If you wish to conceal your identity in real life, you need only to shove a paper bag over your head and alter your voice. Voilà, instant anonymity! But it’s not as easy to lurk in the shadows online—a savvy surfer can dig up all kinds of information about you, from your name and address to your social security number. And it doesn’t take a sophisticated stalker to track you down; chances are, you’ve left behind a trail even a first-year Boy Scout could follow. But fear not, today you’ll earn your anonymity merit badge from the Maximum PC Den, Pack 1337.
What You Need
In the online world, a web proxy acts as your Internet agent and requests information from websites on your behalf. The website in turn communicates with the proxy, which then passes the information back to you. Meanwhile, your IP address stays concealed and the website has no idea how to get in contact with you directly.
The easiest way to run with a proxy is through one of the many free websites offering anonymous web surfing. There’s no setup involved, and they all run right from your browser. But be warned: This convenience comes at the expense of speed, and not all websites play nice with proxies. Plus, if you choose a proxy at random, you could fall prey to a site designed to steal your information, not protect it. All proxy sites carry this risk, but Proxify (free, http://proxify.com/) has a good reputation, and its registration information matches a Whois lookup, providing a level of reassurance.
Head over to Proxify and simply enter the web address of the site you want to view in the text box. Proxify also lets you select from three preconfigured options tailored toward maximum speed, security, or compatibility. If you think you can do better yourself, you can manually tweak the settings, opting to remove cookies, ads, scripts, and referrer information, or select any combination that best suits your surfing habits. You can verify that the proxy’s working its cloaking mojo by visiting www.whatismyipaddress.com and making sure it’s not broadcasting your real IP address.
Using a free online anonymizer can be a boon when you want to surf stealthily without any setup hassles, but you sacrifice speed and functionality. Some services impose a steady stream of advertising, and almost all of them throttle your connection speed or refuse to work during peak usage. Subscriptions are available, but why pay a fee when you can manually configure your browser to hide your identity for free?
To get a list of available proxies, navigate to http://tinyurl.com/p0pj. Here, you can sort proxies by various criteria, but pay special attention to the IP details, which include information about HTTPS (SSL) support and uptime percentages. It’s possible for a hacker to set up a proxy as a trap, so treat these IPs as anonymous connections—not secure ones on which you’d enter bank account or other personal information.
With the IP address and port in hand, Internet Explorer users should click Tools and select Internet Options. In the Connections tab, click the LAN settings button. Check both boxes under the Proxy server heading, input the IP address and port you just recorded, and save your settings.
|Both Firefox and IE7 make it easy to configure yourbrowser to use a proxy, but you may need to periodically change the IP address if the server goes offline.|
If you’re running Firefox, click Tools and select Options. Click the Advanced icon, select the Network tab, and click Settings. Highlight the Manual Proxy Configuration radio button and input the IP address and port. Before exiting, be sure to check the box that reads “Use this proxy server for all protocols.”
We’re going to throw more adept stalkers off our trail by traveling on the Tor network. Rather than going directly from point A to point B, page requests made over the Tor network are randomly tunneled through a series of nodes before reaching their final destination, making it difficult to track you. But concealing your trail is only the beginning. Your data packets are encrypted along the way, and each relay point only knows where the packets just came from, not where they originated from. Furthermore, each relay point receives a different encryption key, so your data remains secure up until the exit node. If you’re worried someone might be snooping at the exit node, only use the Tor network for sites with end-to-end encryption, which start with https://.
|With no installation routine, you can take xB Browser with you on your USB key and surf anonymously whiile on the go!|
To travel the Tor network, you must download a preconfigured browser. Formerly known as Torpark, the xB Browser (http://xerobank.com/) is built around Firefox 2.0 and requires no installation, which means you can also run it from your USB key. Just fire up the browser and start surfing. Because you’re hopping from node to node all around the world, traversing the Tor network can be slow, so when you don’t need anonymous access, click the onion icon to toggle it off.
No matter how secure you’ve configured your PC, anonymity goes straight out the window if you slap an identifiable ID badge across your online forehead, nullifying everything you did in the previous steps.
When registering for a message board or an anonymous email address, be more creative than jHall73FL. Right off the bat you’ve broadcast your last name, age, and state of residence and that your first name begins with the letter J. The only thing worse at this point would be to list your home phone and social security number in your profile. Instead, pick a nickname that’s not personally identifiable to you. If you’re a female looking to fly under the radar, make no indication of your sex. Choosing HottieGamerGrl is a surefire way to invite unwanted solicitations and encourage stalkers.
Use different nicks and emails for different sites too, making it difficult for snoops to track your online activity. If you use the same alias everywhere you go, Google will rat you out to anyone willing to listen. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you’re posting on several message boards that would only be of interest to people living in a particular area, you’re essentially giving out your location.
It’s not just online stalkers you need to be worried about, but offline ones too. Now that you’ve secured your surfing habits, it’s time to hone your browser housekeeping habits to keep nosy Nellies from spying on your online activity. Get in the habit of clearing your browser’s cache and cookies. If you’re running IE7, select Delete Browsing History from the Tools menu and click Delete All. In Firefox, click Tools, select Clear Private Data, and check each box. Firefox users can also install the Stealther extension (http://tinyurl.com/2pr8zs), giving you the option of disabling browsing history, cookies, and more.