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Serious Online Privacy Vulnerability Exposed for Forum Users

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Serious Online Privacy Vulnerability Exposed for Forum Users

There is a growing concern on the Internet these days about online privacy. Whether people use Facebook, email or take part in other online communities, the security and privacy of personal information is on the forefront of security concerns.

That is why the revelations from one particular research group today should raise serious concerns about the safety and online privacy of forums.

On Wednesday, July 27th, investigators at Reality Uncovered, a popular conspiracy theory website that focuses on researching online and offline hoaxes and scams, revealed that a dangerous online tool called MouseTrace was being used by online forums to spy on the private messages and other activities of their members.

The Investigation

Stephen Broadbent, the resident technical guru and co-owner of Reality Uncovered, as well as two forum members and investigators, John Hicks and “Phillman” established a test system and conducted tests to prove whether or not running MouseTrace on the forum server could allow forum administrators to view the activities of members that were visiting the site. What the tests revealed was an astonishing invasion of online privacy.

Steve Broadbent explained in a blog post:

“Once everything was up and running, RU member ‘Philliman’ and I both registered an account at John’s test site. Once activated, we sent PMs to one another with each of us receiving or sending a PM to the other. Meanwhile, MouseTrace is quietly running in the background and lo and behold….it recorded our activity perfectly. The traces John viewed allowed him to read the messages between the two of us. The ‘private’ in Private Messages was now a useless word.”

In other words, the software allows any forum owner to read private messages between members, which could potentially contain sensitive identifying information such as real name, addresses, phone numbers and more.

Most users of online forums expect a certain degree of privacy in areas that are marked as “private”, such as the messaging systems, even from the eyes of the owners. However, what the RU tests reveal is that with this software, any forum owner can view any activity you are doing while you are logged into the forum.


Forums that Spy on Members

The forum where MouseTrace was found running is a fringe conspiracy theory website covering a multitude of non-mainstream topics like aliens and ufos. No one is certain at this point why the forum owners decided to run the spying software, and the owners have banned several members that revealed the presence of the spying software.

Stephen Broadbent explains:

“The MouseTrace software was discovered by an Open Minds member to be running on their forum. Naturally they were concerned about it so they opened a thread on the subject [snip] asking if the OM staff also used key loggers and snooped on private messages.

Other members also became concerned and asked questions, but a staff response was slow in coming. Five days slow to be exact.  One member even asked Patrick Clinger, owner of the ProBoards software if this was something ProBoards had done, but he confirmed MouseTrace wasn’t used on any of their sites. Incidentally, the member who questioned Mr Clinger has now been banned from the OM forum.”

The MouseTrace software is offered to website owners as an analytics tool that, when installed onto the website, can track user behaviors. The problem that arises is that the software takes that tracking activity into the range of snooping that may trouble many web travelers that value their online privacy.

According the website, the software allows website owners to:

–>  Watch replays showing exactly what your website visitors are doing.
–> See every click, mouse movement & scroll and how they move through your website or blog.

–>It’s like sitting next to your visitors, watching their screen!

–>Optimise your site, landing pages and checkout pages.
–>Easy to use, just add 1 line of HTML.
–>Instant reports – no waiting for the information.

–>Visits from iPhone users include zoom and orientation actions!

Internet travelers that are interested in using online forums in particular and are concerned about their online privacy, should be aware that no information they store on these websites are at all private or secure any longer.  Forum owners can now use the MouseTrace software to read private messages between members and to generally snoop on the activities of its visitors, even in areas of the site that are marked as “private”.

Originally published on

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Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

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Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
Sally is TSW’s health/environmental expert. As a blogger/organic gardener, she’s investigates critical environmental issues.
Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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