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Protecting Your Anonymity: What Every Server Owner Ought to Know

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Sshiv's Avatar Sshiv
Level 26 : Expert Mage
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Hello Minecraft Community.

Today I've come to you with a tutorial on a very important topic: anonymity. I believe that remaining anonymous is a critical element of running a successful and safe Minecraft server. There are those brave souls out there who reveal their personal information to their playerbases, but that idea is a unwise and often unsafe one. This tutorial will run through the risks of exposing your identity, common points of vulnerability if you wish to remain anonymous, and some tips / tricks / steps to creating your own shroud of anonymity.

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Click each spoiler box below to expand it and view the content in the section.
RISKS OF EXPOSING YOUR IDENTITY
While it can be more personable and amiable to let people know who you are (and sometimes even encouraged) on family-friendly Minecraft servers, more often than not, this is a bad idea. Below are descriptions of common internet practices (most of which are illegal in the United States) that you can fall victim to if you choose to expose yourself.
DDoS
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is one of the most common forms of harassment that is manifested on Minecraft servers. Essentially, people have the capability to kick your Internet access offline. I won't get into the specifics behind how this process occurs or the different levels of DDoS attacks, but to give you the gist of it, players use "booters" or "botnets" to send tremendous amounts of information (packets per second or Gigabytes per second) towards your router--so much information that the router cannot handle it and forcibly aborts all connections. This type of attack can be done to you individually, your staff members, your VPN, or your server itself. Internet connection can be disabled for several days on end, and this can sometimes "fry" your router to the point of inoperability. The only information required is an IP address.
DOX
To "DOX" someone is to gather as much information as possible on them and condense it into a single document, which is usually shared with other players or used in a threatening manner to blackmail or extort someone. A DOX normally includes the person's full legal name, address, phone number, specifications about their house, and the same information about immediate family members. To "DOX" someone removes the possibility of them staying anonymous. It is a serious threat and can lead to the two problems described below.
SWAT
To "SWAT" someone is to quite literally send a United States SWAT team to their residence, often times in the early morning hours so as to wake them up and shake them up. People have the ability to locate your general real-world location based off of your IP address and then use a proxy IP to make it appear as though their residence is reasonably near yours. Using this and your real name, one can file an anonymous tip with the Federal Bureau of Investigation that terrorist or drug-related activity is occurring at your residence (even though it is not).
PIZZA
This is the most harmless of the threats presented online, but it is still very annoying. Using information gathered from a DOX, a person can simply call up a pizza company or find a location near you online (Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Domino's) and order you several large pizzas. Normally, large pizza corporations have ways of telling if someone is doing this deliberately and will simply not send the pizza, but sometimes they can demand you pay for the pizzas. After multiple orders, this can definitely get to be costly.
These aren't all the risks associated with exposing your identity, but they are the most common ones. Others include prank calls, soliciting sexual encounters or sending packages to your home, subscribing to a ton of magazines, etcetera. Hopefully the massive amount of risks and the seriousness of these risks is enough of an incentive to convince you to remain anonymous (even if you do like pizza), especially if you own or staff a Minecraft server. 

POINTS OF VULNERABILITY
So, now that we've established that not being anonymous can lead to some really bad things, it's time to go over how players can most easily / frequently gather information on you. Knowing your weak spots is necessary to defend yourself adequately.
Skype
If you are thinking of making a Minecraft server and you have a Skype account, stop using it now. Change your name and block everyone on your Contacts list. End of story.

Skype is by far the easiest way of finding your IP address. As soon as the account is created, Skype logs the IP address first used and then stores it for all time. It is publicly available, and even if someone is not on your Contacts list, they can use a program to fake a call to your Skype and find where their computer is sending information during this call to locate your current IP address. Your IP is the key to someone being able to DDoS or SWAT you. Guard it at all costs.

Some Mac computers also have an ability to log the IP addresses of users who send Skype messages. It is critical that you maintain connection to a VPN or proxy (covered later in this section) for each message you send them. I'm not entirely sure how this process works (I'm a PC guy), but I have heard that it is possible.
Friends
Choose your friends wisely. Choose your Skype Contacts wisely. Never give them your real name. You are not invincible. With a name and your IP address, any of the above threats I outlined are very possible. Friends can turn into enemies in a heartbeat, especially on Survival / Factions / PvP / Towny servers. Even your most trusted staff members can betray you. Play your cards close to your chest ad reveal as little information as possible. First names are generally okay, but anything beyond that is too personal to be sharing online.

I may seem paranoid, but I also make sure to host server events according to a time zone that is different from my real one, and I usually provide players with different information each time they ask about me (age, sex, location, first name). It is't necessary, but it is a wise idea to make sure the information you provide players about yourself matches one of your fake DOXes (covered later in this blog).
Hosting Compay
When registering your Minecraft server with a hosting company, they will ask for your name, address, email address, and other information. You must be very careful of which hosting company you select. More often than not, that information is made publicly available in their registry, and most comapnies will charge you money to remain anonymous. This investment is worth it if it is too late to change your personal information. If you haven't already made the server, please be careful as to what information you provide.
DNS Service Provider
If you use a DNS service provider (GoDaddy, Webs) to turn your server's raw IP address (numbers and dots) into a more user-friendly one (ex. MC.SEETHEPVP.NET), they generally employ the same tactics as described above with hosting companies by charging you money in order to hide your identity post-registration, known as "WhoIs Lookup Protection". Be careful of what information you attach to your registration when you initially make the purchase, and if you have resources at your disposal, you should buy the protection.
PayPal
Most servers accept donations, and if you're thinking of starting a server (or if you play one), you will probably be accepting donations or donating, yourself. Your PayPal email address and some other select personal information is sent / able to be viewed when players donate to you. You can also see their information. If you have a preexisting PayPal account, I recommend getting a new one and using different information.
Enjin
Enjin (as is the case with several other server website platforms) logs the IP addresses of players that register on the website and updates those IP addresses when users make forum posts or comments. Be sure to use a VPN or proxy each time you post / on initial registry. Anyone with Admin Panel access can see your IP address--not just the Owner--so if you don't trust a Forum Moderator or Admin, be sure to protect yourself accordingly.
These are points of vulnerability that you should be aware of. How to patch / fortify each of them is described in the next section of this article.

HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN SHROUD OF ANONYMITY
Well, now that you're aware of risks of not being anonymous and common points of vulnerability, it's time to arm yourself with the information necessary to defend those weak spots and make your own shroud of anonymity!
How To: Dynamic IPs, VPNs, and Proxies
If you face persistent problems with DDoS attacks, you can contact your personal Internet Service Provider (ISP) (Cox, Staminus, etc.) via telephone and request what is called a "dynamic IP address". This means that your IP address will automatically change once every set period of time (usually once or twice a day by default) so that if someone knows your IP, they won't know it for long.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can help in the same fashion, except that it is more customizeable. EarthVPN is my personal favorite VPN software, but it does cost $4 per month. A VPN allows you to connect to websites and Minecraft servers (basically do anything on the Internet) and appear to have a completely different IP address. EarthVPN comes with 45 different ones, meaning that you can make your connection appear to be hosted in different countries or different parts of the United States. This is especially useful for browsing Enjin sites or playing actual Minecraft servers, as you can stay reliably connected for several hours at a time, yet remain anonymous.

A Proxy is a single, static IP address that you can connect to. It is like a VPN, but less customizeable and oftentimes more unreliable. If you use Google Chrome, you can browse individual web pages using a Proxy IP by installing certain plugins like EZProxy. Proxies are normally free, and you can find some at websites like www.hidemyass.com (lol dat name).
How To: Set Up a Safe Skype
When you first create a Skype account, there are three tips I have for you:

1. Make the name something strange and difficult to find. If you include multiple consonants in a row along with several randomly placed numbers, you should be good. This will make it difficult for people to find your Skype unless it is given to them.

2. Make the account while you are connected to a Proxy or VPN. This will make the time zone Skype publicly displays different from your actual one, and the IP that is publicly available will be that proxy / VPN IP instead of yours. This is why (if you manage to find my Skype) it appears that I am located on the coast of Tuvalu.

3. Share it with very few players. Realistically, only staff members need to know your Skype. Teamspeak is a much more reliable and safe way to talk to players, though if you are a player and not a server owner, you should note that Teamspeak allows Admins to see IP addresses.
How To: Avoid DOXes
If you run a large, successful server, people will successfully manage to DOX you. It happens. People have powerful acquaintences that have capabilities beyond what I have described above. The best advice I have sounds strange: dox yourself back.

If, when players try to find your DOX, they are bombarded with several pages of Google results filled with misinformation, they will likely give up. If they are persistent enough to find your real DOX, props to them, but they will likely be thwarted anyways. If you deliberately make fake pastebin and pastie files with false information about you in them and get something that looks like this:
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It will be almost impossible to find who you actually are. It will take time and effort to get this kind of DOX protection, but it is well worth it if you truly wish to remain anonymous.
How To: Get Server DDoS Protection
Some server hosts provide DDoS protection for your server, but oftentimes it is very expensive. Staminus and BlazeServers are some of the best in the business, but it may not be worth it if your server is just starting out.

This thread was not an invitation to "test" how anonymous I have made myself, nor was it a challenge to expose my identity. It was also not a guide to illegal behavior, but rather how to guard against it.

If you have any more questions or need more specific information, feel free to contact me in-game on my server at MC.SEETHEPVP.NET or to private message me through Planet Minecraft. 

I hope this guide was helpful! Have a great, anonymous experience!

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CreditShiv, Sshiv, SshiverJenkins, SeethePvP
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3 Update Logs

Update #3 : by Sshiv 06/11/2014 8:24:13 pmJun 11th, 2014

Added more information to Points of Vulnerability under Enjin, DNS Hosting, Server Hosting, and Skype (Mac abilities). Also added more examples of common trolling tactics used when real information is known (found under Risks of Exposing Your Identity).
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11Zrepeem
08/14/2014 4:32 pm
Level 1 : New Miner
11Zrepeem's Avatar
Great job Shiv! Lots of good tips about this subject.
1
Sshiv
08/14/2014 10:12 pm
Level 26 : Expert Mage
Sshiv's Avatar
Thanks much for the compliment. :)
1
evirD2
08/14/2014 1:28 am
Level 1 : New Miner
evirD2's Avatar
Love it man, Absolutely perfect.
1
Sshiv
08/14/2014 10:10 pm
Level 26 : Expert Mage
Sshiv's Avatar
Thank you!
1
Sanctorum
07/18/2014 8:41 am
Level 37 : Artisan Unicorn
Sanctorum's Avatar
I have something to say on that "How To: Set Up a Safe Skype" part. Did you know that you can also "hide yourself" from anykind of skype resolvers? you'll just need to add some scripts and change you skype settings a little, and then change your ip. :P If someone doesn't believe me, go and check this tutorial: www.arenajunkies.com/topic/235611-block-skype-resolvers-from-capturing-your-ip-address-protection-from-ddos/
1
Sshiv
07/19/2014 8:10 pm
Level 26 : Expert Mage
Sshiv's Avatar
Interesting. I did not know about this. Thanks for sharing!
1
LucaG982
06/13/2014 12:50 am
Level 1 : New Crafter
LucaG982's Avatar
Love it. Can you please add more information on how to safely use PayPal tho? Thx.
1
Sshiv
06/13/2014 11:15 am
Level 26 : Expert Mage
Sshiv's Avatar
Yes, I'll update that information shortly!
1
MVMSings1
06/13/2014 12:45 am
Level 1 : New Miner
MVMSings1's Avatar
As always, very helpful guide, Shiv. Keep up the fantastic work. Subscribed.
1
Sshiv
06/13/2014 11:15 am
Level 26 : Expert Mage
Sshiv's Avatar
Thank you very much!
1
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