As every moment of our lives becomes more connected and more public, many people find it disturbing that companies and websites track your online activities, save that information, and use it for a variety of purposes or sell it to other corporations.
The more mundane uses of this information include increasing sales through the practice of targeted advertising campaigns.
However, online information gathered by companies has also been used to impact employment decisions and determine whether or not someone should be covered by insurance. In the worst cases, it is used for blackmail. Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise you that maintaining anonymity online is very important to a lot of people.
That said, achieving online privacy cannot be done via one single strategy. The best way to achieve it is by using multiple strategies to keep your identity, surfing habits, and personal information private. Privacy online is complicated and isn’t accomplished in the flip of a switch. You must use these strategies every time you go online to ensure the highest levels of privacy.
1. Use Anonymous Browsers
First and foremost, you should select a browser that does not collect your information or store your online browsing history. Although there are many options, these three browsers offer the most in terms of ease of use and privacy.
Because it disallows third-party cookies and does not save your search history, Epic is effective in keeping sites from tracking your data. Also, it does not pre-fetch DNS information, which is one way other browsers, such as Chrome, pre-load links you might follow. For instance, if you conduct an online search, the links to the search results are pre-loaded and ready to deliver to you should you follow a link. This pre-loading helps deliver faster page loads because the information is already cached, but it also helps keep a record of pages that were both pre-loaded and delivered.
Comodo blocks all tracking cookies and web spies, and it also differentiates between strong and weak SSL certificates. Finally, it is hardwired into its very own anti-virus software suite, helping to protect you against malware.
Because of its ability to maintain online privacy, Tor is favored by the US military as it provides almost iron-clad protection against third-party spying and tracking. Although there is some evidence that government agencies can track you when you use Tor, other websites won’t be able to.
Tor accomplishes this level of privacy by encrypting information and routing it to the final destination via multiple “distraction” destinations. Anyone snooping on your online habits will only be able to determine that you visited the first distraction destination. They cannot tell where you went after you left the first distraction destination.
Since your requests are routed through multiple network locations, your browsing is protected by multiple layers of security. Someone monitoring you may be able to determine that you’re using Tor, but will not be able to see what you’re using it for.
In terms of ease of use, Tor has a slider that you can use to increase the privacy of your browsing, making it very user friendly. That said, it can be slow because it is bouncing your internet pathway all over the place.
2. Use Incognito/Private Browsing Modes
If you are not using Tor, whenever you browse, you should use incognito mode, which turns off the browser’s ability to record your online activity. Incognito Mode is not a perfect solution to keep your browsing private. Websites will still be able to track you, but cookies and your history won’t be stored in your browser.
3. Use Private Search Engines
Whenever you search online, you should use a search engine that does not track or store your IP address and search activities. These search engines include the following:
4. Hide Your IP Address
Your IP address is recorded any time you visit a site, comment on someone’s Facebook posting, or download a file. For someone trying to uncover your identity, having your IP address allows them to narrow the location to a fairly specific geographic location. It also lets anyone see the internet service provider you are using. Basically, with your IP address, someone can identify you more easily because they can determine where you’re located.
One way to hide your IP address is to use a proxy service. A proxy service swaps your IP address for another one. Consequently, when you visit a site, the site records this incorrect IP, which will give any inquisitive people a vastly different geo-location for you.
Depending on the proxy services, however, your actual IP address might be stored. HMA! Proxy is one proxy service that does not store you IP address.
HMA! is one of the oldest proxy services. It is owned by Avast Security, and it offers both free and paid plans.
Read More: HideMyAss! VPN Review
5. Use a VPN
VPN stands for virtual private network, and it is a professional-grade proxy service that hides your IP from potential data thieves. Most VPNs offer paid plans for a few bucks per month that provide you IP cloaking and some level of anonymity. Others include the following.
The difference between professional VPN services does not come down to security so much as it comes down to browsing speed and monthly subscription price. For best speeds, you should find one with servers in your country. Additionally, you should know that depending on your country’s laws, a VPN service might keep records of your surfing practices and provide that information to law enforcement if presented with a warrant or subpoena.
6. Don’t Use Repeat Usernames
Basic tactics to hide your identity include never using the same usernames across websites. This may seem like a hassle, but if you use unique passwords and a password manager, the process is easy.
If you use the same username across websites, you leave a track for people to follow. Additionally, you leave clues about your interests and personality that can later be used to identify you.
Eventually, once you use a username in a non-secure browser, that username can likely be associated with an IP address, and now that username is associated with a very specific region, which could help someone zero in on where you live and who you are.
7. Protect Your Actual Offline Identity
Finding out someone’s real identity might be difficult. However, if someone can break into your e-mail, they can discover your identity along with your entire network of contacts.
To prevent this, you should use long, random passwords to prevent unauthorized access to your e-mail. Your email is one of your most important accounts because if someone accesses that account they can use it to reset all of your other passwords. You should also use two-step verification, so if someone does bypass your password, he or she must also bypass your phone.
8. Use Multiple Email Accounts
Having more than one e-mail address allows you to use throwaway e-mail addresses for general use and specific ones for communicating with known contacts.
Having multiple email accounts is useful for limiting spam in your inbox and for isolating your personal account from advertisers and possible phishing attacks.
9. Avoid Unsafe Sites
Any time you are online, you should use a site adviser that lets you know if a site is safe to visit. For instance, when you search for something online, many website advisers will place a little green exclamation point in front of the results to indicate a “safe” website. If the marker is a red exclamation point, you know it is not safe. Using these tools can prevent you from visiting a site loaded with malware, which can then steal your information.
10. Private Posting Tactics
Part of the value of the internet is the connection and interaction with other people. However much of this connection is what allows for hackers and other malicious actors to access your information.
There are a number of tools you can use for sharing data on the internet without worrying about your privacy.
One tool for keeping messages private is PGP encryption. PGP stands for “Pretty Good Privacy” and is an encryption protocol for protecting the contents of email messages.
PGP has maintained its position as the “standard” for email and content-encryption for over 20 years. It works by using an encryption key that you share with your contacts. Then only the intended recipients with the key are able to view the contents of your message.
In terms of brute-force key guessing, it would take thousands of years for a hacker’s program to randomly decipher your key by inputting different variations. However, if the hacker obtains your key, it takes all of two seconds. In terms of PGP encryption, you must keep your key safe and only distribute it to known contacts.
11. Don’t Share Information That Discloses Your Location
In the same manner that someone attempting to uncover your identity can narrow in on your location with an IP address, he or she can narrow in on your location further with identifying information that you might inadvertently post on social media sites. As such, if you are concerned about online identity privacy, you should follow the following tips.
First, you should avoid posting images of yourself. Instead of posting images, share news stories. Also, if you must have a photo associated with your name, use an avatar. A photo allows someone who doesn’t know you to identify you.
Second, post “misinformation” about when and where you are travelling, where you live or where you work. Telling people that you’re on vacation can give criminals a hint that you are out of town, so they can target your home.
12. Use Anti-Malware or Anti-Virus Software
In addition to using a site adviser to advise you against insecure or unsafe sites, you should ensure you have live malware and virus protection to protect your data from being hijacked. This is a basic step in keeping your data and identity anonymous.
13. Don’t Share Your Home Address
Setting up a secondary address will provide an added layer of protection against people uncovering where you live. Once someone knows your address, they can search online and uncover the resident of that address. In the real-world, post-office boxes serve this purpose. Online, you can use an address service to generate a real-world address for you. Although this particular strategy costs a monthly fee, it is usually affordable. Additionally, a monthly fee of twenty bucks can be worth it if you are concerned about maintaining your online privacy.
14. Avoid site registrations
Sites love to gather your information. Do not provide it. It is that simple. Websites want you to register for an account, so that they can track your behavior and link it back to your profile. However, in most cases, websites offer full functionality even without logging in.
15. Never Click Anything In An E-mail…Ever.
E-mail is one of the primary ways hackers obtain your personal information. To maintain 100-percent e-mail safety, never click on links in an e-mail, especially if you don’t recognize the sender. Links can be disguised as images and other elements within an email.
16. Obtain an anonymous operating system
Sites always record your operating system. Once someone knows your operating system, they know the different types of exploits that might help them gain entrance. There are alternative operating systems you can use, which will help prevent hackers from exploiting your devices. One popular anonymous operating system is Ironkey Workspace. It provides you with a virtual machine through which you interact with the online world. Hackers that somehow gain entrance to your machine will be trapped in the virtual system.
Tails is another privacy-focused operating system. Tails boots from a USB drive and then encrypts your data and hides your IP. The US government has complained that Tails inhibits its monitoring progress. This might, of course, be misinformation, but Tails can help you maintain online anonymity.
17. Be Cautious With Browser Plugins
If you’re installing browser add-ons or extensions, be cautious about what you’re installing. There are many great browser extensions that actually help you keep your browsing private. However, there have been multiple reports of browser extensions using their broad permissions to collect users’ private information.
Although sites with HTTPS security certificates are not 100-percent secure, they are vastly more secure than HTTP sites. Do not make it easy for hackers to obtain your identity. Avoid sites that don’t use SSL encryption (HTTPS) and never input payment information into these sites. Any information entered into a form on a non-secure website, can be collected by someone monitoring your network.
19. Forego Credit Cards
Credit purchases leave trails of activity and identifying information that can be stolen. Millions of people have been affected by hacks or data breaches into large corporations that haven’t kept users’ payment information secure.
You can either use “virtual” credit cards from Privacy.com, or use cryptocurrencies on sites that support it. These will help keep you protected in the event that the site you purchased from gets hacked.