Common Mistakes

Here are some examples of how not to protect yourself, your colleagues or your confidential sources.

N.B. whistleblowers & journalists should not be treated like terrorists, but they can sometimes learn from them.

  • Email & Mobile phone Privacy for Lovers - UK lessons from the CIA Director Petraeus affair - Gmail security strengths & anonymity weaknesses (.pdf) - presented at Cryptoparty London 3, Wednesday 12th December 2012

    Petraeus and his lover supposedly used a Google gmail account, without sending or receiving actual emails (which generate Communications Data log files). They are reported as having usied shared password access to Draft messages or documents in the web mail account to which they both had access.

    This trick has also been used by (failed) terrorists and other criminals in the past.

  • These terrorists' attempt to evade surveillance, actually ended up providing hard evidence, which convicted them:

    Gang plotted to set off bomb in Royal Wootton Bassett, court is told

    12:36pm Wednesday 24th April 2013


    Two British-born Islamic extremists used a laptop to hold "silent conversations" about terrorist plans that included Royal Wootton Bassett as a potential target, a court heard today.

    Richard Dart and Imran Mahmood tried to avoid surveillance by typing into a Word document on a laptop rather than speaking aloud, prosecutors claim.


    Prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw QC told the court: "The method employed as the police, with the help of computer experts, would subsequently discover, involved Dart and Mahmood sitting together at a computer and opening a Word document on the computer to conduct what in effect was a silent conversation.

    "Having had that discussion by typing into the document, the document was then deleted by one or other of the defendants, without having been saved and as far as the defendants were concerned the document would therefore be destroyed forever.

    "They plainly were under the misapprehension that the text once deleted could never be recovered."

    The tactic suggested that they were aware that they might be under surveillance, the court heard.


    (via this Sky News video clip Wootton Bassett Terror Plotter Jailed

    The spelling mistakes in the ASCII text conversions from the hexadecimal imply that this has been released by the Police / MI5 rather than faked as some other Tv news clips show (with the incriminating words seemingly being typed into a document)

    The Daily Mail

    'Only Allah can judge me': Muslim convert Richard Dart refuses to stand in dock as he is sentenced to six years in prison for terrorism offences

    adds this detail:

    They would open a Word document and take it in turns to type, before deleting the text and mistakenly assuming that none of it would be stored on the machine.

    However forensic experts were able to plough through 2,000 pages of computer code to decipher fragments of what was said.

    These included Mahmood making a reference to Wootton Bassett and then adding 'if it comes down to it it's that or even just to deal with a few MI5 MI6 heads'.

    Counter-terrorism teams also believe that the pair used the same tactic walking down the street with a mobile phone.

    If you really are under close audio or video surveillance, such techniques are likely to fail, because there may be video or even audio evidence of the participants actually typing on a keyboard (much easier to read than what is on the screen).

    With the right set up, the characteristic sounds from each key on the keyboard could potentially be analysed.

    Why did the terrorists use Word ? Remember that this ususually creates a Temporarary file of each document and may in fact be set to Autsave every 10 minuites or so.

    An MSDOS or / CMD.exe command line would have done as well to display words on the screen, with no danger of temporary files (you can change the options to have easier to read colours and fonts than standard)

    If you are already under such close surveillance, then you are unlikley to remain unidentified as a whistleblower.

About this blog

We know that there are decent, honest, trustworthy individual politicians, civil servants, law enforcement, intelligence agency personnel and broadcast, print and internet journalists etc., who often feel powerless or trapped in the system. They need the assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.

Some of these people will, in the public interest, act as whistleblowers, and may try to leak documents or information to the mainstream media, or to political blog websites etc.

Here are some Spy Blog "Hints and Tips", giving some basic preecautions, and some more obscure technical tips, which both whistleblowers, journalists, and bloggers need to be aware of, in order to help preserve the anonymity of whisteleblowing or other journalistic sources, especially in the United Kingdom, but applicable in other countries as well.

Whistleblower anonymity may not always be possible, or even necessary, forever into the future, but it is usuially crucial during at least the early stages of a "leak", whilst it is being evaluated by others, to see if it merits wider publication and publicity.

Email & PGP Contact

Please feel free to email your views about this blog, or news about the issues it tries to comment on.


Our PGP public encryption key is available for those correspondents who wish to send us news or information in confidence, and also for those of you who value your privacy, even if you have got nothing to hide.

You can download a free copy of the PGP encryption software from
(available for most of the common computer operating systems, and also in various Open Source versions like GPG).

We look forward to the day when UK Government Legislation, Press Releases and Emails etc. are Digitally Signed so that we can be assured that they are not fakes. Trusting that the digitally signed content makes any sense, is another matter entirely.


Tag Cloud

CryptoParty London

CryptoParty London

Most months there is a CryptoParty London event. where some of these Hints and Tips and other techniques are demonstrated and taught.

Usually at:

Juju's Bar and Stage 15 Hanbury St, E1 6QR, London

Follow on Twitter: @CryptoPartyLDN

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Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Open Rights Group

renew for freedom - renew your passport in 2006
Renew For Freedom - renew your Passport in the Summer Autumn of 2006.

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

wikileaks_logo_low.jpg - the controversial "uncensorable, anonymous whistleblowing" website based currently in Sweden.

Public Concern at Work - "(PCaW) is the independent authority on public interest whistleblowing. Established as a charity in 1993 following a series of scandals and disasters, PCaW has played a leading role in putting whistleblowing on the governance agenda and in developing legislation in the UK and abroad. All our work is informed by the free advice we offer to people with whistleblowing dilemmas and the professional support we provide to enlightened organisations."