Jim Rawles posted that the FBI was intercepting traffic to his website and dropping tracking cookies to spy on his readers. He believes that the FBI intercepted traffic by redirecting it through a secret data center.
The evidence he cites is pretty loose, but his “Forensic Expert” cites some cookies as well as the name of the script that droops the tracking cookies.
He then suggests that folks start using a VPN to browse “anonymously” to avoid the FBI and other government institutions who may try to eavesdrop on you.
A quick aside about my background … I work at a very large software company in Redmond, WA. I have over twenty years of experience in this sort of thing. I’ve been on the Internet since before the Web even existed. It’s pretty safe to say that I know what I’m talking about.
First … Based on what he posted, Rawles is just flat out wrong. Not maliciously wrong, don’t misunderstand me. But he’s wrong.
The file that he refers to, “foresee-alive.js” is part of a customer service survey application from a company called Foresee. These guys are a huge player in that space. And they’re perfectly benign.
Next, his “Forensic Expert” posts three cookies to look for to see if you are affected by this. The three cookies that he cites are from Google Analytics, which is a web analytics platform that most websites on the Internet use. I use it here too. It tells me where people came from, and when they visited, etc.
The three cookies he cites store the number of visits to that site, when your current visit started, and how you got to that site. In the case that the “Expert” cited, just by looking at the first cookie he provided, I can tell you that he first visited the FBI’s website on March 9 at 02:39 UTC.
Further, he visited ten pages on the FBI’s website during that visit. He arrived through a search on the search engine “Dogpile”
All of this is trivial to figure out. If you want the technical details, this page has some good information.
So What Is A Tracking Cookie?
Plain and simple, it’s a little marker that lets websites do a variety of things. Cookies are generally benign. For example, if you log into a website, it drops a cookie that lets the website know that you are who you say you are.
Tracking cookies aren’t malicious for the most part, and are generally limited to the websites that drop them. Like I said before, you’ll find an analytics tracking cookie from my website on your computer.
The popup that you sometimes see on my site that offers you the three day class? The reason why you see it once every two months is that I drop a tracking cookie on your computer so I know you already saw it.
There’s another minor detail that you need to know about. See, if I drop a cookie on your computer from preparingyourfamily.com, no other websites can read that cookie. Period.
So there’s really nothing to worry about here.
But Wait, There’s More!
Now it’s not particularly difficult to redirect web traffic if one of the following is true:
You have a virus or trojan horse on your computer that redirects web requests through a remote proxy.
Someone redirects web traffic by hijacking the DNS servers that tell your computer how to talk to a web site.
There are other ways to redirect traffic but it’s something that would require the cooperation of every major ISP on the internet, and people would know. Everyone would know.
And IF your traffic was hijacked, then theoretically the FBI (in this case) could slightly modify the webpage that you visit to read the tracking cookie by including a file from the main FBI website.
It IS entirely plausible that some of Rawles’ visitors had a virus on their computer that redirected their web traffic through a tracking server.
But Occam’s Razor Applies
The real question is … if the FBI wanted to track visitors to the Survival Blog (or any other prepper websites), would they REALLY do it with their name? Considering my experience with this sort of thing, I can definitively say no, they wouldn’t.
Or maybe, since the cookies cited are normal tracking cookies, it just means that at some point someone on that computer visited an FBI website.
Don’t panic folks. Think, get informed, and move forward.
I’m open to additional information if it’s shared that shows that folks are being tracked. But based on what Rawles and his “Forensics Expert” shared, nothing bad is going on here.
If there’s interest in learning more about how to browse the Internet safely, let me know and I’ll write something up!