The internet has opened up the world and made it possible for people to communicate across vast distances at the touch of a button. However, web surfers still need to be careful when going online because there are many dangers present in the cyber world.
There are various tools and techniques that can be used to secure your privacy when on the web, they allow you to stay silent, invisible and anonymous so that cyber-stalkers and other unauthorized parties don’t gain access to your information.
Reasons why you should surf the internet anonymously
a) Bypassing Geo-restrictions
It allows you to consume your favorite content from anywhere and at any given time. This freedom is necessary for bypassing geo-restrictions and censorships that may otherwise affect an IP address.
b) Protects from ransomware and cyberbullying
The internet can be a dangerous place if you fall victim to ransomware software, a program that can lock up your device and require certain payment before accessing your private data stored in the computer. However, with anonymous browsing, criminals won’t be able to track your IP and hence send such malicious software to you.
Additionally, it protects from cases of cyberbullying that has even led some people to commit suicide in a bid to escape their troubles. Other individuals have also been stalked over the web and had their identities stolen, or implicated in crimes that they didn’t participate in.
c) Internet surveillance by governmental bodies is now a fact
After Ed Snowden came forward, it is now obvious that governments are tracking our every move. You don’t have to be on the FBI’s most wanted list to get the attention of the NSA, and it is possibly even worse in other countries with (even) less regard to human rights. The NSA (or equivalent of, in foreign countries) can access your phone records, your internet connection (probably, they can do that even if you use a VPN), your phone records, your CCTV cameras and it is probable that they also take samples of your DNA from genetic home testing.
Common methods used to surf the web safe and anonymously
1. Using a VPN
Though you have to pay for this protection, it’s still by far the best possible option for securing your privacy. A VPN (or virtual private network) works by encrypting all data that you send over the internet, thus making it invisible from other third parties. Moreover, some VPN services come with other advanced security features such as Anti-virus, NAT Firewall, military-grade encryption and Web Kill Switch thus making it the most ideal tool for internet privacy and security.
How it works:
You can connect to a VPN server by activating the VPN client on your computer. After logging in using your credentials, the PC will immediately start exchanging trusted keys with another far away server that provides the service. The two computers shall then verify the authenticity of each other, before your internet connection is finally encrypted and safeguarded from eavesdropping.
Generally, subscription VPN providers are recommended over their free service counterparts since they take your security more seriously. Most of them offer a variety of competent features, connectivity protocols, server location and good pricing packages.
Additionally, it’s unusual for subscription VPN companies to show ads on your computer which may carry malware, plus they usually provide free trials so that you can test out the service before subscribing.
2. Using incognito mode on browsers
Incognito browsing involves utilizing proxy servers and firewalls to prevent other people from viewing your online activities, especially those who may have access to the current computer or mobile device that you are using. Most browsers provide users with a way to browse privately without leaving any history or traces of private data like cache and cookies behind after your surfing session.
Tips for Activating Incognito Surfing On Popular Browsers:
The techniques used for activating incognito browsing may differ from one browser or operating system to another. In Google Chrome, this can be achieved by making use of the Incognito Mode button which prevents your hard-drive from saving private data and history.
Start by clicking the main Chrome menu button which is found in the upper right corner and has 3 vertically aligned dots. Next, choose New Incognito Widow in the available drop-down menu, plus if you prefer it’s also possible to use the keyboard short Command+Shift+N on Mac and Ctrl+Shift+N on Windows.
As for Mozilla Firefox, Incognito Browsing involves activating the Private Browsing mode whereby sensitive items such as cookies and download history aren’t recorded locally. Launching Private Browsing in Firefox is a pretty simple process whether you are using a Mac, Linux or Windows computer. Simply click on the Firefox menu at the top right corner of your browser window, followed by the New Private Window button for launching Private Browsing mode.
For mobile browsers, you can check a detailed guide with pictures here:
Why is it good?
When in public spaces such as a library and you need to use a computer, it’s wise to turn on incognito mode in your browser so as to be safe from other people who may use the same computer after you.
Furthermore, this form of browsing can help you circumvent paywalls very easily. For instance, if you frequently visit a site that provides a limited amount of free articles each month but again turns around to ask you for subscription fee one day, you can launch incognito mode to get past the paywall.
3. Delete cookies and your browsing history
Cookies are small pieces of data from a site that are kept in your browser when visiting a website. Each time you visit that website, the browser automatically sends a cookie back to the site’s admin with all your info from the previous visit.
For this reason, it’s recommendable to clear your cookies after visiting any new site. Similarly, if you are having a hard time logging into a website, your account isn’t loading properly or there’s an error, try clearing the cache and ensure that you can see the latest info. Typically, browser cache is overwritten after reaching a certain amount, but may still store data about your browsing history until it’s manually cleared. Here is a post where we wrote how you can disable cookies in all browsers.[su_panel]
Reasons why you should delete cookies and browser history:
a) Having bugs when trying to visit a website
Files stored in a cache highlight a tiny fraction of a website or page at a given time period. These saved programs can be problematic if the site’s admin launches a new update or feature that interrupts the site’s normal functioning. Bugs can then ensue that may affect your online security, which is why it’s important to clear cache regularly so as to access the latest or most updated versions of a website.
b) You revised your login credentials
If you recently changed your passwords, it can be a problem if the cookies aren’t adequately cleared as this may prevent a site from successfully authenticating you for their service, which may ultimately cause security risks on your browsing experience. Removing cookies and creating a new one with restructured login credentials will help solve this issue.[/su_panel]
4. Use Privacy Badger
Privacy Badger is an add-on used by browsers to stop online promoters and other unknown trackers from secretly accessing your online information. For instance, if an advertiser is constantly tracking your digital footprints across multiple sites without your consent, the app will automatically block them from loading any new data in your web browser for maximum anonymity.
How it works
When viewing a website, the page will often consist of content from multiple sources. Some of these sources may secretly track your browser on different websites, but Privacy Badger can instead tell your browser to avoid loading any more information from that particular source. This means it can no longer track you.
The main benefit of Privacy Badger is that it functions very well without any prior settings, knowledge or configuration required by the user. This app is different from other similar products like Ghostery, Disconnect and Adblock Plus which require some personal configurations before blocking the non-consensual trackers.
Through its rigorous algorithmic and policy techniques for detecting and avoiding 3rd party trackers, Private Badger’s code base is so effective that it may eventually be adopted by mainstream browsers. It gives users total control over who can access their online data.
5. Use a search engine that doesn’t track your behavior (DuckDuckGo)
DuckDuckGo is a new internet privacy search engine that allows you to effortlessly take control over your personal data online, without having to pay or tradeoff anything in exchange. Also known as DDG, it stresses on protecting searchers’ privacy as well as preventing the filter bubble of custom search results.
Unlike other search engines, DuckDuckGo doesn’t seek to profit from users by deliberately showing all of them the same results for a specific search.
a) Has a Privacy Grade icon that tells you how trustworthy a site is before and after their Privacy Protection is added.
b) Avoid advertising trackers. The app has a tracker blocker that stops promoters from tracking you on the websites that you visit.
c) Smart encryption. DDG requires sites to use encrypted connections whenever possible, so as to protect your private data from unauthorized persons.
6. Turn off your location
Occasionally, you may discover that the site you are visiting online with a proxy server can still identify your actual location. If you want to remain anonymous, simply turn off the location tag on your browser.
Most Smartphone operating systems, apps and browsers are equipped with tools for allowing or blocking location services. However, there are other more advanced ways that you can hide your location if this is not very effective, they include:
a) Installing anti-tracking software
Certain software services like Ghostery allow you to block all manner of tracking software using just a single dashboard, it will let you know which tracking services are running on the websites you visit so that appropriate security action can be taken.
7. Use Tor browser
Tor is an anonymous browsing network run by volunteers across the world. Each individual operates what’s known as a relay, or a computer that is connected to others on the same system. Before opening the internet for you, Tor browser will connect to multiple other relays thus wiping your digital tracks at each step. This makes it difficult for anyone to determine your identity and where you are.
How to use it
The simplest way to use Tor is by downloading the Tor Browser that will connect you to the network. Upon downloading the installer, you can directly set up the software or check the installation folder’s GPG signature first. Most people prefer checking the installation file to ensure they have downloaded the appropriate version of the browser, not an application that has already been compromised.
8. Use websites with HTTPS
The last ‘S’ on HTTPS is an abbreviation meaning Secure. It simply means all communications between your web browser and site are encrypted. Typically, the protocol is used to protect confidential online transactions such as digital banking and virtual shopping order forms.
HTTPS uses either of two protocols to encrypt online communications, these are Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Both of them make use of an ‘asymmetric’ Public Key Infrastructure technology, whereby any data encrypted using the public key can only be decoded using a private key and contrariwise. The main benefit of a HTTPS certificate is that private user information is encrypted and therefore can’t be intercepted.
9. Use strong and different passwords for your accounts
Passwords are very important in protecting your personal documents and sensitive information from cyber attacks. They act as the primary line of defense against incursions from cybercriminals and curious onlookers.
When setting up a password, ensure that it’s something no one can easily guess such as your name or birthday. Generally, a strong password should have a combination of numbers, punctuation, letters and capitalization that are easy to remember by you alone. For instance, ‘Tci4m0pu!’ is a good password that represents a phrase which you can easily remember and it means ‘This computer is 4 my own private use!’. Or you can simply use a password generator like Passwordsgenerator.net which can help you create very strong passwords with up to 2048 characters. But most of the times, a 16 characters password is enough.