For the average computer user, surfing the Internet is usually not associated with much invisibility. Unless it's an advertising agency trying to target you, it could be a nefarious criminal looking to steal your passwords. While it's considerably more difficult than it used to be, it is possible to remain anonymous online.
We found five different ways for you to protect your identity and sensitive information while surfing the Internet.
Level 1: Browse privately whenever possible
Browsing in private mode is the easiest thing you can do to make some of your general Internet usage a little more anonymous.
How it works: You leave cookies every time you visit a website. These cookies are stored on your computer and contain a modest amount of data based on the websites you have visited. In this way, other websites can offer a tailored experience for you. This could be Facebook showing you an ad for the new MacBook you searched for on Google or YouTube noting that you looked up videos about the new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 phone. These cookies can be used to create a unique fingerprint based on the data collected.
Just browse in private mode to avoid all of that. All modern browsers have a private browsing function, also for mobile devices. As this mode warns, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and others may still be able to track all of your browsing activity. However, this will help you keep the websites themselves and anyone viewing your history on the local computer more private.
Level 2: Avoid Google (or Bing or Yahoo)
Google, Bing, and Yahoo may be the three most popular search engines, but the trio also collect the most data about you in order to serve relevant ads and personalize services. In particular, if you are logged in to your account, these search engines can record your name, email address, birthday, gender and telephone number. In addition, Google and Bing can collect important data such as device location, device information, IP address and cookie data.
To avoid being followed as you search the web, we recommend using a service like DuckDuckGo. This is an independent search engine that will not provide you with personalized search results. Everyone who searches will see the same results, and anything you are looking for will not be collected or saved. The search engine also claims that it cannot sell anything to advertisers. This means that you will never be exposed to targeted ads that are displayed while using Google and other websites.
If for a variety of reasons you really can't give up on Google, you can tweak it to be less targeted. Sign in to your Google Account and select "Privacy and Personalization". Then, on the next screen, select the "Ads Personalization" option. Turn off the switch if ad personalization is enabled. You can also go through all of the brands you track through your Google Account activity and turn them off one by one if you want to selectively block tracking.
Stage 3: Hide your IP address and location
The next important thing you can do to stay anonymous is to hide your IP address. This is the easiest way to get online activity back on you. If someone knows your IP address, they can easily determine the geographic location of the server that this address is on and get a rough idea of where you are. There are basically three ways to disguise your IP address and hide your location.
First of all, you can use a virtual private network (VPN). In most cases, a VPN will hide your IP address and a proxy will do the same – and in some cases even better. A VPN is a private, encrypted network that “tunnels” over a public network (usually the Internet) to connect remote locations or users. Today's VPNs can do a lot more than just encrypt your data, however. You can choose which VPN server you want to connect to anywhere in the world, giving the impression that your place of origin is anywhere. The best VPNs also refuse to self-track your activity (some keep logs) and come with additional features like kill switches that instantly disconnect your connection if it looks like something goes wrong with the encryption.
However, you can also use TOR. Short for The Onion Router, TOR is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Surfing with TOR is similar to using hundreds of different proxies at the same time that are regularly randomized.
Level 4: Use anonymous email and communication
By using proxies, VPNs and TOR, your IP address is protected from prying eyes. However, sending email presents a different challenge to anonymity. Suppose you want to send someone an email, but you don't want them to know your email address. Generally there are two ways to do this.
The first is to use an alias. An alias is essentially a forwarding address. When you send email through an alias, only your forwarding address is shown to the recipient, not your real email. Since all email is forwarded to your regular inbox, this method will keep your real email address private but will not prevent you from receiving spam like crazy.
Second, you can use a disposable email account. This can be done in two ways: either you can simply create a new email account with a fake name and use it for the duration of your needs, or you can use a one-way email service. These services create a temporary forwarding address that is deleted after a certain period of time. So they're great for signing up for websites on websites you don't trust and keeping your inbox from being flooded with spam.
When you use a VPN and communicate using an anonymous email address, your identity remains hidden, but there is still the possibility that your email could be intercepted by a middleman. To avoid this, you can encrypt your emails before sending them using HTTPS in your web-based email client. This adds SSL / TLS encryption to your entire communication. For web chats, you can also use TOR chat or Crytopchat, which are encrypted chat services that are difficult to interrupt.
Level 5: Leave no trace on a computer with TAILS
Not everyone knows that even today it is possible to run your online business without a trace on any computer with Internet access. This level of online privacy is provided by a Linux operating system called TAILS. The system fits on a small storage device such as a USB flash drive that you can take with you anywhere and connect to any computer.
TAILS loads TOR the moment you connect the device and open the start screen of your operating system. Then just use the internet as usual. Since everything starts directly from the flash drive, you do not make any traceable markings on the computer you are using. The TOR encryption also ensures that your online activities, including files, e-mails and instant messages, are no longer traceable. You can keep your entire digital life in your pocket, hidden from prying eyes.
You can always download TAILS directly from the organization. TAILS updates regularly to stay current and to further improve security, so no traces are guaranteed. While it doesn't have the performance or storage capacity of a traditional operating system like Windows, it's as private as it gets.