect all the dots. But if one of the hops isn’t over the Internet and is instead over a radio link, it’ll be a lot harder to connect those dots.”
While speaking to Motherboard, Caudill said that he and his team are further working to add certain additional features to the ProxyHam such a Self Destruction. It seems the newer versions of ProxyHam could be even smaller so as to easily fit into a book thus making it much more easier to hide.
Caudill added: “If you throw this in a library it would take you years to be able to identify it.”
Caudill really wants to protect the journalists and dissidents and hence as a service to the community he plans to sell ProxyHam at a price of $200 and hopes to bring down the price to $150 in the next few months.