You do not have to be a James Bond secret-agent type, or a black hat hacker; we have all surely done things online where the merit of online anonymity would have been a great value to us. We have plenty of good reasons to care about our privacy and security online, considering how much personal information we are giving away at a click of a mouse.
Of course it is next to impossible to remain truly anonymous on the Internet. However there are simple ways any regular Internet user like you and I could easily include into our surfing habits to minimise our exposure online.
PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, is a popular encryption software used for data encryption by encrypting personal files. OpenPGP is used for authentication of data communication and exchanging encrypted communication by way of creating digital signatures.
The encryption technology itself can get pretty in-depth, something we would not get into at this moment. However, how PGP works is basically with two keys; one public and one private key to respectively encrypt and decrypt a secure message using the system.
While PGP keys can be used to scramble and unscramble encrypted messages sent through webmail, there are simpler options for those looking for more privacy-centric webmail services.
Because regular webmail services such as Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook and Yahoo are not the most privacy-conscious, your emails and sensitive information are still susceptible to snooping. Simpler ways of sending encrypted emails would be to subscribe to an encrypted email service.
One of the popular ones would be ProtonMail, which encrypts your emails automatically with end-to-end encryption. No personal information is required to create an anonymous account, and the service does not keep IP logs that can be traced to you.
A couple other examples would be Hushmail, which also employs OpenPGP with an on-demand encryption; and Tutanota, which also provides free end-to-end encryption. Alternatively, you could also use a disposable email service such as Guerrilla Mail, which allows you to set up random email addresses for temporary use without registration so that your real email can remain private.
If you are not as keen to part with your time-honoured email addresses, there is also the option to install extensions. Popular email extension tools used to secure your regular Gmail or Outlook include SecureGmail, which encrypts and decrypts emails you send through Gmail. Another similar extension is Mailvelope, a browser extension for Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox that offerss OpenPGP encryption for your webmail service.
There are a couple extensions for the web which will help with your level of anonymity on the Internet.
One extremely popular extension is HTTPS Everywhere. A free and open source browser extension for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera; it was developed collaboratively by The Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. What it does is that it automatically forces websites you visit to use HTTPS over HTTP (which are unencrypted and less secure).
It is also a good idea to install a browser extension which can block and manage website trackers. Little invisible trackers on websites are how companies are tracking your every move on the Internet and collecting your browsing habits. Some popular ones would be Privacy Badger and Ghostery. Both are free to install and helps keep those annoying website cookie trackers at bay!
Contrary to popular belief, there actually are other search engines out there besides Google. But popular search engines like Google are in fact tracking your past searches history to link your search habits to your IP address so that they can understand you more. Your searches can reveal shocking amounts of information such as your interests, family circumstances, medical conditions and more.
If you are looking for move privacy-oriented search engines, why not give alternative search engines which do not track your searches a go? DuckDuckGo and StartPage both claim to be private search engines which keep your search history private.
Are you guilty of using the same password across all your accounts? What’s more, is that password something easily linked to your pet’s name or birth date? Once your password is cracked, you can certainly say goodbye to your anonymity. As long as one website with your email and password is hacked, it can be linked to every other website with that same combination.
A good alternative would be to use a password manager like LastPass. Instead of remembering a whole bunch of different passwords and emails which turn out to be weaker, by logging into a password manager with one master password, it will help you to create strong passwords such as “niubOb*klyWym3” which are next to impossible to crack.
In Edward Snowden’s own words, Dropbox is “very hostile to privacy”. Storage devices like Google Drive and Dropbox do not promise much in privacy, and they are especially dangerous since you are sharing large amounts of files through this system.
There are other alternatives for large file transfer systems which offer better privacy such as OnionShare (where you can anonymously share files for free on Open Source), and Spideroak (as personally recommended by Snowden himself).
Source: The Tor Project
The Onion Router aka. TOR is an anonymising network of multiple proxies to bounce your traffic between multiple encrypted relays before reaching the destination.
Once developed with the U.S. Navy in mind to protect government communications, it is essentially a “network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet”.
The relays are a distributed network of volunteers all around the world to prevent someone watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it inhibits the sites you visit from learning your physical location.
Naturally our favourite and one of the most effective methods of staying anonymous on the Internet would be to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as BolehVPN. A VPN will channel your regular Internet through a secure tunnel to encrypt all your data.
This way, all your information will be routed through different servers, giving you a spoof IP address which will keep your actual IP address in order to mask your personal location in the world.
Want to be 100% sure you are not leaving behind any digital footprints? Throw away all your technological devices and live in a cave!
Jokes aside; in the digital era, your data is worth so much more than you realise. On the Internet, all your shopping habits, browsing practices, and data that you are giving up are a gold mine for companies who make a living off this data of yours.
When anonymity on the Internet is starting to feel like a luxury companies are withholding from you, it is time you made it into your given right.