With all of the online threats, malware, and tracking some consumers have turned to anonymous web browsing. To learn more, I discussed the Cocoon anonymous web browsing service with Brian Fox, cofounder and Chief Technology Officer at Virtual World Computing (VWC), producer of Cocoon.
I've Been Mugged: What is your position and duties at Get Cocoon?
Brian Fox: I am co-founder and CTO of VWC. I am the principal inventor of the technology and process in the Cocoon service. Jeff Bermant is the other co-founder, and the primary owner of the itch that needed scratching.
Mugged: How and why did Virtual World Computing start offering anonymous web browsing?
Fox: We believe everyone has a right to use the Internet securely and privately, and without the risk of getting malware. We see that the Internet is the next generation of communication, after Pony Express, Telegraph, and Telephone. Why should we as a society accept that this form of communication be less private and secure than its previous forms?
Mugged: How secure are your company’s web servers?
Fox: Today, our servers are housed in a tier 3 secure facility. Our servers run SE Linux, which is the Linux that was modified by the NSA to increase security and compartmentalization. Because we run Linux, we are not vulnerable to Windows-based viruses. Because we run SE Linux we are not vulnerable to any currently known linux-based attack. We believe that our servers are extremely secure.
What consumer data is retained on your servers and for how long?
That's up to you. You can choose to not save any data in your Cocoon account, and that's your prerogative. We feel there are benefits to having your history stored securely, encrypted and available to you, and only you, whenever and wherever you want. Everyone has experienced the scenario of having found some piece of information while on one computer, say at home, and then had difficulties finding that same info when they want it at work. With Cocoon, your history, bookmarks, logins, passwords, notes, are all available to you on any computer where you've installed Cocoon. And you are the only one who has the key to unlock that encrypted information. But it's your call, never save the data or leave it there as long as you like and delete it when you close your account, it's up to you.
On my laptop, I use the Better Privacy add-on with Firefox to regularly delete the web browser cookies that websites save to my laptop. How is Cocoon different?
Cocoon prevents cookies from being stored on your computer at all. They are stored in your Cocoon account. Today, Cocoon doesn't offer an option to delete cookies on a periodic basis (which of course, can only happen while Firefox is running :-) Instead, we supply an option to delete your Cocoon stored cookies whenever you log out. We are building a feature that lets you specify for which websites Cocoon should not delete stored cookies. We feel this offers you the best of both worlds - you can keep the cookies that you want (e.g., login cookies for Gmail or sourceforge), and delete all of the other cookies (e.g., banking, etc.).
Version 3.0+ of the Firefox browser already has a feature called “Start Private Browsing.” How is Cocoon different?
Private browsing mode on Firefox does not provide you with anonymous browsing and only prevents your browsing and cookie history from being saved on your computer. On the other hand, Cocoon prevents both websites and your ISP from knowing what sites you've visited, as well as keeping all tracking information off your computer. It does this at the same time as giving you the option to keep that history or those cookies stored securely if you want.
Many consumers like to use free (unsecure) WiFi at places like coffee shops and airports. How does Cocoon protect consumers in these situations?
Cocoon makes every website on the Internet encrypted and secure, even on free open WiFi. When you log into Cocoon, you create a secure connection between you and Cocoon preventing man-in-the-middle attacks like Firesheep.
Version 4.0 of the Firefox web browser offers a Do Not Track feature. How does Cocoon compare with this?
Firefox 4.0, like Chrome and IE9, all offer an option to be added to Do Not Track lists - but these lists rely on voluntary compliance by advertisers to join and/or honor - and the user is responsible for activating these systems. Cocoon's method is proactive - a service that lets you take control without needing advertisers to agree to anything.
What types of consumers or professionals (e.g., attorneys, financial advisors, etc.) can best benefit by using Cocoon?
Although anyone can benefit from features such as stopping spam by using Mailslots (disposable anonymous email addresses), professionals such as lawyers, doctors, and financial advisors –- who work with highly private data– can directly benefit from the protection Cocoon offers stopping malware from infecting their computers and potentially stealing personal data, and having secure connections while on WiFi networks. Everyone deserves the peace of mind that comes from knowing their information is private, secure and malware-free.
How might a consumer use Cocoon while traveling on business or vacation?
In addition to being protected on open WiFi networks, I've appreciated that once I securely log into Cocoon I have access to all my login and passwords even on my wife's computer - and once I log out I know that that information is not on her computer, it's still safely stored in my account on Cocoon.
How flexible is the Cocoon configuration, so consumers can switch to normal browsing mode when visiting trusted websites, like their bank?
The configuration of Cocoon is so seamless it is almost invisible. There's actually no need to turn off Cocoon when visiting any site. If you choose to bypass the protections of Cocoon, there is a "pause" or "un-lock" button right on the toolbar for you.
Many consumers like comprehensive services/software. What are Get Cocoon’s plans to provide an umbrella service covering a user’s computer, tablet, and smart phone?
Great question, and it's definitely in the works. We've tested Cocoon with the Firefox browser on various systems and will be offering other options soon. IE is the next to roll out and others to follow. We are particularly focused on the needs of the mobile user, and have products and service enhancements in store for them.
What do you see in the future for anonymous web browsing software?
While anonymity is an important feature of Cocoon, we feel that it is only one part. We feel that privacy is not synonymous with anonymity. For instance, I am happy to do this interview, but there is a limit to what information I will divulge. That is because my personal privacy is important to me. In the future, we feel that both inward and outward facing privacy will be de rigueur, and we know that Cocoon customers will be enjoying that -- as well as additional features that will be necessitated by changes in online behavior, such as voting, reviews, and the like.
Is there anything else you want consumers to know about Cocoon and/or your company?
Cocoon is created by a team of people who strongly believe in the rights of people to use the Web privately and securely. We believe that the Internet is a resource for the world, and not just for a select few. Our mission is to enable access, privacy, and security on the Internet to anyone who desires it. Our feature creation is driven by the needs of our users, and we ensure that there are many ways to communicate with us - even anonymously!
Thanks to Brian Fox for discussing Cocoon with the I've Been Mugged blog.