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Internet Anonymity – How you can stay safe online

Date: August 3, 2005
Author(s): Rob Williams

Have you ever felt the need to remain anonymous, while surfing on the internet? Even if you are doing nothing wrong, it may be something to consider. In the article, we give great starter tips on how you can get on the road to anonymity.



Introduction

Years ago, if someone mentioned anything about remaining anonymous on the internet, it was usually associated with internet crimes. People who didn’t want to be caught, disguised themselves so that after a crime was committed, they could not be traced. Due to recent world events though, we are now being monitored more now, than ever. For some people, it may not matter since they know they are doing nothing wrong. To others, including myself, I’d rather perform my daily activities knowing that I’m not constantly being monitored.

It’s obvious though, that now even completely innocent internet users want to remain anonymous.. for the simple sake of privacy. What are some primary scenarios that could be different if you are anonymous? Better yet, why is it that everyday people want to remain anonymous? Here is what they makers of Anonymizer have to say:

The FTC estimated that close to 10 million people in the US were victims of identity theft last year. Protect your personal information, credit card numbers and financial transactions from online snoops with Anonymous Surfing.

Phishing and pharming attempts are becoming more and more popular. Sadly, the people who primarily fall for these tricks are normal users who are nowhere near being tech-heads, so they don’t pay attention to these risks as we would. It’s our responsibility, in my opinion, to make sure that our families and friends know what they are doing online, and they should have the knowledge of what to avoid. Since Phishing attacks can look *so* real, it’s no wonder so many people fall for them.

For others though, Phishing attacks are no threat, because some they know better. Online advertising is another reason that some people like to remain anonymous. I am sure many have experienced times when you visit a website and see a “Find love in (YOUR HOMETOWN), Click here!”. It’s obvious that they can track you down just using your IP address. Not that this usually does any harm, it still can leave an uncomfortable feeling.

The simple fact is, that no matter where you go on the internet, you can be watched. Just like how many people consider security cameras to be privacy threats, the same applies online, in a very similar manner. Whereas a camera can watch your every move, and they *are* everywhere, server logs are able to tell people where you came from, what you did on a website and even at what time.

Lastly, but of course not least, online banking and other secure services can be another huge reason for people to want to remain anonymous. Especially on public networks, information can be grabbed during transmission, then be decrypted. Because of this, people could potentially acquire your usernames and passwords without too much trouble. The same would apply for online Instant Messenging conversations.

How can you remain anonymous?

Security and being safe on the internet is a huge deal to us at Techgage, so you will see more of these types of articles in the future. In this specific article, we will be primarily looking at the simple things you can do to help remain anonymous, so that you can have a true piece of mind while online.

One great all around solution to internet anonymity, are Proxies. Proxies protect you, because they essentially provide a layer of protection between you and the server for which you need information. It’s like a meat sandwich.. both slices of bread do not touch because of the meat in the middle. Proxies are not as complicated to understand as one may figure. It’s a rather simple matter of requesting information for view on your computer, and the Proxy server downloading the information instead. In turn, the Proxy then forwards the requested data to you. Because of this, the originating website that you requested information from, will see the Proxy server IP, not yours.

Of course, this is still not completely fool proof, since your IP address would likely be logged on the Proxy server. The only real reason you would have to worry at this point, was if you plan on activities that could cause some trouble. Authorities may not have too much trouble getting your IP address from the server admins, depending on laws in the Country where the server resides. For the everyday user though, it’s a fantastic level of protection.

Continued..

Some Proxies may not be as reliable as one would hope, though. Before you completely trust a Proxy, you will want to run some tests to see if your originating IP address can be traced back. One easy solution, is a website I like, called All-Net Tools. Here, you can run the Proxy test, and it will do it’s best to get your real IP. If you go there now, you will see that it can give you your IP address and domain information, usually containing your ISP name. With good Proxy software, it should not be able to give any information of your real IP address.

So, without getting too technical, running your information through a Proxy server is the first and best way to protect yourself from minor threats. How does one get such access to a Proxy? You may be surprised to know that there are numerous programs available for this exact use. Some are free, some are not. From experience, I have found commercially available Anonymity programs to be more reliable for the most part. Not just with Anonymity, but with speed as well.

I mention speed, because that can be one downside with running a Proxy. Because of that extra layer of protection, the Proxy must first download the information, then forward that information to you. In a real life case once again, it would be the same as somebody telling a random person a piece of information, then that person telling you. It eventually get’s to you, but at a reduced speed. Of course though, when your desire is to remain anonymous online, this is hardly that much of a problem.

I will include many links at the end to some programs and websites you can check out and play around with. The performance of various proxies will vary depending on your location and possibly by your browser choice, so it’s best to test out a few and find out which you like the most.

Within a few days, we will be publishing a review on the two top Anonymity programs, Anonymizer 2005 and Steganos Internet Anonym. I’ll get more into those in the review, but I’ll touch bases here. Both programs essentially do what is mentioned above.. they will contact the server you requested, grab the info for you, then pass it along They both do it quite reliably. These are both commercial programs though, and only Steganos allows you to test before buying.

If there is a moment in time though, where you need to quickly visit a website anonymously, you can jump over to a website that provides the service for free. Anonymization.net allows you to type in the URL you want, and it will grab it for you anonymously. I have always found the service a little slow, but it’s completely free and works well. It also will block the javascript on the given website for more security.

One last thing to note is, that the more remote the server, the more secure you are likely to be. If authorities wanted your IP address from the Proxy server admins, it may not be very difficult if the server was in the US. If you connect to a Proxy in a very remote Country, they would have a much more difficult time getting it. Tools like Sam Spade can tell you what Country the Proxy you are using is in.

Now that we have the Proxy basics out of the way, we can move onto other ways to help protect yourself, even while offline.

Spyware, Adware and Trojans

If you want even better overall anonymity, there are other steps you will want to take.

Spyware is no doubt one of the most prevalent and annoying problems ever to hit computers. Spyware in general, has the ability to gather information on your computer, such as your IP address, web pages you view and even what you buy online… then send it back to a server for analysis. This is a complete invasion of privacy if there ever was one. The sad thing is, that countless people have Spyware and various Trojans in their computers, and not even know it.

A fantastic start to combat spyware, is to give up on Internet Explorer. I have said this hundreds of times before, and I will say it again: if browsers were Religion, Internet Explorer would be the Devil. On average, 31% of our visitors use Firefox, according to our stats software, while Internet Explorer is used by 61.6%. Internet Explorer is well known to allow spyware onto computers even without permission, which is why it’s hard to know that it’s even there in the first place. So, the first step is to download Mozilla Firefox or Opera, which are both very good and secure browsers.

It’s funny how many people tell me that they don’t use Internet Explorer, but instead use a browser “based” on Internet Explorer. The real key, is to use a browser that’s as far away from Internet Explorer as possible. Enough IE bashing for now.

I personally use four different programs to check for both Spyware and Trojans: Lavasoft Ad-Aware, SpyBot: Search and Destroy, Microsoft Anti-Spyware and finally, Moosoft Cleaner.

The reason to use more than one Anti-Spyware program, is because that during in-depth tests, it’s been made obvious that not one program can detect all potential issues. I’ve many times run Ad-Aware then SpyBot, and them each find many unique pieces of Spyware. SpyBot in itself seems to be more ‘picky’ than the others, which is a good thing because it finds more.

The Cleaner from Moosoft is very in-depth, which is why I love using it. It takes a lot longer than the other software I mentioned, but that’s because it does a more hardcore search for Trojans and Spyware. Of the programs mentioned, this one is the only one that charges money to register. It’s worth it though, if you really want to remain on top of the problem.

Continued..

For the basic user, running a Proxy and frequently checking for Spyware and Trojans on your computer will help keep you anonymous and safe. For users who want the utmost protection, you may also worry about files on your computer, and possibly files you had on your computer.

Information you accessed online could be kept in various files around your PC. This could include your Cache and Cookie files. Or, you could have downloaded a file that you don’t want anyone knowing you had, such as my Resume, or porn. If you delete a file, meaning that you emptied your recycle bin, you cannot consider it truly gone at that point. After a file is deleted, it actually sits on the hard drive until another file/s overwrite it.

Both the Anonymizer and Steganos programs come in handy at this point, because they both give you the option to obliterate any data that you acquired while online. Anonymizer for instance, gives you the option to use a Firefox plugin to make things even easier. After you are done viewing whatever you wish, you can use the built-in Digital Shredder to make sure that the Cache, Cookies and History will be completely removed. You may also want to make sure that your Paging file is cleaned, or removed, since it holds various data that could include things in question. In Windows XP, you can remove a paging file by right-clicking on your “My Computer” and going into the properties. Hit up the Advanced tab, and then Performance options. Click on the Advanced tab, then “Change” to edit your virtual memory. Click no Paging file and then close it. You will want to re-enable your paging afterwards though, for system stability.

As for files that you have downloaded, then deleted… this can be more time consuming. It may surprise you how easy it can be to get deleted data back. As an example, I once had a harddrive with two Partitions, a Linux and NTFS. I wanted to start fresh, so I re-partitioned the entire drive, and format c: /u to wipe everything clean. Afterwards, I realized that There was a directory I needed, but was stupid enough to not back up. Using some recovery software, I ended up getting all the info back. This was after a couple re-partitions, and even a format.

Now that we cleared that up.. there are a couple ways to make sure the data is gone, and gone for good. To put it simple, you will need a utility that’s used to write zero’s back to the harddrive, or make the free space areas just as they were before the drive was ever used. There are numerous programs used to do this, each with various methods to perform the task. Stegano’s Internet Anonym is one program that does come with these capabilities.

One program I’ve always used for this, is Webroot’s Windows Washer. Like the others, it gives you four primary levels of free space washing. The quickest way is to allow it to overwrite all your free space once, which is fast but not the most secure. Then there is the DOD (Department of Defense) 5223-22M method, which overwrites all the free space 3 times, which is certainly efficient for most people.

For the utmost degree of free space washing though, you could choose the NSA method which performs the wash 7 times, or the extreme Guttman method, which overwrites all the free space an amazing 35 times. The only way to better make sure the data is gone, would be to burn the HDD to a crisp with thermite. Not recommended!

Lastly, but certainly not least

In this article, we delved into rather easy ways to help protect your identity online. If you didn’t know much about internet anonymity before, hopefully this article helped you learn more about it. In truth, there are many more ways that you can help keep anonymous, but we definitely touched the bases here.

As earlier mentioned, in the coming days you can except a review of both Anonymizer 2005 and Stegano’s Internet Anonym 7.1, in a versus style article. In the future, I would like to continue the subject on internet anonymity, and get into even more ways to keep so anonymous, that you yourself will forget who you are!

Whether you hated or enjoyed the article, please feel free to give me a shout and let me know what you thought. All of the programs and websites I mentioned in the review are ones I’ve grown accustomed to. I am sure there are more out there that even I am unaware of. If I didn’t give a mention of a product or website that you think I should have, let me know and I’ll look into it!

If you have something to say, feel free to leave your comment in our RELATED THREAD! Questions and suggestions are welcomed!

Below are a bunch of resources that you may find valuable in your search for internet anonymity.

Proxy Services and Info:

Windows Applications:

Other Services:

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