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LulzSec Suspect Learns Even HideMyAss.com Has Limits

After suspect's arrest, British HideMyAss VPN service said that its terms of service don't extend to illegal activities.

Users of anonymous email services: read your terms of service carefully.

The limits of what some anonymous email services will tolerate became clear last week, over revelations that VPN service provider HideMyAss.com, based in the United Kingdom, turned over information that led to the arrest of 23-year-old Cody Kretsinger in Phoenix. Authorities have accused Kretsinger of being the LulzSec member known as "recursion," and of participating in the breach of the Sony Pictures website earlier this year.

Recursion apparently wasn't the only LulzSec member who used HideMyAss to try and mask his IP address. According to chat logs obtained by the Guardian, LulzSec spokesman Topiary recommended the VPN service to "joepie91." Meanwhile, another LulzSec member, "Neuron," also claimed to be using it.

After those chat logs were published, HideMyAss said it learned that LulzSec members were apparently using its service. "No action was taken, after all there was no evidence to suggest wrongdoing and nothing to identify which accounts with us they were using," said HideMyAss in a blog post. But the writing was on the wall, and the company said it wasn't surprised to receive a court order requesting information relating to multiple LulzSec exploits, including exploits of Sony, the U.K.'s Serious Organized Crime Agency, as well as NATO.

[Protect yourself and your systems. Read 14 Enterprise Security Tips From Anonymous Hacker.]

But after complying with the court order, HideMyAss began coming under fire, which led the company defend its actions in the blog post, titled "LulzSec Fiasco." "As stated in our terms of service and privacy policy our service is not to be used for illegal activity, and as a legitimate company we will cooperate with law enforcement if we receive a court order (equivalent of a subpoena in the U.S.)," it said.

Privacy advocates, however, are questioning why HideMyAss--as a service that promises to mask identities "behind one of our anonymous IP addresses"--was retaining information that could be later used by anyone to unmask users. In response, the company clarified that it only logged when specific users connected and disconnected from its servers, and stored none of the traffic they sent. But it said that law enforcement agencies would likely obtain the information, one way or another.

"It is very naive to think that by paying a subscription fee to a VPN service you are free to break the law without any consequences," it said. "This includes certain hardcore privacy services which claim you will never be identified, these types of services that do not cooperate are more likely to have their entire VPN network monitored and tapped by law enforcement, thus affecting all legitimate customers."

Furthermore, HideMyAss' business model--almost all of its revenues come from the VPN service--depends on being able to identify abuse, not least to prevent its connectivity from being blocked by upstream providers, who have their own terms of service. "Common abuse can be anything from spam to fraud, and more serious cases involve terrorism and child porn," it said.

HideMyAss' self-defense, however, earned it a rebuke from some other VPN providers. "We would like to re-assure our users and our customers that nothing like that may happen with AirVPN, for a series of legislative (we are based in the EU, not in the USA, and we don't recognize USA jurisdiction, obviously) and above all technical reasons," according to a blog post from HideMyAss rival AirVPN. In particular, it said its infrastructure was designed to prevent it from ever learning a user's identity, through various security and anonymity techniques. Furthermore, it said that not all VPN providers keep session logs.

But the ongoing series of arrests related to LulzSec and Anonymous is a reminder that with enough time and resources, law enforcement agencies can unmask many Internet operators, even if they're attempting to hide their IP address. The recent exploit of DigiNotar and issuing of legitimate but fake certificates appeared to be executed by someone with ties to Iranian intelligence agencies. Notably, one of the fraudulent certificates would have enabled authorities to eavesdrop on anyone who connected to the anonymizing Tor network from inside Iran.

Then again, numerous arrests related to Anonymous have shown that many participants in denial-of-service attacks didn't take any steps to mask their IP address.

Interestingly, AirVPN said that anyone who wants to not just browse the Web securely, but remain truly anonymous when using an anonymous VPN service, needs to take additional steps. In such cases, it advises customers to only pay for their subscriptions via its BitCoins reseller, and to only access the reseller's website via Tor. Likewise, for extremely critical activities--"whistleblowers, reports on organized crimes"-- it recommended using VPN over Tor. "Please note that it is not Tor over VPN, it's VPN over Tor," it said.

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anon1515907422
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anon1515907422,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/2/2014 | 6:44:42 PM
re: LulzSec Suspect Learns Even HideMyAss.com Has Limits
Thanks for the article. VPN is good if you want to hide your real location. However, about content streaming, I prefer the DNS option. Currently, I am using UnoTelly and have no speed loss which allows me HD streaming with my 10mbps connection.
Kevin1Kanode
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Kevin1Kanode,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2014 | 11:47:25 PM
re: LulzSec Suspect Learns Even HideMyAss.com Has Limits
searching for "hidemyass review" in Google and tons of "reviews" showed up, such as this one:http://www.adeepbite.com/hidemyass-vpn-review/. Most of these of reviews won't even mention tthat fact that hidemyass will log your activity. 
micjustin33
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micjustin33,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/11/2014 | 2:52:26 AM
re: LulzSec Suspect Learns Even HideMyAss.com Has Limits
Yes, I have read the HidemyAss VPN reviews.. They have updated lots of features in 2013 and still updating in 2014.. I also read that HMA will have a phone help desk in the near future that is really great news for HMA users..
AmmarNaeem
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AmmarNaeem,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 7:23:00 AM
re: LulzSec Suspect Learns Even HideMyAss.com Has Limits
There are some latest updates took place specially in the year 2013 in VPN Industry and most of the updates done by HMA. HMA is quickly taking lead from other VPN services due to its excellent VPN service. Three are two main concerns for VPN users like slow connectivity and speed. latest updates about HMA and But HMA has done some great work to achieve effectiveness in both elements. I recommend you to read and review Hidemyass to get some latest updates. Even security King Snowden approachg Hidemyass to use VPN and become anonymouys. This is definetly a great achievement for Hidemyass
Jessica C. Lipp
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Jessica C. Lipp,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/24/2012 | 10:51:29 PM
re: LulzSec Suspect Learns Even HideMyAss.com Has Limits
If hidemyass turns their users in and logs them for every access, then hidemyass is not 100% anomalous as they claimed here I feel the whole thing is quite ironic.
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