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Petraeus scandal proves there is no private Internet life

Thursday - 11/15/2012, 5:11am  ET

broadwell (AP)
Paula Broadwell and Gen. David Petraeus used a dropbox to communicate. (AP Photo/C-SPAN Book TV)

John Aaron, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Gen. David Petraeus was the head of the CIA, and still couldn't keep his personal emails under wraps.

So how much hope is there for everyone else?

Not much, according to online privacy expert Cole Stryker, author of the book "Hacking the Future."

"We're not as private as we think we are," Stryker says, pointing to members of the group "Anonymous" as proof that anyone is traceable.

"Even the ones that have maintained their anonymity for a very long time… have often found themselves targeted by law enforcement agencies."

Stryker says many prominent members of the group are now in jail or facing legal action. And he says years of diligence can unravel with a single slip-up, since "every activity on the Internet leaves some sort of ‘bread crumb' trail."

He calls Petraeus' "dropbox" scheme, in which he and his mistress, Paula Broadwell, would communicate by writing emails as drafts without sending them, a "juvenile tactic" that has largely been proven ineffective.

There are, however, tactics that do help conceal your personal information, according to Stryker. They include using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which have higher levels of data protection and anonymity, and The Onion Router, or Tor, which works to conceal the source of information.

If users take advantage of what Stryker calls "layers of obfuscation," they can effectively keep their behaviors online separate from any information that could be used to identify them.

Stryker says the strategies are especially valuable to those are concerned about hackers, or are living overseas under more restrictive governments.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)