Some could argue that the internet was created on anonymity, opening the door for a world where free expression is king. However, after years of knowing who is snooping on everything we do online, online privacy is far from guaranteed.
It’s not only about government espionage; it’s also about how much data large corporations like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have gathered in order to give out targeted ads—not to mention how much of your personal data has been snatched up in all the breaches and hacks.
There will always be compelling reasons for people to go online anonymously. Given how some whistleblowers have been abused, anonymity may be the only way for a true whistleblower to expose corruption. But, no matter what you’re doing, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to remain anonymous.
Is it even feasible to regain control over your online privacy? Finally, the only way to properly remain anonymous online is to avoid going online at all. However, for most of us, that isn’t a viable option. As you explore the internet world, here’s an overview of what you can do to avoid snooping, targeted marketing, and identity theft.
Hide Your Footsteps
Become a Burner Supporter
Avoid using a smartphone if you want to remain incognito. Apple and other big-name mobile OS makers are control freaks, and ad servers are ad servers (Google). A prepaid phone, sometimes known as a burner, is the best way to remain anonymous when using a phone.
Call records exist even with a burner, thus your location can still be triangulated using GPS and tower locations. You can always throw the phone into a passing truck and lead whoever is following you on a wild goose chase, as seen in movies. The benefit of using a burner is that your real name isn’t attached to it.
However, when you already have a high-end smartphone, adding more hardware is a nuisance. Thankfully, there are numerous apps available for Android and iOS that will provide you with temporary, anonymous phone numbers. (Burner is the name of one of such apps.)
Turn On That Firewall
Do you have a direct connection to a broadband modem on your desktop or laptop computer? That’s a terrible plan. Hackers regularly assault IP addresses in an attempt to get access to a system.
On your home network, you should always have a router with a built-in firewall to prevent attempted hacking. A router assigns an IP address to each device on your home network via network address translation (NAT), and those devices are only visible on that network. Direct attacks can occasionally be halted in their tracks. You’ll need a router to share your internet connection and Wi-Fi regardless. Even a router that is built into the modem, such as the sort provided by your ISP, is preferable than having no router at all.
You might additionally use a firewall software program that is put on your PC. Windows 10 comes with a first-rate resolution referred to as—you guessed it—Home windows Firewall. You, too, can discover firewalls as a part of safety suites. However, as PCMag’s Lead Analyst for Safety, Neil J. Rubenking, explains, you do not want one other firewall should you use the one that ships with Home windows.
For true anonymity based primarily on your OS, cease utilizing Home windows or macOS on the desktop and transfer to a Linux distro that makes a specialty of all types of maintaining your secret. Your finest wager is Tails: The Amnesic Incognito Live System.
Make Your Own Stealth Sleuth
When you visit websites, what information does your computer (or tablet, or smartphone, for that matter) give away about you? At the very least, a site recognizes your IP address (which is required; otherwise, you wouldn’t receive any results).
Most of the time, it also knows your approximate physical location (by checking where your ISP gets those IP addresses; watch it in action at IPLocation), as well as your time zone and language spoken—all useful information for advertising. For browser plug-ins, your browser can also reveal your operating system, browser type, and software versions. It even keeps track of the fonts you’ve installed on your computer. All of this creates a unique fingerprint for your system. And, as everyone who has watched Law & Order knows, sometimes all it takes to find you down is a unique fingerprint.
You should utilize Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge browser extensions to reinforce your privateness. The EFF has its personal Privacy Badger to screen websites that monitor you. The Ghostery browser extension blocks all kinds of trackers and promotes nearly all browsers. The DuckDuckGo search engine for privateness also has an identical attachment called Privacy Essentials.
What’s extra, even should you’ve obtained a VPN—digital non-public community—working, as it is best to (see under), it may very well be leaking. Here’s how to get yourself again into stealth mode.
Check to see if your browser is keeping too much personal data. Turn off the browser’s ability to save the passwords you use to access websites and services under the settings menu. This is inconvenient because you should use a different password for each service you use. A dedicated password organizer that operates across all of your devices is a superior option.
Images, surfing history, and what you’ve downloaded are all stored in browsers, as are cookie files, which remember things like preferences and passwords. Clear your browser cache to erase that information once in a while.
Main browsers have anonymous surfing modes. Chrome is known as Incognito (hit Ctrl+Shift+N to the entry); in Firefox, it is Private Browsing; and in Microsoft Edge, it is In Private browsing. Utilizing an incognito mode prevents the browser from saving passwords, cookies, downloads, and cached content material akin to pictures.
Quite a lot of browsers are billed as privacy-focused. After all, they use identical rendering engines as the massive names, particularly Google’s Chromium engine; the distinction is that the browsers do not share any information with Google. Examples embody Epic, Comodo Dragon, Comodo IceDragon (based mainly on Firefox), and naturally, the Tor Browser (extra under).
For those searching for a different mainstream browser with some additional safety, consider Opera—it has a free VPN appropriately constructed. (Be aware that its VPN protects solely your browser site visitors, not the opposite apps in your laptop that use the web.)
To summarize, utilizing stealth modes, particular browsers, and personal SERPs will not make you fully nameless. However, they stop websites from writing information to your laptop, together with cookies, which can be utilized to determine your looking habits.
Proxies and VPNs and Tor, Oh My
To prevent people from gathering information about you while you’re on the internet, pretend to be someone else at a different area. This necessitates the use of either a proxy server or a virtual private network (VPN) connection, or, better yet, both. You can not only remain anonymous but also surf websites in other countries as if you were a native.
A proxy server—a pc system or router that features a relay between shopper and server—is not for newbies; however, FoxyProxy can get you began. It works with the main browsers and gives proxy companies and VPN instruments.
VPN services are in every single place. They have the benefit of securing the site visitors between your laptop and servers and masking your IP deal with and site. For instance, by connecting by way of my work VPN, websites I go to imagine I am at company HQ, though I work at home.
VPNs additionally double as an option to get entry to location-blocked content material. For those in a rustic that may get the BBC iPlayer or Netflix, for instance, a VPN may very well be your ticket. Netflix, for one, is cracking down on this tactic when it could actually.
No dialogue of anonymity online is entire without mentioning Tor. The identity comes from being the acronym for “the onion router”—a metaphor for many protected using layers of safety.
Tor is a free community of tunnels for routing net requests and web page downloads. It is not identical to a VPN; however, it could be safer for masking your identification. Tor’s presupposed to make it impossible for a website you are visiting to determine who you might be—however, does it?
The Nationwide Safety Company’s spying controversy leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 included what some thought was a workaround to identify users of Tor. However, it wasn’t that straightforward. As defined by safety professional Bruce Schneier in The Guardian, the NSA screens what’s referred to as the Tor “exit nodes”—the company may inform customers had been utilizing Tor however not who the customers had been. The NSA arranged a “man within the center” assault, pretending to be the positioning the consumer needed (Google, for instance), and will ship knowledge again to the consumer that may benefit from exploitable holes within the browser—not a gap in Tor.
The lesson there: Preserve your browsers updated, or use one of many beforehand famous anonymizing browsers.
Guess which firm additionally gives an anonymizing browser? Tor has a browser bundle for Home windows (run it off a flash drive to take with you), macOS, or Linux; it is obtainable in 16 languages. There’s additionally a Tor Browser for Android gadgets; iOS customers can attempt the third-party VPN + TOR Browser and Ad Block app.
Tor isn’t entirely foolproof—the idea is you could nonetheless be tracked by somebody expert sufficient (even when they cannot learn what you ship). The list of potential Tor weaknesses is lengthy.
A newish browser with a built-in search engine is attempting to take a few of Tor’s privateness thunder—an open-source mission referred to as Brave. As a free obtain, it is price an attempt; however, Courageous has already had some issues and is branching into cryptocurrency to vary the sport on how websites generate income.
For those who’re sensing development in that no software program can hold you 100% nameless, you are paying consideration. However, these steps are all like a lock on a door: Positive, and somebody may kick it in—however, why make it simple by leaving the door open?
Encrypt Your Email
While it’s good to be completely anonymous while surfing, it may be even more important for your email to be anonymous in order to avoid spam or spying. The issue is that email was not designed with security in mind.
Of course, secure email providers exist. They scramble what you send with encryption and require the recipient to have a password to decrypt it. Edward Snowden utilized a webmail service called Lavabit, which was so secure that the authorities demanded the users’ secret keys. To its credit, Lavabit shut down immediately to safeguard its consumers. It later reappeared, this time with even more user-friendly security features. As a result, be aware that such a service may be vulnerable. Most people will not risk their lives to protect you.
The finest free Webmail provider we’ve seen for handling encrypted communications is PreVeil, which offers safe cloud storage as well as weapons-grade encryption and is simple to use. Read The Best Email Encryption Services and How to Create an Anonymous Email Account for more information.
You would possibly assume your Gmail account is protected using because you see that lock icon on the browser and entry it with a safe sockets layer (SSL) connection (indicated by https:// within the URL). However, SSL solely encrypts knowledge because it’s transferred from your gadget to the server.
That’s all the time going to be an issue with web-based companies. Some companies can present encryption for these kinds of e-mail: Virtru is particular to Gmail working on Chrome. Mailvelope is an extension (for Chrome, Edge, and Firefox) that may include safe Gmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail, and extra. FlowCrypt is one other.
Maybe the excellent transfer is to eschew web-based mail and keep on with desktop shopper software programs. Outlook 2007 and later has built-in encryption tools. Mozilla’s Thunderbird has add-ons galore (together with many in our e-mail encryption companies roundup, like PreVeil) to deal with message encryption/decryption.
Lower Spam Out Of Your Weight-reduction plan
Past the plain safeguards—by no means, ever click on a hyperlink in a spam message and even open a spam e-mail—one of the best ways to defeat spam is rarely to let spammers get your e-mail deal with. That is nearly not possible, and sadly, however, there are strategies to mitigate.
Primary is to use an alias or dummy e-mail, which works with any service that requires an e-mail. You would possibly set one up should you personal your area identify. For instance, in Google Workplace, you may have a primary deal with [email protected]; however, you could also use [email protected] as an alias for online sign-ups; messages to the second may be forwarded to the principal agreement with. When spam begins to gather, change or kill that second deal with. You may create as many as 30 aliases per particular person.
Gmail is a bit easier: Append one thing to the consumer identity to make an alias. Flip “[email protected]” into “[email protected]”; Gmail ignores every little thing after the plus signal. As soon as the alias in query accumulates spam, filter it properly into the trash. This is a video on how to do this in Gmail:
Yahoo Mail gives Disposable Addresses (underneath Settings > Safety) that are related—there is a base identity, then a secondary key phrase appended, like “[email protected]” Outlook.com additionally helps aliases, as much as 10 per account. Search for Account Aliases underneath the Account settings. You probably have your area identified, test the management panel at your web host—it is more likely to have instruments for creating aliases galore.
A disposable deal could be beneficial for those who want an alias briefly. We now have critiques of 5 merchandise that provide disposable e-mail addresses: Abine Blur, Bulc Membership, Burner Mail, ManyMe, and SimpleLogin. Be aware that Abine Blur Premium permits you to store online without revealing your real e-mail deal, telephone quantity, or bank card particulars, and it additionally manages your passwords. This system acquired a 4.5 (excellent) ranking from our reviewer and, in addition, is available in a free model.
Security in the Social (Network) Environment
Should you be concerned about security on social networking sites? You certainly should! These platforms aren’t charitable organizations; they make money by having a large number of users viewing a large number of advertisements. That means they may make your information available to shady characters on occasion. You might also not want everyone of your friends and followers, as well as their extended networks, to know what you’re up to. Here are a few pointers on how to vanish (partially or totally) from social media.
On a desktop, select Settings & Privacy > Settings > Privacy from the Account menu in the upper right. To customise who can see what, who may friend you, and even who can look you up, click the “Edit” link next to each option on this page. You may be as specific as you want, ensuring that past lovers or girlfriends couldn’t read your posts, for example.
Finally, double-check your contact information: Under General, go to your General Account Settings and click “Edit” next to each entry. Check the email addresses and phone numbers you’ve entered twice. To maximize anonymity, keep the list of who has access to a minimum.
You can either deactivate or delete your Facebook account to depart. Deactivating your account leaves your information on the site in case you wish to come back. Your Facebook account is deactivated for two weeks, just in case you didn’t mean it, and then it’s gone. (However, some digital photos may remain.) On your desktop, go to your account and select Settings & Privacy > Settings > Privacy from the drop-down menu at the top-right of your screen. On the left, select Your Facebook Information. At the bottom of the page, you’ll notice Deactivation and Deletion.
In your profile, don’t include your website or real email address. Make sure your password isn’t the same as any other site’s. That’s sound advice in general, but we know people don’t listen, so we keep repeating it. You should, especially with Twitter, which has seen some security issues.
Under Settings > Privacy and Safety, you can also choose to protect your tweets, limiting access to just those followers you allow. Protected tweets aren’t searchable or retweetable, and you can’t provide non-approved followers permanent links to them. (However, if you think using social media—or putting anything online—is private, think again—it only takes one “authorized follower” to grab a screenshot and share it with the world.)
Tap Account under the Settings and Privacy menu, scroll to the bottom, and pick “Deactivate your account” to completely exit Twitter. You’ll have 30 days to change your mind and reactivate, or you’ll be gone forever.
Need to dump Gmail? First, we advocate you obtain your emails. When signed into your Gmail account, go to myaccount.google.com, click on Information and Privateness, then Obtain your Information, which takes you to Google Takeout. Observe instructions to export your Gmail emails. When you’ve secured your e-mail archive, return to myaccount.google.com or click on your account avatar on the top-right of your Gmail inbox and choose to Handle your Google Account. Below Handle your knowledge & privateness, click on Delete your Google Account.
Your account will be disabled until you sign in again, whereas deleting it will delete your profile, images, videos, comments, likes, and follows. You can’t disable or cancel your account using the app; you’ll need to go to Instagram.com to do so.
To disable your account, go to your account homepage, click on your name to view your account profile, then Edit Profile, then “Temporarily disable my account.” To delete your account, go to the homepage and select Delete Your Account. To respond to the question of why you’re canceling your account, select a response from the drop-down selection. After entering your password, select “Permanently delete my account.”
You can change your privacy settings on the site: To see the options, click on your Profile (picture) icon, then Settings & Privacy in the drop-down menu, then Account settings, then Visibility. Hibernating your account, which is comparable to deactivating on other sites, is another option. You can also completely erase your account. Return to Settings, then choose Account preferences, Account management, then Close account under Account preferences. Select a reason for canceling your account by clicking Continue, then Next. You’re done once you’ve entered your password.
TikTok does not require you to create an account in order to use the service; you can simply download the app and begin watching videos right away. You don’t want it any longer? Simply uninstall TikTok from your phone. However, if you have an account, removing the app will have no effect on the stuff you’ve already generated and gathered, so it’s preferable to start over. Open the TikTok app, then pick the three-line hamburger menu in the top-right corner, then hit the profile button in the bottom-right corner. At the bottom of the page, tap “Manage account” and then “Delete account.”
If you’re concerned about being tracked while surfing, opt out of all of the above services, as well as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple. Otherwise, the ad servers, cookies, and other tracking technologies used by those businesses or their affiliates will always know where and when you browse online. Signing out is inconvenient because logging back in is inconvenient—exactly what the large data collectors are depending on.