July 27, 2011

Big Brother IS watching you


Big Brother is watching youWith the on-going phone hacking scandal continuing to dominate headlines both in the United Kingdom and United States, personal privacy and how to protect it is an issue once again in the minds of many people.

Online privacy has always been something of an issue, with computer malware and trojans a constant threat to the safety of our passwords, bank details and everything else we need to keep secret while browsing the internet.

Discussion forums, like ours here at Reality Uncovered, are a meeting place for like-minded people to discuss and dissect a wide range of stories and information relating to a particular subject – in our case more often than not in the fields of Ufology, Reality and the Paranormal.

We take the online privacy of our members very seriously, as does no doubt many of the other thousands of discussion forums on the internet. Most forums have a private messaging feature which enables members to talk to each other in complete privacy, away from any staff members and out of the public eye.  As an example, two people could meet in a public discussion forum posting back and forth on a public board viewable by whoever views the site. But if they want to exchange phone numbers or emails, they would use the private message function. This is normally very secure as not even the owner of the forum can view these messages. They are indeed private…..or so they should be!

MouseTrace: Dream or Nightmare?

Enter “MouseTrace”, a unique solution to help website owners, designers and Internet marketing professionals better understand how visitors are using their websites.

According to their website:

A single line of HTML code is all that is need to enable the website owner/designer to watch exactly what the visitors are doing on their website – see whether they are viewing the full page content, where they are clicking and how they are navigating through the website. This powerful information enables the website owner or designer to efficiently optimise the site which leads to increased sales and/or better viewer participation and response.

Elsewhere on the MouseTrace website we are told:

Within a couple of minutes you will be watching real-time replays of how your visitors are using your blog, watching every mouse movement, click and scroll – just like sitting next to your visitors watching their screen!

Not exactly the kind of software you would expect to see running on online discussion forum, after all, what would be the point?

The Open Minds Forum and MouseTrace

Enter The Open Minds Forum, Big Brother is watching you!

Most people who follow Reality Uncovered know we don’t have much time for the Open Minds forum. Ever since it opened, Open Minds has been a safe haven for hoaxers, scammers, conmen and liars. Enough evidence exists that shows how the owners and some staff of the forum have actively encouraged –and continue to do so – known hoaxes and outrageous claims. It is not a coincidence that many of these stories find their way to OM, it is by design. So no, it’s not the members we have a problem with, it never has been. It is the willingness to propagate myth and lies as fact and the jack-booted way they handle those who question them that we have always had a problem with.

The following account, then, should really come as no surprise for regular visitors to this site.

The MouseTrace software was discovered by an Open Minds member to be running on their forum. Naturally they were concerned about it so opened a thread on the subject, highlighting the sinister Watch replays showing exactly what your website visitors are doing and 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.

In the meantime and before a staff response was forthcoming, John Hicks (JeddyHi), posted about this issue in the OM thread here at RU. John has plenty of first-hand experience of Open Minds, being a former administrator of the site. He was also one of the principal investigators into the Source A scam hosted at OM, so John knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to OM.

Only after John had posted here, with serious concerns being raised by RU and OM members alike about the possible ability of the MouseTrace software being able to “view” members private messages, was a response from the owner of Open Minds, Brendan Burton, forthcoming.

Posting under the user account ‘Admin’, Mr Burton wrote:

Mousetrace is/was a promo plugin trial from Google as part of our Google Analytics package. From what it said in the promo it would be easier to access Google Analytics, and help make the site structure more accessible to users by providing a service ” to rapidly find faults and identify where improvements can be made.” But, as far i know it’s not possible to see any ‘private’ data like PM’s or even typed words, just navigation of visitors to the site, what boards they go to. And i’ve checked since this came to be a concern, and i can’t find any mention of it ever being able to see anything like passwords or the private pages of members actually logged into a site.

There would be no intention to, even if it was possible
.

It was only ever active for just over a day. In fact i deactivated it when it came to my attention that it was causing unnecessary alarm.

There is absolutely no intention, desire or need to look at anyone’s private PM’s or anything like that. And there’s no ability to do so.

Let’s take a look at this reply in more detail, starting with the very first line:
Mousetrace is/was a promo plugin trial from Google as part of our Google Analytics package.

This sentence is wrong in every single way. Mouse Trace is not a plugin, it has absolutely nothing to do with Google and it is not part of the Google Analytics package.

From the company website ‘About’ section, we can see that MouseTrace is a privately held company, founded in the United Kingdom by Dan Field in 2010. The company has no affiliation with Google and the Google Analytics software doesn’t include anything like the MouseTrace software.

From what it said in the promo it would be easier to access Google Analytics, and help make the site structure more accessible to users by providing a service ” to rapidly find faults and identify where improvements can be made.”

Google Analytics is accessible by going to http://www.google.com/analytics and entering your user details. Is that not easy enough!? As we have already seen, the MouseTrace software is (allegedly!) a tool to enable website owners better understand how visitors are using their websites – it has absolutely nothing to do with finding faults and identifying where improvements can be made.

But, as far i know it’s not possible to see any ‘private’ data like PM’s or even typed words, just navigation of visitors to the site, what boards they go to

As we will see further below, that is simply not true.

It was only ever active for just over a day. In fact i deactivated it when it came to my attention that it was causing unnecessary alarm.

As one can see from the posts in the OM thread, it was active for at least four days and why deactivate it in the first place if they’re only using it “to find faults”?

On July 26th, OM Moderator “Fore” posted the following in an attempt to further bolster the explanation offered by Bren:

The day after mouse trace was used, I brought it up in our mods board. I was told it was a plugin to “Google Analytics” and after I investigated personally, it seems it doesn’t have the features I feared it might have.

(Like a Keylogger or screen captures of text, stuff that was a real concern.)

One wonders how extensive this “investigation” was, bearing in mind it didn’t take us very long to discover that “screen captures of text” is exactly what it does! Fore’s very lengthy post then went on to explain what MouseTrace does and doesn’t do, and why our conclusions were wrong and couldn’t be trusted. Needless to say, almost every aspect of the post was full of inaccuracies and only served to confuse their, by this time, bewildered membership.

Finding the Truth

These denials and obvious misdirection attempts were beginning to look very suspicious indeed.

John Hicks (JeddyHi) decided to investigate this issue for himself in a way he knows best; thoroughly!

Wondering if Open Minds staff could actually be snooping on its members, he decided to do some testing of his own. John created a discussion forum at the ProBoards website – the same site used by OM – and as soon as it was completed he installed a free version of the MouseTrace software. The installation was pretty easy and straight forward; it only involved entering two to four lines of HTML code into the global header and footer files.

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.

The Proof

We were actually astonished at the fact that a discussion forum’s private messaging system had been fully compromised. More astonishing though, was the question of just why the owners of a discussion forum would install this program in the first place. Snooping on members, reading the occasional private message, and more or less just violating every member’s privacy?

The Open Minds forum still denies any wrong doing and continues to claim that MouseTrace does not have the capabilities to violate PM privacy.

We now know the truth.

Beware of Mouse Trace and especially beware of any discussion forum that installs it.

Stephen Broadbent and John Hicks (JeddyHi)

Discuss this and more in the Reality Uncovered Forums or leave a comment below.



Filed under: Disinfo,Weird — Tags: , — Stephen Broadbent @ 2:13 am




9 Comments

  1. avatar

    Reality Uncovered once again !

    Great work and investigation

    Open Minds Admins have some explaining to do

    Comment by Andy — July 27, 2011 @ 2:39 am

  2. avatar

    Great work. This proves 100% that the admins/mods at openminds are either stupid or lying. Either way, with a forum as high profile as OM is, for me it is now a complete joke! How they can take themselves seriously after such a huge blunder is anyone’s guess.

    Comment by Fin — July 27, 2011 @ 3:43 am

  3. avatar

    Great write up, Steve! I know I contributed but the way you bring it all together is pure art work.
    By the way, for any lurkers having doubts, Mouse Trace exposes PM messages. This is not a guess or a lie……it does. The only real question left is whether OM staff knew this and eagerly installed it for nefarious purposes or installed it and then realized what it could do after the fact (in which case they would have removed it right away without a member having to bring it up on the forum) or lastly, the heavenly glow of their halos caused them to go temporrily blind and they couldn’t read the Mouse Trace website as clearly as we did!

    Comment by Jeddyhi — July 27, 2011 @ 5:16 am

  4. avatar

    Is this such a surprise? Lucy has always treated his little icky-feelings-pool like a petri dish. And as always… Swim at your own risk. Hahahahaha

    Comment by Lkwalker — July 27, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  5. avatar

    Great investigative work RU! OM, like many other CT forums, are as corrupt as the people the claim to look into. Keep it up!

    Comment by m0r1arty — July 27, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  6. avatar

    This is a perfect example of how analysis of the facts can go a long way toward determining truth – and in this technical case, Steve’s clearly the guy for the job. And John leaves no doubt as to the fact that if you’re going to start distributing lies, he’s going to call you on it with the truth as supporting evidence.

    This really was a job well done, and it leaves no doubt as to the reality of the situation at the “Open” Minds forum.

    Nice work guys!

    Comment by RyanDube — July 27, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  7. avatar

    Amazing. They’ve really have entangled themselves in something unhealthy, for a long time, and this seems like a real deepening of their need to control things.

    Comment by Mike Jamieson — July 27, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  8. avatar

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