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Shedding Your Identity In the Digital Age 138

Posted by kdawson
from the under-the-radar-sonar-and-lidar dept.
newscloud writes "Writer Evan Ratliff tells how he managed to hide from crowdsourced searchers for 27 days. The first person to find him and photograph him would claim a $5,000 prize. In addition to hiding out as a roadie with indy band 'The Hermit Thrushes' for a week, Ratliff donned a variety of increasingly impressive disguises. It's an interesting read on how to disappear in the digital age: 'August 13, 6:40 PM: I'm driving East out of San Francisco on I-80, fleeing my life under the cover of dusk. Having come to the interstate by a circuitous route, full of quick turns and double backs, I'm reasonably sure that no one is following me. I keep checking the rearview mirror anyway. From this point on, there's no such thing as sure. Being too sure will get me caught. About 25 minutes later, as the California Department of Transportation database will record, my green 1999 Honda Civic, California plates 4MUN509, passes through the tollbooth on the far side of the Carquinez Bridge, setting off the FasTrak toll device, and continues east toward Lake Tahoe. What the digital trail will not reflect is that a few miles past the bridge I pull off the road, detach the FasTrak, and stuff it into the duffle bag in my trunk, where its signal can't be detected. There will be no digital record that at 4 AM I hit Primm, Nevada, a sad little gambling town about 40 minutes from Vegas, where $15 cash gets me a room with a view of a gravel pile...' Spoiler alert: We previously discussed the denouement of the contest."
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Shedding Your Identity In the Digital Age

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  • ... (and I did RTFA and the ones before) that getting offline (both 'net and financially) would be a wise thing. Seems like most people get tripped up by that, out of curiosity, cash troubles and loneliness.

    -jim
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BrokenHalo (565198)
      getting offline (both 'net and financially) would be a wise thing.

      Exactly. If you're really trying not to be found, staying away from communities like twitter and facebook are just the start. Otherwise, you might as well shout "Here I am, Look at me!" from the rooftops.

      So, as the guy says in TFA (which incidentally is one of the better reads I have come across on Slashdot):
      Had I shown that a person, given enough resources and discipline, could vanish from one life and reinvent himself in another?

      I w
      • Yes, but I think the online presence was required to make this hunt more interesting and attractive. After all, the purpose of the hunt was to see if you can be tracked down by the digital trail you leave behind.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Agreed. After reading the article, it looks like he was completely obsessed with keeping track of the trackers (which makes sense if his boss didn't give him real work to do).

        He also was obviously trying to get caught towards the end there. I mean seriously, who adds a pizza place their facebook? Especially when 'on the lam' as it were.

        Lessons learned here? Don't act like a tool. Don't spend all your time on twitter and facebook trying to leave breadcrumbs. If you use Tor, use it all the way. Don't get bore

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @12:19AM (#30222740)
    Sure one might be able to hide from a group of relativly untrained people with no resources for quite a long time. But in my experience if someone is actually wanted by the police they tend to be found pretty quickly. The only reason so many get away is simply a lack of any real motivation to target that specific invidiual. This is why the bike you had stolen is far less likely to be found than the man who murdered his wife. In the end, a well trained force with authority and technology is quite difficult to evade in the long run. Especially without going life ruining stres and anxiety.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @12:48AM (#30222882)

      Actually a number of fugitives do manage do to it for up to 30 years in some cases. It does involve dropping contact with your fomer life, forging a new identity and the like. Depending on how far you want to go move assets to cash or diamonds or some other portable light weight material (gold is far to heavy). Then be sure you are a long way away, and off the beaten path i.e. a small town. Keep a low profile, drive so as to avoid attracting attention, don't use electronic media. etc. Living like a hermit with minimal human contact also helps. Spy agencies do provide good training on this with their deep cover agents. (In this case its government vs government).

      • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:37AM (#30223102) Homepage Journal
        Yes very true, cash helps.
        So many have family, lovers. Thats the key. the feds just sit back and wait. Sooner of later love conquers the best made plans.
        Its also getting hard in places like Australia.
        Federal agencies talk to each other and you need 100 points of ID for most things that make life 'ok'.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_point_check [wikipedia.org]
        After http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Israel-New_Zealand_spy_scandal [wikipedia.org] I would expect many parts of the world are more carful with new applications.
        Most important too is to cut all web history. If your 'old' computer is found and they have your viewing history, that blog visit or new log in could be vital. Log all the sites you had an interest in and wait for common IP's.
        Keep all internet usage in your new home bland and fit in with your new life.
        Depending on your contacts and abilities you could start a few front companies and pass cash/diamonds along.
        That would need travel to set up accounts and with face recognition, thats getting to be hard.
        After making a company the option of buying a real third/second world docs opens up.
        Always good for escape with real papers.
        • by dilvish_the_damned (167205) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:08AM (#30223438) Journal

          Only a few points of ID can get you started, and if you do it right you can use exactly one false document as a seed for the rest "authentic but false" documents. It takes time and a lot of hard work. It really has to be worth it to forget about your past. In this case only a fool would succumb to issues like past loves.

          --dant

        • by krou (1027572)

          I remember reading Mindhunter [amazon.co.uk] a while ago, and there was one particular story in there about a serial killer or rapist (can't remember which offhand) who claimed in his prison interview that, if he got out again, the police would never, ever catch him again. John Douglas (the FBI profiler) sat back, and took him up on the intellectual challenge, and went through his profile of the guy. He figured out that his crimes were deeply related to his father, who died many years ago. Douglas asked what would happen

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dunbal (464142)

        and off the beaten path i.e. a small town. Keep a low profile

              I'm trying to figure this out. How exactly are you going to "keep a low profile" in a small town, where virtually everyone knows everyone else? You'll always be "that stranger". IMO a large city is better for anonymity.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:43AM (#30223772)

          There's a difference between a tiny town and a small-ish town. I'd guess that it falls somewhere around a population of 7,500, adjusted by maybe 2,500 depending on whether there's a mobile work population (i.e. railroads, labor-intensive farming, a college, or a factory). Less than that and news travels instantly; more than that, and there is room to vanish, especially if the person is either white and conservative-looking or Hispanic and willing to work a shit job and live in the slums -- seriously, even crap-hill one-elevator towns have their dirtier sides. It's a damn lousy place to hide for someone black or asian -- sorry, but too many of the residents didn't go to college and don't go to a real town often enough to get over face shock, and even if there's a neighborhood that caters to them, our fantasy fellow on the run is right back into tiny-town territory if they try to settle in there.

          Anyway, to look at how someone would vanish themselves in a small town, we could start start with housing and a job. People are more willing to house roommates/lessees on little more than a handshake and the promise of steady rent payments in small towns, and their employers are less likely to do comprehensive background checks, because "nothing bad ever happens there." Thanks partly to sampling, it's entirely possible that they're right -- nothing bad HAS happened there since old lady Anderson shot her cheating husband 13 years ago. Necessities would be easy to come by; while outright dumpster-diving wouldn't be an option to cut bills (townies WOULD freak), adequate furnishings and suitable clothing (remember, small town) would pop up at garage sales, church fundraisers, and community auctions, since there aren't enough people around to make Craigslist a worthwhile effort. A smart rummager could walk out with a new wardrobe (plus a slightly coffee-stained sofa) for the cost of a nice dinner in town. Also, cheap crappy cars abound, so wheels would NOT be a problem. Plus, the local cops and clerks in such places are 90% local "good kids" and football stars who didn't want to spend 40 years at the bumper factory. They're more interested in keeping drunks off the streets and their depressingly tiny budgets balanced than in looking into an even slightly plausible background for some worker. A small town with a community college could also be a plus; NOBODY bats an eye at ordinary-Joe strangers in those places; they just assume "student" or "drop-out" and leave it at that. Plus, a college implies a library, perhaps with some half-decent research databases, which is a good thing as long as our avoidant soul is bright enough NOT to search for info on their old identity or acquaintances that way. Also, a small college suggests that there should be some sporting/gym facilities beyond just a basketball hoop and a baseball field, which aren't guaranteed in tiny towns.

          Presuming that the person had a non-trivial wad of cash to begin their sojourn, it would probably be easier, safer, and cheaper to maintain something like a decent lifestyle on the run in a podunk town than it would be in a city. The paychecks would suck, but a very modest amount of big-city savings would buy some mild creature comforts for a LONG time. They could get the Internet for entertainment, so long as they dumped their old browsing habits and particularly avoided talking politics or spending money online. Whoever's on their tail -- PI, cop, or interested amateur -- could be assumed to be watching for someone to reach out for their favorite flavor of tea, shoes, or porn under an assumed identity, and a sudden request for a special blend of Pekot to be sent to Bucktooth, Nebraska, would be a dead giveaway. A day trip to a real town would be the best way to get something unique, or better yet, they could just learn to live with the generic Wal-Mart crap -- it's good enough for Joe Kettleson across the street. Speaking of the Joneses, a little community involvement wouldn't hurt; they could join a church or volunteer for something, and show

      • by Kensai7 (1005287)

        ...some other portable light weight material (gold is far to heavy)...

        What about Saffron [wikipedia.org]? ...long the world's most expensive spice by weight... ...Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound (US$1,100–11,000/kg)...

        Damn, with one kilo of good quality saffron you can really have some nice vacation, without being stopped at any borders for illegal activity! :p

        • It's almost impossible to resell, unfortunately. Who buys it on the street, or would trust you to cut it?

        • Gold still has a much better weight/value ratio. One kilo of gold costs more than 25.000 euros, so it costs more than twice as much as the highest quality saffron in your example. Gold also has much less issues with quality (easier to certify/quantify the quality), and is much easier to sell quickly. Besides, a private individual (as in: not a professional saffron dealer) selling large amounts of saffron might attract a lot of attention...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's really not all that hard to avoid the police either. The biggest difference is that if you're hiding from the authorities you generally aren't too concerned with staying within the law while doing so, which opens up a lot of different options. For example, a bogus driver's license and social security number can go a long way & they aren't too hard to obtain if you are willing to break various laws.
      As someone said, he basically had a neon sign on his head while doing this, and didn't end up getting

    • heh, just google "garrido". Read it and weep.

      Have no doubt, if you are on an "enemies list" (e.g. political enemy of the current power holder) you could very well be toast.

      However, if you are a common criminal, no matter the magnitude, I have no doubt you can escape justice for a long while, if you are clever.

      Fortunately, most fugitives are not "clever".
    • by Aceticon (140883) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:40AM (#30223764)

      The truth is that we don't really know how successful police really are at "catching their man".

      For all the fancy "Police investigation" TV Series where the good guys always end up getting the bad guys, in the Real World the only feedback we get comes from the media, and while they will happily publish news of the kind "Dangerous Murderer Caught" they don't exactly tend to publish news of the kind "Five Years Past And Dangerous Murderer Still Loose".

      Broad statements about how the police always catches their man when sufficiently motivated probably result of an outsider perception which was build upon from an information flow where successes are loudly celebrated while continuous failure is hidden and silent.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        Yes they do. You just haveto read more than the headlines to catch it. Since it isn't breaking news tv stations won't showit but newspapers usually have a short article on them.

        It iswhy I have stopped watching tv news. They are more talk show than news reporting. And since they are talk show they become self censoring.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        Maybe things are different where you are but in the UK most of the police forces nationwide publish crime statistics annually on their website.

        While serious crime generally does tend to get cleared up, most of the forces have an absolutely lousy rate for non-violent offences.

      • by IICV (652597)
        Yeah - if you ever watch anything like "Snapped" or those other TV shows that detail the events of actual police cases, you'll see that they invariably go like this:
        1. A crime is committed, be it murder, assault or robbery.
        2. The police look in to it.
        3. The police find nothing for a couple of months.
        4. (optional) The police continue to find nothing for several years.
        5. Someone else hands the police the case on a silver platter (someone feels guilty decides to confess, someone finds the gun, etc)
        6. Police claim victory.

        S

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You claim that it's hard to hide but the FBI's statistics show that about 20% of the MURDERERS got away with it in 2008. Sure, they solve a "Cold Case" from time to time but you probably won't get caught if you can survive the "First 48".

      The about 20% comes from the FBI's claim that there were 16,272 murders and 12,955 arrests in 2008.
      http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/index.html [fbi.gov]

    • by alen (225700)

      most police work is nothing a genius needs to do, but a lot of repetitive work digging through thousands of potential clues until you find the one you need. few years ago a doctor was murdered at a playground where i used to play as a kid. the initial suspect was the soon to be ex-wife due to a messy divorce in progress

      the police took the bullet and lifted a partial print. they couldn't match it in the computer database so they dug through thousands of paper arrest records until they got a match. turned out

    • by moeinvt (851793)

      "... in my experience if someone is actually wanted by the police they tend to be found pretty quickly."

      How many times have you been caught?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Most crimes go unsolved, whether it's your bike, someone breaking into your house, even murder. Many "solved" crimes are unsolved; Former Illinois Governor (now Federal prisoner) George Ryan stopped the death penalty in Illinois when it was found that half the men on Illinois' death row were innocent -- the real killers were (and are) still free.

      Note the last line in this news story [sj-r.com] and many others: "No arrests were made immediately following the attacks." Ther still haven't been any arrests.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Most people get caught ebcasue someone they know gives them away. Often the person that gave them away have no idea they did.
      Also, stupidity. People will still use an ATM card and didn't plan properly on how to disappear.
      There are a large number of people that are wanted and can't be found. I'll forgo the obvious comparison.

      You could always fake your death:

      http://www.cracked.com/article/154_6-people-who-faked-their-own-death-for-ridiculous-reasons/ [cracked.com]

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      But in my experience if someone is actually wanted by the police they tend to be found pretty quickly.

      Check out the most wanted list. There are guys who have been on those lists for years, even decades. There are kidnapping cases where someone disappears with children, nowhere to be found, for many years. I would think it would be tough to do with children, but apparently not.

  • You must remember (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Whiteox (919863) <htcstech@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @12:23AM (#30222758) Journal

    The point is that Ratliff still used the net incognito, which was important in this comp. I suggested to Wired that this be a yearly event, much like Cannonball. This first one attracted a lot of interest and made use of social websites as a tool. Fascinating sociology.
    He could've after all, hid in his mum's basement.

    • Re:You must remember (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @12:34AM (#30222832)

      i think that bears repeating, really the only reason he was found is because he pretty much did the digital equivalent of walking around with a neon sign on his head.

      The average person can dissapear quite effectively from pretty much anyone except the govt or groups with similar power.

      • Re:You must remember (Score:4, Interesting)

        by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:04AM (#30222964) Homepage Journal

            Yup. It's pretty easy to disappear. Don't go out where you'll be seen. Give traces where you aren't.

            You know, it's not very hard to send a trusted friend your credit card and cell phone, and tell him "Use the card every few days to pull out $40, and deposit the cash once a month at a different branch.. Call your girlfriend/house/friend from my cell every few days just to chat."

            Now go camp out at another friends place, where you won't be expected. It's really not that hard to disappear for a month at a friends house. TV, internet connection, and they bring you food and other necessities that you pay them for in cash.

            If the heat is on, hoof it, catch the first morning city bus to a used car dealership. Buy a car with cash, and drive on the temp tag for a month. The more common the car, the better. Buy gas and food with cash. Go across the Canadian border in an obscure location (there are plenty of them). Trade the car to a sea going fisherman for passage to somewhere else. Greenland ... Iceland ... Europe. If you're slick about it, you can be sitting in Germany, drinking down good German beer, and laughing about the fact that they're still checking for you in Los Angeles, where you bought the car, or Chicago where your friend is using your credit card and cell phone.

            Pick up day labor jobs. Maybe the fishermen will let you stay on board for a month in exchange for a cot to sleep on, and food to eat.

            Is email really that important? Read it on your own server somewhere with pine over an SSH connection 4 steps away in distant lands. (i.e., sitting in Germany, shell into Russia, to Canada, and then to your box. Keep the neon signs saying "I'm here" flying in all the wrong places.

            And no, you wouldn't guess where I'm sitting right now. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by digitalchinky (650880)

          There is plenty of intelligence sharing across borders these days. Some of it has cooperation at either end, some of it does not. Also the willingness to share depends entirely on the reward for sharing - money, politics, blackmail, good will, etc.

          Those hops you're making through distant lands, in all probability there are logs on either side of the machine that can be massaged together to form a nice little picture of the next and previous hops. It might take a while, but if you communicate with your old l

        • by jamesh (87723) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:54AM (#30223836)

          Yup. It's pretty easy to disappear. Don't go out where you'll be seen. Give traces where you aren't.

                  You know, it's not very hard to send a trusted friend your credit card and cell phone, and tell him "Use the card every few days to pull out $40, and deposit the cash once a month at a different branch.. Call your girlfriend/house/friend from my cell every few days just to chat."

          Depends on how badly they want you vs how badly you want to stay hidden... "JWSmythe (446288), in this bag we have one of your girlfriends fingers. In 9 days she will run out of fingers. Please get in touch with us.". s/girlfriend/someone_else_you_care_about as required.

          I hope I never have to stay hidden from someone who wants me at any cost.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by IICV (652597)
            ... and how exactly will they send you that threat? If they can privately transmit this message to you, they can find you. If they're willing to broadcast that message, you're both going to die if you give yourself up.
        • working at a salmon fish farm

          duh

        • by geekoid (135745)

          People can disappear, it's not even hard BUT they have to be ready to give away there nice lifestyle for crap. And when your picking berries fro cash, Jail starts to less and less like the bad alternative.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "The average person can dissapear quite effectively from pretty much anyone except the govt or groups with similar power."

        Actually you're wrong.

        It's easier to disappear from the government than it is to disappear from a determined
        person who is looking for you and doesn't care how much it costs or how long it takes.

        All the government will typically do is wait for you to appear on a database, or
        for some cop to run your info during a routine stop. But if you make sure you
        don't drive a car, and you don't use an

        • Re:You must remember (Score:5, Interesting)

          by plover (150551) * on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:53AM (#30223168) Homepage Journal

          Most people will get
          lazy or lonely and slack off on this, and that's when they get found.

          Yep. According to TFA, he overheard some searchers looking for him at the soccer game. And he was ultimately undone by his uncommon need for gluten free foods. Both of those were ties to his "old life". (Not that he could give up having celiac disease.)

          The other trick is: don't look back. He gave up instantly on people who could and would have helped (girlfriend, family) but not on the dedicated searchers. He seemed to have a need to keep track of the people tracking him, and he certainly got sloppy with tor. That might have been necessary for the "interesting story" aspect of this, but he could have gotten all the emails and facebook stuff after the fact from his editor. As it was, it was this aspect of his paranoia that led to his failure.

          I did like that he was somewhat clever enough to use a "hard-to-google" alias (but not impossible: googling for "gatz -gatsby -fitzgerald" would remove much of the noise.) I'm envious of a friend (last name Smith) having a name that is completely invisible on line. If you want to search for him, you have to know more about him than just his name.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by VShael (62735)

            He seemed to have a need to keep track of the people tracking him, and he certainly got sloppy with tor.

            You know, if the police were after you, and you had a police band scanner, or some other way to see what the police were doing in their efforts to track you down, I think you wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to use it. A lot.

            • Re:You must remember (Score:5, Interesting)

              by plover (150551) * on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @10:17AM (#30225552) Homepage Journal

              You know, if the police were after you, and you had a police band scanner, or some other way to see what the police were doing in their efforts to track you down, I think you wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to use it. A lot.

              Great point. And he did dive headlong into paranoia, and not without justification; the whole country WAS paid to get him! I certainly can't fault him for watching.

              But if you knew in advance that your police scanner actively reported your location every time you turned it on, you think you'd be more careful. And he was, at first. The laptop TOR setup was a brilliant idea (if poorly executed, as the hunters still used anti-tor tricks to learn his real IP.) But he stopped using tor because it was clumsy and slow (no argument here) not because it was ineffective. His real IP being traced to the New Orleans pizza shop directly contributed to his getting caught.

              If nothing else, there were several good lessons for people who want to hide from the general public while living online.
              1. Tor is somewhat effective, but you should run it from behind a NATting firewall to avoid giving away your real IP.
              2. Embrace noscript, and be sure to kill third party javascripts that report your activity, such as google analytics. It won't stop a collaborating host site from providing your IP, but it will stop the easy third party trackers that are so common. They're like drift-nets that catch everything as it flows by thousands of sites.
              3. Allow cookies to persist only as long as your session, and don't cache stuff. Private browsing would be a fast way to do the right thing (but be sure to end your session at least every single day.)
              4. Don't run flash; if you must, be sure to set it to store 0KB of data locally.
              5. Run zone alarm and keep an eye out for any unexpected outbound traffic.
              6. Stay away from facebook toys, or any of the goofy social networking crap. (It'd probably be best to avoid social networking sites altogether, as they tend to have a pretty incomplete picture of security.)
              7. Use an email cutout service. They're common enough as spam fighters, but can keep the curious from getting too close, too.
              8. Avoid sites that require registration for no real reason.
              9. Use tools such as BugMeNot to get an anonymized login for sites that require registration, or create a login that you use for only a session, no more.
              10. If you use a disposable ID or email address, DISPOSE of it after use. Register a new one with your next session.

            • by skarphace (812333)

              He seemed to have a need to keep track of the people tracking him, and he certainly got sloppy with tor.

              You know, if the police were after you, and you had a police band scanner, or some other way to see what the police were doing in their efforts to track you down, I think you wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to use it. A lot.

              This actually helped him, too. When he got off a plane, he popped open his laptop to find a twitter message that "he's landing in Atlanta in 5 minutes!" If he didn't hear that, he never would have booked it out and found the special exit that most people didn't know about.

      • by icepick72 (834363)

        >> or groups with similar power.

        Yep this is ./ Don tinfoil hats now.

      • The average person can dissapear quite effectively from pretty much anyone except the govt or groups with similar power.

        As it turns out, you don't need to be the government to get access to restricted data. If you read TFA (it's a good read), there are a few instances where the Hunters managed to get data that they shouldn't have, and in fact very likely illegally obtained it. They got the license plate from his car and his flight itineraries, swearing up and down in both cases that it wasn't illegal (which

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rcamans (252182)

      Nah. He's a geek. We would have found him there in a minute. After all, that is where he lived.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by smitty777 (1612557)

      I agree. The whole point of the Wired article this was attached to was on just how easy it is to disappear. According to the article (which is a fascinating read), the reason most folks get caught is because they don't fully distance themselves from their old lives. They eventually get lonely, bored, tired, and try to call or email someone, or use an old credit card. If you fully wanted to just "walk away", you could, but you'd have to really walk away. The point of the contest was more for fun and publ

  • by noidentity (188756) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @12:55AM (#30222924)

    Writer Evan Ratliff tells how he managed to hide from crowdsourced searchers for 27 days.

    This guy's got nothing on the average Slashdot reader. Not even the sunlight is able to find them in their basement dwellings!

  • three words... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by russ1337 (938915) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:06AM (#30222974)
    Osama Bin Laden
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jazz-Masta (240659)

      Osama Bin Laden

      Osama uses Tor.

      • Re:three words... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CrAlt (3208) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:31AM (#30223078) Homepage Journal

        I don't think that guy would be risking even being around an area thats populated enuf to have internet access let alone be logging on himself.

        My bet is he is in some remote place using SNEAKER-NET with many relays each not knowing anything about the hops before or after their own relay to get info in and out.

        You can't go down to the local internet-cafe being one of the most wanted and recognizable men in the world and expect some program like TOR to protect you.

        • You know, I have never seen a picture of him without his beard. It seems a bit much for OBL to be sitting in a cave looking exactly like the guy on the videos.

        • My bet is he is in some remote place using SNEAKER-NET with many relays each not knowing anything about the hops before or after their own relay to get info in and out.

          Actually, he's dead.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BrokenHalo (565198)
      Osama Bin Laden could easily have been dead for years. However, he was more useful alive to those pushing for military action, so it's unlikely that anyone would have admitted his demise.
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      Three words: what the fuck?

    • Huge can of worms there. Trial. Evidence. Saudi connections etc.
      End of the war. End of funding.

    • by selven (1556643)

      How do we know the guy is still alive?

  • That's definitely not a "sure" way to prevent a signal, unless the duffel bag also happens to be a faraday cage.
  • I understand he had to keep logging on to give the hunters at least some hints...

    But

    Things would have been 100 times simpler if he just didn't have a laptop or used his ATM cards. If he just pulled out all his cash,smashed the laptops and hit the road no one would be even able to tell what state he is in. He would have been able to go to where ever and make new real life friends. Every lead the hunters got was from weblogs and social networking posts.

    If your addicted to the internet then ya... you can't hid

  • by liquiddark (719647) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:18AM (#30223024)
    Seriously. [wikipedia.org] What the heck? [wikipedia.org]
  • Read TFA... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by downhole (831621) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @01:24AM (#30223054) Homepage Journal

    I read the article in the paper version already. IMHO, he was found mostly because he insisted on "flirting" with the people looking for him and his previous identity.

    Also IMHO, it's entirely possible to really disappear, even from a serious Government search, BUT in order to do so, you must be willing to truly forget about every single aspect of your previous life, forever. You have to be dead to every person you ever knew before the disappearance, and you have to forget about every hobby you ever had and every job skill and qualification you ever had. Hope you don't have any identifying medical conditions, tattoos, or disabilities either. You'll have to build up a completely new version of all of those things. And being able to put together a nice pile of cash (at least $1k, preferably closer to $10k) sure helps. Very few people have the discipline, will, and perhaps sheer insanity to actually carry this out, probably only a handful of Government spies/agents and a few of the most dedicated criminals around... I know I probably couldn't.

    And if you're really in that much trouble, it's probably easier to just move to a non-extradition country and live there as yourself.

    • Re:Read TFA... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@NOsPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:07AM (#30223426) Homepage

      This is mostly true, we make people disappear all the time. As much as people think these programs are poor, and useless it's called the witness protection program. And those people who go in, go away forever. Occasionally someone does bump into someone they knew from +1000 mi away, but it doesn't happen very often. Sure the world is a small place, but it's not as small as most people don't think that you can't lose yourself forever if you really want to.

      The first step is to kill all existing traces of your existence. House/car/lines of credit. Everything goes to cash. Anything you own, goes to cash. All bills are double laundered from the proceeds. You liquidate everything, anything you can't sell is destroyed. Everything you use in travel/spending expenses is paid for in cash, you keep no receipts and refuse all receipts. You never travel from the closest airports, you also bunny hop through several dozen different terminals if you're using plane travel or trains. All rentals are disposable to another drop off point.

      The individuals who run the WPP's are very good at what they do for a reason.

      • Re:Read TFA... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:49AM (#30223812)

        No, I'm afraid that Witness Protection is usually _temporary_. And the witnesses are not protected from government tracking: too much paperwork is shared with too many branches to rely on protection from other government agencies. Witness Protection is too expensive and too cumbersome for a bureaucracy, whether federal or state, to properly support indefinitely.

        I can easily believe that the people who run the federal program are competent, but they don't live forever. Administrations change, records are leaked, and it's an expensive program: I'd be amazed if there are more than a dozen people who've been in it for more than 10 years.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          I realize that in the US you might let your witnesses fend for themselves after a bit. But in Canada, we generally take care of ours out of conscience. Meaning that even if it's temporary, and they need to be relocated, yes we'll turn around and relocate them because it's the right thing to do. Because no one is going to trust the police if you let your witnesses die a year down the road because you're being sloppy and refuse to help.

          WPP are operated at the provincial level here in most cases.

          • I can't speak to whether relocation is generally supported: I assume that it is for such witnesses. But that's a one-time investment, not an ongoing investment in qualified personnel to protect and secure those witnesses. Check out the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/nyregion/28witness.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com] for some details about the kind of problems that occur in funding witness protection. And sadly, many potential such witnesses have a long criminal history. That makes them very dangerous to relocate, s

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              There's always a funding issue. That same problem exists up here, but you still do another relocate because it's the right thing to do. And if you have to do it again, you will. It's not exactly the best it gets expensive but that's how it rolls up here. In Canada we have a less than 1% reoffend rate for our WPP members, usually because it's do or die for them. Returning to their old ways, is a sure fire way of attracting attention. Might be that 30m to 300m population difference. :)

              • You also don't have the same drug crime problem saturating the prisons that we do, and the extent of the drug pyramid and drug-related gang problems. We've invaded whole countries to pursue drug lords to whom we previously provided CIA funds and intelligence. (Manuel Noriega, check out his history.) I suspect that profoundly reduces your need for such programs, for which I applaud you.

                • by Mashiki (184564)

                  True, however Canada is an export country for two drugs. MDMA and Pot which just makes things interesting for an enforcement policy.

    • I heard an interview on NPR yesterday detailing some of the rules.

      They were able to find him because the wired guy "leaked" info regarding places that Evan had to show up at. At wired, they apparently get the NYT crossword puzzle one week in advance. Anyways, if someone solved part of the puzzle they could make Evan preform the same thing as what was listed as the clue in the crossword puzzle.

      In this case, it was go to a book club event. It becomes way easier if you know where the person will be.

  • It's not like anybody cares to find me, after all.

    • by hesiod (111176)

      I was thinking the same thing. I had no idea who the guy was to begin with, so my first reaction was "who cares".

  • The epilogue in TFA says ordinary people can find a lot about you legally and I want to know, how? It seems like Thompson, his boss, posted every detail about his bank transactions and regularly posted his IP and I guess gave full access to most of his social networks to the hunters.

    Without these obvious markers how could some random guy get access to this data? Is the lesson that you really have no privacy or just that you shouldn't give your password to you boss??

  • Boring (Score:3, Insightful)

    by syousef (465911) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @03:07AM (#30223428) Journal

    1. $5000 is not that much incentive. (Hell it wouldn't cover costs for a serious attempt. Many private investigators and bounty hunters wouldn't touch it). This would be much more valid a prize that would change someone's life - say $20 million.

    2. People over-estimate the government's ability to track people down. Criminals seem to manage weeks, months or occasionally years in hiding. Mostly because the incentive for catching a petty criminal isn't all that great. Now if it were national secrets at stake that'd be different.

    • Re:Boring (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Cro Magnon (467622) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @10:10AM (#30225466) Homepage Journal

      2. People over-estimate the government's ability to track people down. Criminals seem to manage weeks, months or occasionally years in hiding. Mostly because the incentive for catching a petty criminal isn't all that great. Now if it were national secrets at stake that'd be different.

      It's not the ABILITY of the government. It's the MOTIVATION. The two-bit conman who ripped me off is still at large, even though he had a long criminal record before he ripped me off, and doubtless a long record afterward. But, I bet if he shot the mayor's dog, he'd be in jail the next day.

    • 1. $5000 is not that much incentive. (Hell it wouldn't cover costs for a serious attempt. Many private investigators and bounty hunters wouldn't touch it). This would be much more valid a prize that would change someone's life - say $20 million.

      the trouble with $20M prize money is it would change someone's life. Which means they would be willing to go to the extreme to find the runner, in what at the end of the day is nothing more than a slightly interesting social experiement.

  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @04:33AM (#30223734) Homepage
    I wish the media would stop using the words "vanished" or "disappeared" in regards to missing persons or people who do not wish to be found. People do not vanish, they are there the whole time if you know where to look. The photoshopped stills accompanying the article are certainly no help. This confusion of thinking is really bad IMO.

    I'm rather surprised he got into a hostel, the one I tried in Venice Beach a while back demanded a passport instead of the valid ID that I presented - evidently the desk clerk didn't like my looks (I was a wandering longhair at the time) and I was denied service, just like you hear the old stories about lunch counters or the new stories about British soldiers.

    PS the classic counter-surveillance technique is three right turns in a row. If the same car is still in your rearview mirror, you can be pretty sure they're following you. Detecting surveillance is one thing, evading it quite another. Of course, these days they just stick a GPS tracker on your car, which is why you need to go into an underground structure and change vehicles.

  • If someone wants to hide forever, it's easy enough....I know some quicksand you could hide in....
    seriously what a waste of a story , please /. no more of these....crap,crap,crap!!!!

    If someone wants to hide, they will hide forever, however you think you want to do it....
    and again if I know you are about to embark on such a trek, I know how to track you no matter what.
    This is such a waste, have I said that before, I forget...

  • Just using long foreign words won't make you good editors or submitters. ;) (In fact, it just clouds your meaning.)

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