Secure online communication with MOFO Linux

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© Lead Image © Zentilia, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Zentilia, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 242/2021
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Controls, surveillance, and censorship are increasing rapidly on the Internet. MOFO Linux lets you anonymize your communication on the web with an easy-to-use live system.

It is not only repressive political regimes, such as those in China, Iran, or Turkey, that are purposefully expanding their control and surveillance machinery on the Internet. In many Western countries, too, the Internet is increasingly becoming an object of surveillance and censorship. This is of particular concern to professional groups, such as journalists and lawyers, that need to be able to count on secure private communication to do their work.

With the help of innovative free software, however, these concerns can be readily addressed. There are many mature tools to secure free communication on Linux. However, with conventional distributions, you often have to painstakingly gather the individual tools and sometimes even install them painstakingly by hand.

Not so with MOFO Linux [1], a live system based on Ubuntu, which has been under continuous development for years. Its main focus is to ensure secure communication that is shielded from external influences.

Installation

You can pick up the hybrid ISO image, weighing in at about 2.3GB, from the project site via torrent or SourceForge. After transferring the image to an optical data carrier or USB memory stick, boot the system in live mode. Alternatively, MOFO can also be used on a virtual machine such as VirtualBox.

The system comes up without a GRUB boot menu. Instead, a login prompt appears after the boot process, but it closes automatically after a few moments. After this, an input box appears again; this also logs in the preset user mofo with administrative privileges without you needing to take any further action.

You are taken to an unspectacular MATE desktop with a panel at the top of the screen that lets you switch between two virtual desktops. A system tray top right in the panel provides information about the current system status. There are no icons or launchers on the desktop.

Secure Data Transmission

A glance at the menus reveals MOFO's two main focuses: On the one hand, the Ubuntu derivative contains numerous applications for securing and anonymizing Internet access using tunneled connections, while on the other it includes many programs from the realm of secure communication. The number of office or graphic applications, on the other hand, is kept within narrow limits.

The Internet section contains the Firefox web browser, the Thunderbird email client, and the Tor browser, which automatically connects to the network of the same name when it starts. The Tor controller independently provides convenient one-click access to the Tor network. The MOFO developers extended Firefox with add-ons like HTTPS Everywhere and the Video Downloader for downloading videos. Thunderbird comes with the Enigmail add-on preinstalled.

Numerous other applications let you set up your own VPN server and use VPN services. These include the Algo [2] VPN server manager and the Streisand [3] server. The distribution also comes with several secure messaging services, for which you only need to enter your personal access data.

Next to it, you will find the Telegram desktop short message service in the menu. The Invisible Internet Project (I2P) controller in the Internet menu lets you use the anonymized I2P network [4]. Unlike Tor, this is not a network with different nodes, but a closed overlay network that routes encrypted data traffic via the individual nodes.

Central servers are missing in the I2P network. Since the data traffic runs over the network participants' I2P routers, the connection paths change permanently. In combination with end-to-end encryption, data streams in the I2P network are practically impossible to trace. The network allows access to various services that are common on the World Wide Web, but which cannot be localized due to the design of the network.

However, I2P runs with very low data throughput, which cannot be compared to today's typical bandwidths of 1MB and more. The I2P controller in MOFO prepares Firefox for the use of the I2P network and thus enables the use of the different I2P services (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The I2P controller lets you access hidden services via Firefox.

Tor and Freenet

As another tool for secure data communication, MOFO also integrates OnionShare. This is a tool for transferring files over the Tor network. The contents to be sent can be dragged and dropped into the program window. When the software is called, it automatically connects to the Tor network, so it takes a few seconds for the OnionShare client to work properly.

The Freenet installer, which you will also find in the Internet menu, lets you access the Java-based installation wizard for the Freenet network [5]. This is also an overlay network for closed groups without servers or nodes that allows data to be distributed and stored redundantly. The wizard installs the Java client for use with a locally configured proxy server that supports various protocols.

The setup wizard in the browser also supports the configuration of different security levels, such as the encryption of temporarily stored data. Like on the I2P network, the data transfer rate on Freenet is significantly lower than on the open Internet. You can adjust the available bandwidth individually in the setup wizard.

In the form of Lantern, MOFO comes with another proxy service that uses peer-to-peer technologies to reach regionally blocked websites. For this purpose, the tool uses its own servers and users' computers, which help to grant access to the affected websites.

The Psiphon proxy service, which is also free, serves the same purpose and relies on peer-to-peer connections beyond central servers to bypass Internet censorship and repressive measures. Outline Manager is an additional tool for convenient use of VPNs. This is a still quite new but free project primarily aimed at journalists and news agencies.

Outline supports the convenient installation and configuration of a VPN on local servers, but also supports the use of cloud services. Outline Manager installs the server: The project supports any number of clients. To do this, MOFO loads the corresponding AppImage off the web. You can connect the clients to the VPN via the desktop app on the workstations (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Outline lets you set up a VPN in no time at all.

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