We talk a lot about technologies that can protect your security and your privacy around here, and VPNs are one of our favourite, easy-to-use tools to keep your traffic encrypted. Tor is great for staying anonymous. However, none of these services will protect you if you're careless. Here's an example we can all learn from.
TorrentFreak recaps the story of Phillip Danks, a movie pirate who was, just last month, sentenced to 33 months in prison for going to a cinema, recording a movie and then uploading that movie to the internet for others to download. He thought he had his ducks in order too — he used a VPN, and tried to be smart about where he went online and what he said (mostly, more on that later). The problem — and the tidbit that got him busted? He used his online alias all over the web — including in that movie upload. From TorrentFreak:
Something that many millions of people use online is a nickname, and Danks was no exception. His online alias in the torrenting scene was TheCod3r, and as shown below it is clearly visible in the release title.
The idea behind aliases is that they provide a way to mask a real name. Military uses aside, adopting an alternative communications identity was something popularised in the 70s with the advent of Citizens Band radio. The practice continues online today, with many people forced to adopt one to register with various services.
However, what many in the file-sharing scene forget is that while aliases on a torrent site might be useful, they become as identifying as a real name when used elsewhere in 'regular' life.
TorrentFreak goes on to explain that Danks' handle, "TheCod3r" wasn't just used in the filename of the movie he uploaded (which, by the way, was "Fast And Furious 6 2013 720p CAM x264-TheCod3r"), but it was also his handle on his Plenty of Fish dating profile, which included heaps of personally identifiable information about him, where he lived and his real name. From there, it's a skip over to his Facebook page, where the profile pictures all match up, and well, the rest is history.
Of course, it's not enough for a conviction, but it's certainly enough for the police to come calling and raid his home. What's worse, after he was initially raided, he took to his Facebook to sell more pirated movies and insult Universal Pictures — moves that the judge used as rationale for the exceptionally harsh sentencing.
The moral of the story? VPNs, proxies, encryption, security, and even anonymity won't protect you if you're careless with your identity — or use your "anonymous" name like your real one.
No VPN On Earth Can Protect Careless Pirates [TorrentFreak]