How To Obtain Online Anonymity
How To Achieve Online Freedom In An Unfree World
So much of what we do online is constantly being tracked, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe you can’t be 100% anonymous all the time on the internet, but there are a lot of different tools and practices you can use that will help you keep a low profile online, and it doesn’t take a computer expert to do it. In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the best things you can do to stay anonymous online so you can enjoy a little more digital privacy.
Learning How You’re Tracked Online
Be aware of what your ISP can track. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the service you use to connect to the internet. When your modem or router makes a connection to the internet, it is assigned an IP address—this address is trackable to your account. This means that at the very least, anyone who can see your IP address can identify your ISP. If you do something illegal from this IP address, a government jurisdiction (such as the local police or even the FBI) can serve a subpoena to your ISP to find out who was using that IP address at that time, and what sites and services were accessed. Some other things that your ISP can identify based on your IP address:
- Website content: If you visit https:///www.wikiHow.com while connected to the internet, your ISP logs that domain name. In theory, they can tell how often you visit wikiHow, what you downloaded (if anything), and how long you spend on the website. Although they can find this information, they won’t be watching unless they are serviced with a subpoena that requires them to do so. If you frequently visit websites that focus on illegal content, your activity may be flagged by your ISP.
- Your MAC address: A Media Access Control (MAC) address is an address assigned specifically to your computer’s Wi-Fi or network card. Your ISP can determine which MAC address on your network was used with an IP address at a specific time—this means that if you’re on your school, work, or home network, the network administrator can identify the sites and services used by your computer.
- Port numbers: If you make connections to (or receive connections on) certain port numbers, your ISP can often determine what kind of services you’re using, such as browsing the web (usually ports 443 and 80) or sending emails (usually ports 25, 587, 587, or 465).
- Your VPN service: If you use a VPN on top of your internet connection to hide what you’re doing online, your ISP can see which VPN you’re using and when you connected. They cannot, however, see exactly what you’re doing on the VPN.
Find out what websites can learn about you. Most websites make money by displaying ads. To successfully get visitors to click (and make purchases from) ads, site owners and ad networks need to know what your interests are and how you use the internet so they can show you relevant ads. Websites collect data by installing tracking cookies on your computer, which can tell them what other sites you visit, your location, the browser and operating system you’re using, how long you spend on their site, which links you’ve clinked, whether you’re signed in to certain social media sites like Facebook, what you search for, and even your laptop’s battery level. All of this occurs automatically when visiting sites doing this data mining, without you noticing.
- To get an idea of what a website can learn about you just by visiting it once, check out https://webkay.robinlinus.com. As soon as you load the page, you’ll see some startling information.
- Not all cookies are bad. In fact, it’s important to allow some cookies. Cookies are used to store pieces of data on your computer to make your browsing experience easier. For example, cookies make it possible to sign in to accounts that require passwords, add items to shopping carts, and more. However, some cookies, called “tracking cookies” or “third-party cookies” are meant to track your activity on all websites, just not the one you’re visiting.
- Google plans to ban all third-party tracking cookies from the Chrome web browser by 2022.
- 3Know your wireless access point. Do you connect to public Wi-Fi access points, such as those in cafes? How about at your friends’ homes? The reality is that any time you connect to public Wi-Fi (or a Wi-Fi access point that you don’t manage yourself), there’s a possibility someone is actively snooping your data. If a malicious user has access to the public Wi-Fi access point, connecting your computer, phone, tablet, or smartwatch to that wireless network can see almost everything you do while signed in—including entering your passwords, viewing your banking data, and finding out your contact info.
Using Anonymity Tools and Practices
Install privacy-protecting browser add-ons/extensions. If you want to avoid being tracked on the web, there are a variety of tools you can install through your web browser:
- HTTPS Everywhere: This browser extension ensures that you’re always visiting the encrypted (https) version of a website. You can get it for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera web browsers. It comes pre-installed in more security-focused web browsers like Brave and Tor.
- Privacy Badger: This tool, designed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) blocks third-party tracking cookies so advertising services and websites can’t keep tracking you once you leave their pages. You can get Privacy Badger for Firefox, Edge, and Opera web browsers.
- Ghostery: This is another tool similar to Privacy Badger that blocks third-party tracking cookies. It also blocks ads and allows you to customize your blocking preferences. Available for Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Opera.
Replace your web browser with Tor. The Tor web browser routes all of your traffic through its own network, making your web browsing virtually anonymous. When you browse through Tor, it’s very difficult (not impossible, but close) for your ISP, a network administrator, or a Wi-Fi hacker to see the websites you visit or the sites you sign in to.
- Never download Tor from anywhere other than https://www.torproject.org.
- If you don’t want your ISP to know that you browse with Tor, you’ll need to use it over a VPN.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts everything you do on the internet, keeping you essentially anonymous on the internet. The general rule is that if you’re using a solid VPN service, all of your internet activity will remain private. Using a VPN also prevents your ISP from seeing what you’re doing online. However, many VPN servers do keep logs of your activities and can be subpoenaed in the event you’re suspected of a crime.
- Although your ISP or other people on your local network can’t see what you’re doing when you’re connected to a VPN, the VPN provider can. Unfortunately, there’s no sure way to verify that a VPN provider doesn’t log what you do on their service. Research VPNs thoroughly before selecting one.
- 4Spoof your MAC address. Your MAC address is the hardware address that identifies your computer to your router. Every time you connect to a network, your MAC address broadcasts itself to announce your presence. You can use a fake MAC address to anonymize your activity on the network. However, websites you visit and sign into will still be visible to your ISP and network administrators, although you can use a VPN as another layer of protection.
Browse from a public Wi-Fi access point (with exception). To stay truly anonymous, your connection to the internet should not involve your ISP. That’s where public Wi-Fi services come in. However, it’s super important that you not pass any personal information over one of these networks that you don’t want others to see.
- Do not connect to a public access point if you need to do something private pertaining to your own identity, such as banking or dealing with social security numbers. Even if you see that there’s an open network available, make sure you know it’s the legitimate one for the location. Hackers often set up Wi-Fi networks that look similar to existing ones specifically to steal data. Even if the wireless network is legit, someone shady may be running a tool that can sniff all active traffic.
- A good quadruple-whammy solution would be to spoof your IP address, connect to public Wi-Fi, connect to a VPN, and then browse through TOR.
- 6Try your browser’s private mode. If you’re worried about people finding out what you do on a shared computer, browse in your web browser’s private or incognito mode. Nearly all web browsers come with a built-in browsing mode that prevents your web browsing history and cache from saving to your computer. Chrome allows you to open a new “Incognito” window, Safari and Firefox allow you to open “Private” windows, and Edge calls their private mode “In Private.”
Use a throwaway email or a privacy friendly email provider to register for sites.Make sure that the email address you create does not contain any personal information, and is not tied to any accounts that store your personal information. Email providers claiming being secure and privacy-friendly are ProtonMail, Tutanota, etc.
- QuestionHow do I become impossible to trace? I want to become 100% anonymous.Community AnswerProbably by using Tor or a VPN and all fake usernames. The VPN will say you’re from another country.
- QuestionHow can I prevent hackers?Community AnswerUsually, most websites track your history and stuff to better service you. They also know your IP address, so the best way to be anonymous is to do activity on a separate account that doesn’t have any important information. That way, when a hacker does try to hack, he/she will not find anything important.
- QuestionHow do I know which VPN service is the best to use?Community AnswerThey all have the same task. But if you want a cheap and fast VPN, I suggest using NordVPN. It’s impossible to find a free 24/7 VPN.
- QuestionWill following all the steps without changing my system time get me caught?Community AnswerNot at all. Unless you are sharing screenshots online, nobody will be able to see your system time, not even websites. However, if you are sharing screenshots, it is suggested that you set your time forward or backward to match where you’re supposed to be at least temporarily to take the picture.
- QuestionThis article mentions not sending privacy data (i.e. banking) over a public Wi-Fi. Does that include if you’re using a VPN? Does this mean I shouldn’t use public Wi-Fi on travel, even with a VPN?Community AnswerVPNs let you use the internet in full privacy by creating a private network only you have access to. So, you can send banking information using public Wi-Fi.
No matter how much you cover your tracks, there is always some information that can potentially be used to profile and potentially identify you. The goal of using anonymity tools is to reduce the amount of information available, but due to the nature of the internet, you cannot ever be truly anonymous.
When browsing online, you have to make the choice between convenience and anonymity. It’s not exactly easy to stay anonymous online, and requires a significant amount of conscious effort. You’ll face much slower connections when browsing websites, and you’ll have to jump through more hoops before you even go online. If your anonymity is important to you, be prepared to make some sacrifices.Video