The high stakes game of cat and mouse that continues to unfold among snoops and privacy conscious communities just became even more interesting with the upcoming release of ProxyHam. At the August DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas, a developer is scheduled to debut a device that includes a “hardware proxy” using a radio connection to create a physical layer of obfuscation that makes it all but impossible to determine a user’s actual location.
ProxyHam is an open-source device, that the developer, Ben Caudill
Reportedly built for less than $200.00. The box connects to any nearby Wi-Fi and relays the Internet connection of a user over a 900 Megaherz radio connection to a computer (with an intended range of 2.5 miles). If the device works as advertised, it would create a scenario where even after investigators have fully traced the internet connection of a target, they would find only the ProxyHam box and not the location of the intended target.
Caudill works as a researcher for the consultancy group Rhino Security Labs, told Wired magazine that “the problem with Wi-Fi as a protocol is that you can’t get the range you need. If the FBI kicks down the door, it may not be my door, but it’ll be so close they can hear me breathe. [ProxyHam] gives you all the benefits of being able to be at a Starbucks or some other remote location, but without physically being there.”
The beta of ProxyHam that will be sold at DefCon will be very basic, but future models already in development will also include accelerometers designed to warn its owner if the device is moved from its hiding place, or may even include a microphone and other detection hardware according to Caudill.
Why would the creation of this kind of device be good thing? Caudill intends ProxyHam to protect the most sensitive targets on the Internet. “Journalists and dissidents in Arab Spring countries, for instance…these people have very high security requirements,” Caudill says. “This is that last-ditch effort to remain anonymous and keep yourself safe.” However, opponents are already pointing out the kind of catastrophes that a working ProxyHam might cause as unintended consequences when used by people with less noble goals.
As with any technological advancement, the good and bad are determined by the intent of the user – but as we are seeing with the contemplation of devices like this one, the battle over Privacy may accelerate the intensity of good and bad outcomes alike.