So the Pirate Bay has been offline for a day and a half, apparently because of a “power blackout“. I’m assuming that’s true — if their site had been seized or otherwise shut down by the authorities, I’m assuming they’d have been upfront about it. They’ve said that it’s taking longer than usual to get it back online because they have to get someone “on location” to turn things back on. Meaning that they can’t have the staff of the colo go in and reboot their machine — they have to have actual Pirate Bay techs do it in person. I was thinking about what could cause such a situation, and I think it might be revealing something interesting about their internal security.
If police raid a colo and take servers as part of investigation, the servers get unplugged (ie. disconnected from the power source and internet), and then get taken back to the police station. The first thing that they’d do is pull the drives out and duplicate them, and then they’d turn the machines (or the drives) back on and start their forensic analysis. The one very simple way to make this impossible is to encrypt the harddrives, preferably at a low/hardware level. So every time the machine boots, you need to type in the encryption key in order to make the drive functional — otherwise it’s just garbage data. Drives plugged into a bootable machine (say, mounted as external drives) would also show just garbage data. If I’m right and they’re doing this, then they’ve obviously encrypted everything, OS included — a more convenient way might be to leave your OS unencrypted so that the machine can book, and then just encrypt all the partitions that have sensitive data, since this would still allow you to mount the drives remotely via a secure connection rather than having to be on site to type in a bios-level key.
Anyway, these days it’s incredibly easy — and free — to encrypt drives. TrueCrypt (more info on wikipedia) is a superb freeware option I can vouch for that also lets you do some very interesting things like create hidden encrypted partitions, allowing you to have encrypted drives that people don’t even know exist if they seize your drives. It’s quite user friendly as well and even the most inexperienced people should have no trouble using it.
If you’re interested in privacy and anonymity, I also suggest familiarizing yourself with onion skin routing, like the Tor project. That said, it’s something you want to educate yourself on first because it’s quite easy to leak your identity accidentally and make the anonymity useless. Basically what Tor does is allows you to talk to someone on the internet (ie. access websites, send emails, whatever) without them knowing where you are coming from. That is, it hides your IP address. Tor doesn’t do any encryption beyond that — it’s just providing anonymity — so you’ll also want to encrypt your traffic. In fact, it’s actually quite vulnerable to traffic sniffing, so you want to be more aware of encrypting your traffic than you would be otherwise. Unfortunately the Tor network is quite slow though, and is always hurting for nodes, so it can be quite frustrating to use… But when you need it, it’s beyond compare, especially when combined with secondary anonymity. It’s certainly not fast enough for routing P2P or BitTorrent traffic, but there are a large number of commercial proxies that are perfectly happy to take a couple dollars a week from you to provide you with all the anonymous unlogged filesharing traffic you could want.
By the way, perhaps you’re saying “why should I use encryption, I’m not a criminal”. Well, of course there’s the argument that it’s not only criminals that find themselves harassed by the law. More importantly, beyond protecting your criminal acts, encrypting your drive protects you from criminals — most obviously from identity theft and the other things that can happen if your computer gets stolen (or improperly disposed of when you replace it). Encryption and anonymity when widely used also helps protect civil rights in general, by making it more and more difficult for the government (or private coporations) to monitor people — and also by stopping the existence of encryption from being a tip-off that you should be a “person of interest”. Anyway, do consider checking out TrueCrypt… It’s a very mature product at this point.
Anyway, I’m watching the torrent news sites with some interest to see if anything is released confirming or denying my theory about why this reboot is taking so long… To be honest, I’d be quite surprised if people as experienced and politically aware as the Pirate Bay folks weren’t using strong encryption on their servers!!! That said, of course I would never use a site like the TPB. File sharing is wrong, m’kay. For shame, this is only an academic interest.