How to Blog Anonymously

I originally wrote the following as a sample chapter for a book proposal. Now that the right to blog anonymously seems to be under attack from some unexpected quarters, I felt this might be a good time to put this out there.

Sometimes you can write more freely if you’re anonymous. You may want to talk about really personal and embarrassing things. You may want to talk about subjects that embarrass and upset governments with armed police or large corporations with lots of lawyers. Sometimes you just don’t want your employees to know their boss enjoys knitting tea cozies on the weekends. Sometimes you may not even care all that much about anonymity, but just want to establish different identities for different activities, much like novelists use pseudonyms when switching genres. It is absolutely possible to blog anonymously, and many people do it.

How much trouble it is depends on your security needs and paranoia level. A lot depends on what’s likely to happen if your anonymity is breached. For instance are you worried about being:

  • Laughed at?
  • Fired?
  • Arrested?

Obviously if you think the CIA is going to be hunting you down, then you’ll take anonymity somewhat more seriously than if you’re merely worried your brother might make fun of your Ashlee Simpson fan site.

They’ll all laugh at you: Simple Anonymity

If your goal is to simply not associate your name with your posts so your coworkers can’t google your name and discover your fondness for dressing up like a Romulan on weekends, then anonymity is not too hard. All you have to do is sign up for a regular account at Blogger or any number of other services, and simply not use your real name, e-mail address, or other personally identifiable information anywhere on the site.

Blogger will even provide you with a Blogger contact address they’ll forward to your real e-mail address. Just make sure you don’t reply to such e-mails from your regular account. It may be a good idea to set up an additional e-mail address on a free site such as GMail or HotMail, just to segregate the mail for your blogging activities.

In this scenario, the host such as Google will know who you are; and they will give that information up when faced with a subpoena, search warrant, or other legal process. However for simple anonymity this is probably sufficient.

Blogging anonymously doesn’t carry quite as much authority as blogs tagged with a real name, photo, and other identification. However, most of the authority of a blog comes from its writing and its history. If you’re a good writer, readers will soon forget that you’re anonymous or pseudonymous. (Do you think Elliotte Rusty Harold is my real name?) Several of my favorite blogs are completely anonymous or pseudonymous including enplaned, MiniMicrosoft. and Reimagineering. Sometimes a little anonymity is all it takes to give people the freedom they need to write well.

Losing your job: Serious Anonymity

You love your company. You know it was great and it could be great again if only the morons in middle management would get out of your way. Of course, actually saying so would be a career limiting move. Sometimes when a message can’t get through the layers of bureaucracy between you and the people with the power to change things, you need to make an end run. However sometimes truth tellers aren’t received well, so you need to protect yourself.

This level of protection is also important for people facing a civil suit, for instance because they like to reveal secrets insiders have sent them, or simply because a lawyer-happy company sends out the attack dogs when anyone says anything remotely true about one of their crappy products.

There are a few simple rules that should successfully cloak your identity against this sort of threat:

  1. Don’t blog from work or use company computers to do so.
  2. Don’t tell your blogging host your real name or email address. Use a custom account you’ve set up on HotMail or GMail.
  3. Stick to HTML. Don’t post Word documents or PDFs (unless you really know what you’re doing.)
  4. Don’t blog from home, especially if your ISP gives you a fixed IP address. You can write at home, but upload your posts from Internet Cafes, local libraries, or open wireless networks.

As long as you follow these steps, and don’t do anything stupid like posting photographs of your kids at the company picnic, you should be able to blog anonymously in relative comfort. Honestly, even step 4 is overkill for most cases. However when the opposition is a major government, this doesn’t nearly begin to be enough.

Fomenting revolution: Superior Anonymity

If you’re a rich businessperson in Russia, a Muslim fundamentalist in the United States, a Falun Gong practitioner in China, or a human rights activist in Singapore, you’ve got some serious, intelligent, well financed, violent opposition to worry about. If this is the situation you’re in, you need to be very, very careful. Nonetheless it is possible to get your message out to the people, even despite the active opposition of your government.

  1. Set up your account from a computer not linked to you in any way. Public libraries, universities (ones you don’t attend), and wireless hot spots are good for this.
  2. Store all information on the server. Do not keep backup or draft copies of any posts on your personal computer.
  3. If possible, use high quality SSL and HTTPS to post to the blog server.
  4. Switch upload sites frequently. Don’t keep going back to the same coffee shop around the corner from your apartment, In fact don’t ever use the coffee shop around the corner for your blogging.
  5. If possible, route through a third party server in a hostile (to the government, that is) jurisdiction. For instance, Chinese bloggers can post through intermediaries in the U.S. U.S. bloggers can go through intermediaries in China.
  6. Use Tor to obscure the source of your transmissions.
  7. When using public computers (e.g. Internet cafes’) use TorPark. Better yet, put a Linux distribution such as FeatherLinux on a USB key or CD-ROM, and reboot the computer from that disk.

One caveat: what I’ve described here should work in the United States and probably Western Europe. China’s a different story, and I don’t really know just how and where Internet access is monitored in Singapore, Russia, or other locations. Please consult your local freedom fighters and cypherpunks before proceeding.


P.S.

Incidentally, one of the publishers that turned the proposal down was O’Reilly. Perhaps I should have chosen a different topic for the sample?

The proposal for the rest of the book is still available. If any editors or publishers would like to see it, just drop me a line.

11 Responses to “How to Blog Anonymously”

  1. Bob Says:

    I have to advise caution when using public library access points.

    In some cases, e.g. my local library, your library card is used as the access token for a session. This information may be logged. The logging may be a policy, or even a municipal requirement.

    In general, public libraries will not retain these logs for long periods of time, but local libraries differ in their policies.

    Even if you bring in your own computer and connect to the library’s wireless network, the access token is the library card.

    Again, this may vary by locale, and the logging for wireless access may differ from that for direct use of the library’s computers.

    On the positive side, local libraries are very up-front about their logging policies, so it’s easy to ask what the policy is and get a straight answer. For example, I was told exactly how to reboot a machine when I wanted to purge browser cache files, and was told what software was used for this, and that it overwrote before file-deletion to foil block-scanners.

  2. Megginson Technologies: Quoderat » Blog Archive » Anonymity and freedom Says:

    […] Elliotte Rusty Harold is right that anonymity goes together with freedom, and I was happy to read his excellent posting How to Blog Anonymously. Rusty distinguishes three different kinds of anonymity — roughtly “I don’t want to be embarrassed”, “I don’t want to be fired”, and “I don’t want to be hauled out of my bed by the secret police and shot” — and talks about the steps necessary to achieve each one. […]

  3. secure email Says:

    I would not be that afraid from the CIA or any governments. If they tap your wire you probably have something going one bigger. Nevertheless, anonymity is very important. Just the fact that others can “spy” on you with Google and other search engines makes the Internet the No. 1 open source for personal information gathering.

  4. Stephen Says:

    You actually would want to upload from the coffee shop around the corner, at least as often as you do from other locations, if you want to remain anonymous. If you’re moving around “randomly” and there’s one particular coffee shop that you don’t upload from, then it stands to reason you’re avoiding it for some reason. It’s not a far leap from that to “you live near that coffee shop”. Your “local” environment should occur in your random walk of upload sites just as often as every other environment, unless the entirety of your random walk coverage doesn’t overlap or impinge on your local environment. If there’s no overlap then there’s no reason to notice your local coffee shop any more than any other coffee shop outside the random-walk area.

  5. Susan Says:

    Under “Serious Anonymity,” how do you pay your hosting site without revealing your identity?

  6. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    That would be covered in Chapter 1: Get a Free Blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. The Cafes » Sign Your Posts Says:

    […] written previously about anonymous blogging, and if that’s really what you want to do, by all means do it. […]

  8. opolis Says:

    hi there: wanted to alert you about a recently launched new secure email provider, offering its service for free. the company is right no being established in bahrain. – opolis secure mail (http://www.opolis.eu) offers point-to-point encrypted email service and the sender can even decide what the recipient is allowed to do with a message
    we would be delighted, if you wanted to test this service
    kind regards
    your opolis team

  9. Noah Says:

    With many blog sites now tying their logins in to Google or Facebook or requiring what they consider to be a valid email it’s becoming harder to blog anonymously. On Ranther.com we don’t require any verification email to start blogging. We have a policy of free speech on both our blogs and our message board, and unregistered users can post comments. We don’t block proxies so you can blog with complete anonymity, even we won’t know who you are. You can set up a free, anonymous blog as fast as you can type.

  10. Someone else Says:

    I wanted to alert you to a technical typo in the post. The link to Reimagineering has an extra close-parenthesis at the end of the url. It’s relatively easy to correct it just by copying the link and pasting it in the address bar, then deleting the extra punctuation, but it’d be a good idea for the O.P. to delete it in an edit of the post.

    If you’re still reading comments five years later. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Daniel Gossage Says:

    I realise that some people want to stay anonymous, but I prefer to put my name to things. I found out how to blog in the hope that a few people would happen along and read my posts. I am happy to openly display my idendtiy and feel sorry for a lot of those people that have to hide it for whatever reason wether it is political or because of feeling insecure. As long as staying anonymous is not carried out so that a person can harm or hurt another person.

Leave a Reply