How To Make Yourself Anonymous Online
8 Easy Ways to Stay Anonymous Online | PCMag
Some might say the internet was built on anonymity, paving the way for a place where free speech reigns supreme. But after years of learning about who’s snooping into everything we do online, privacy on the web is hardly a ‘s not just about government spying; it’s also about how much data big companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have collected in order to serve up targeted ads—not to mention how much of your personal data gets scooped up in all the breaches and are always going to be good reasons for people to go online without being tracked. For one, anonymity may be the only way for a real whistleblower to reveal corruption, considering how some have been treated. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay anonymous, no matter what you’re it even possible to take control of your own personal privacy online? Ultimately, the only way to stay truly anonymous online to go online at all. That’s not a real option for most of us, though. Here’s a rundown of what you can do to minimize spying, targeted ads, and ID theft as you explore the online world Your SystemPhone Call ConfidentialityIf you want to be anonymous, forget about using a smartphone. The big-name mobile OS makers are control freaks (Apple) and ad servers (Google). To be anonymous when you use a phone, your choice is a prepaid phone, aka a with a burner, call records exist, so your location can still be triangulated via GPS and tower locations. As you’ve seen in movies, though, you can always throw the phone into a passing truck and lead whoever might be tracking you on a wild goose chase. The upside of a burner is that your real name isn’t associated with the when you already own an expensive smartphone, buying more hardware is painful. Thankfully, there are apps aplenty to get you temporary, anonymous numbers you can use with Android or iOS. (One of those apps is named, aptly, Burner. )Light That FirewallIs your desktop or laptop computer connected directly to a broadband modem? That’s a very bad idea. Hackers are constantly bombarding IP addresses to see if they can get onto a should always have a router on your home network that can mitigate attempted hacks with its built-in firewall. A router uses network address translation (NAT) to assign an IP address to every device on your home network: those are then only visible on that network. Direct attacks can sometimes be stopped dead right there. You need the router anyway, for sharing the internet connection and Wi-Fi. Even a router that comes integrated into the modem—the kind you get from your ISP—is better than no router at could also use firewall software that’s installed on your PC. Windows 10 comes with a pretty decent solution called—you guessed it—Windows Firewall. You can also find firewalls as part of security suites. But as PCMag’s Lead Analyst for Security, Neil J. Rubenking, explains, you don’t really need another firewall if you use the one that ships with real anonymity based on your OS, stop using Windows or macOS on the desktop and move to a Linux distro that specializes in all forms of keeping you secret. Your best bet is Tails: The Amnesic Incognito Live Your Own StealthWhat does your computer (or tablet or smartphone, for that matter) give away about you when you visit websites? At the very least, a site knows your IP address (and that’s necessary; otherwise you’d get no results) most cases, it also knows your approximate physical location (by checking where your ISP supplies those IP addresses; see it in action at IPLocation) and probably your time zone and which language you speak—all good info for advertisers. Your browser can also offer up your operating system, browser type, and which versions of software you run for browser plug-ins. It even reports on the fonts you have installed. All this gives your system a unique fingerprint. And as anyone who’s watched Law & Order knows, a unique fingerprint is sometimes all it takes to track you.
If you don’t believe it, visit MyBrowserInfo or for a full report. Then check out the EFF’s Cover Your Tracks tool to see how well your browser and VPN are protecting you. You can use browser extensions in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge to enhance your privacy. The EFF has its own Privacy Badger to monitors sites that monitor you. The Ghostery browser extension blocks all sorts of trackers and advertising on almost all browsers. The DuckDuckGo search engine for privacy also has a similar extension, called Privacy ‘s more, even if you’ve got a VPN—virtual private network—running, as you should (see below), it could be leaking. Here’s how to get yourself back into stealth Surfing
(Illustration: Vik Kay/Shutterstock)
To summarize, using stealth modes, special browsers, and private search engines won’t make you completely anonymous. But they prevent sites from writing info to your computer, including cookies, which can be used to figure out your browsing oxies and VPNs and Tor, Oh MyThe way to ensure outsiders don’t gather information about you while you’re browsing the web is to appear to be someone else in a different location. This requires a proxy server or a virtual private network (VPN) connection—or even better, both. With the right combo, you can not only be anonymous but also surf sites in other countries as though you’re a native. A proxy server—a computer system or router that functions as a relay between client and server—isn’t for newbies, but FoxyProxy can get you started. It works with the major browsers and offers proxy services and VPN services are everywhere. They have the advantage of securing the traffic between your computer and servers and masking your IP address and location. For example, by connecting through my work VPN, sites I visit believe I’m at corporate HQ, although I work from home.
VPNs also double as a way to get access to location-blocked content. If you’re in a country that can’t get the BBC iPlayer or Netflix, for example, a VPN could be your ticket. Netflix, for one, is cracking down on this tactic when it discussion of anonymity online is complete without mentioning Tor. The name comes from once being the acronym for “the onion router”—a metaphor for many layers of is a free network of tunnels for routing web requests and page downloads. It’s not the same as a VPN but might be even more secure for masking your identity. Tor’s supposed to make it impossible for a site you’re visiting to figure out who you are—but does it?
The National Security Agency’s spying controversy leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 included what some thought was a workaround to identify users of Tor. But it wasn’t that simple. As explained by security expert Bruce Schneier in The Guardian, the NSA actually monitors what’s called the Tor “exit nodes”—the agency could tell users were using Tor but not who the users were. The NSA set up a “man in the middle” attack, pretending to be the site the user wanted (Google, for example), and could send data back to the user that would take advantage of exploitable holes in the browser—not a hole in lesson there: Keep your browsers up to date, or use one of the previously noted anonymizing which company also offers an anonymizing browser? Tor has a browser bundle for Windows (run it off a flash drive to take with you), macOS, or Linux; it’s available in 16 languages. There’s also a Tor Browser for Android devices; iOS users can try the third-party VPN + TOR Browser and Ad Block is not entirely foolproof—the theory is you could still be tracked by someone skilled enough (even if they can’t read what you send). The list of potential Tor weaknesses is long.
A newish browser with a built-in search engine is trying to take some of Tor’s privacy thunder—an open-source project called Brave. As a free download, it’s worth a try, but Brave has already had some issues and is branching into cryptocurrency to change the game on how websites make you’re sensing a trend in that no software can keep you 100% anonymous, you’re paying attention. But these steps are all like a lock on a door: Sure, someone could kick it in—but why make it easy by leaving the door open? Anonymous EmailAs nice as it is to remain perfectly private as you surf, it may be even more essential for your email to be anonymous, to avoid spam or surveillance. The problem is that email simply wasn’t built with security in mind.
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Secure email services exist, of course. They use encryption to scramble what you send and require the recipient to have a password to decrypt your message. Edward Snowden used a webmail service known as Lavabit, which was so secure the government insisted that it hand over the private keys of users. Lavabit, to its credit, immediately shut down to protect its customers. Later, it returned with even more user-forward security features. So be aware that such a service can be compromised. Most will not die to protect you want a Webmail service that’s going to handle encrypted messages, the best we’ve seen is the free PreVeil, which offers secure cloud storage as well as weapons-grade encryption, and it’s easy to use. For more options, read The Best Email Encryption Services and How to Create an Anonymous Email Account.
You might think your Gmail account is safe, since you see that lock icon on the browser and access it with a secure sockets layer (SSL) connection (indicated by in the URL). But SSL only encrypts data as it’s transferred from your device to the is always going to be a problem with web-based services. Some services can provide encryption for those types of email: Virtru is one that’s specific to Gmail running on Chrome. Mailvelope is an extension (for Chrome, Edge, and Firefox) that will secure Gmail,, Yahoo Mail, and more. FlowCrypt is rhaps the smart move is to eschew web-based mail and stick with desktop client software. Outlook 2007 and later has built-in encryption tools, and Mozilla’s Thunderbird has add-ons galore (including many in our email encryption services roundup, like PreVeil) to handle message encryption/decryption. Avoiding Spam, Spam, and SpamBeyond the obvious safeguards—never, ever click on a link in a spam message or even open a spam email—the best way to defeat spam is never to let spammers get your email address. That’s almost impossible, unfortunately, but there are methods to one is to use an alias or dummy email, which works with any service that requires an email address. You might be able to set one up if you own your own domain name. In Google Workplace, for example, you have a primary address, such as [email protected], but you could also use [email protected] as an alias for online sign-ups; messages to the second one can be forwarded to the main address. When spam begins to collect, change or kill that second address. You can create up to 30 aliases per is a little more straightforward: To make an alias, append something to the user name. Turn “[email protected]” into “[email protected]”; Gmail ignores everything after the plus sign. Once the alias in question accumulates spam, filter it right into the trash. Here’s a video on how to do that in Gmail:Yahoo Mail offers Disposable Addresses (under Settings > Security), which are similar—there’s a base name, then a secondary keyword appended, like “[email protected]” also supports aliases, up to 10 per account. Look for Account Aliases under the Account settings. If you have your own domain name, check the control panel at your web host—it’s likely to have tools for creating aliases you need an alias temporarily, a disposable address is very handy. We have reviews of five products that offer disposable email addresses: Abine Blur, Bulc Club, Burner Mail, ManyMe, and SimpleLogin. Note that Abine Blur Premium lets you shop online without revealing your true email address, phone number, or credit card details, and it also manages your passwords. The program received a 4. 5 (outstanding) rating from our reviewer and also comes in a free version. Should you care about security when it comes to social networks such as Facebook? Of course. Facebook isn’t an altruistic nonprofit! It makes money by having lots of users looking at lots of ads. That occasionally means it makes your data available to questionable entities. And you might not want all your “friends” or their extended networks to know your can take several steps to regain some Facebook anonymity. First, on a desktop, go to the Account menu in the upper right and select Settings & Privacy > Settings > Privacy. Click the “Edit” link on every choice on this page to personalize who can see what, who can friend you, and even who can look you up. Make sure your posts are not spidered by search engines. Get as granular as you want—making sure, for example, that old boyfriends or girlfriends don’t see your posts (even the old posts). You can also perform a full Facebook Privacy Checkup.
Finally, inspect your contact info. Go to your General Account Settings, and again click “Edit” next to every entry. Double-check the email address and phone numbers entered. Minimize the list of who has access as much as possible to maximize you want to get out of Facebook entirely, delete your account. Deactivating is a different thing; it leaves your data on the site for your potential return. Go to this page and follow the instructions. It’ll deactivate your account for two weeks, just in case you really, really, really didn’t mean it. After that, it’s gone. But even then, some digital photos may LinkedIn, go to the Settings icon of your face in the upper right and select Settings & Privacy. In the center, select the Privacy about Twitter? Don’t list your website or real email in your profile. Make sure your password is different from that of any other site. That’s good advice across the board, but we know people don’t follow it, so we repeat it a lot. You really should with Twitter, which has had some security breaches. You also have the option, under Settings > Privacy and Safety, to protect your tweets, meaning only those followers you approve get access to them. Protected tweets aren’t searchable or retweetable, and you can’t share permanent links to them with non-approved said, you’re fooling yourself if you think using social networking (or posting anything online) is private whatsoever—all it takes is an “approved follower” to take a screengrab and share it with the you’re worried about getting tracked as you surf, sign out of the above services, as well as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple, when you’re done using them. Otherwise, the ad servers and cookies and so forth that are run by those services or their affiliates will pretty much know where and when you go online at all times. Signing out is a pain, because logging back in is a pain—and that’s exactly what the big companies tracking you are counting on.
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8 steps to being (almost) completely anonymous online
How to be completely, absolutely, but not really, only a little bit anonymous.
StevanoVicigor / Valery Brozhinsky / Getty Images
Anonymity and privacy are not about closing the door when you go to the bathroom. For the individual, they might be about personal autonomy, political liberty or just protecting yourself in the digital the enterprise, employee privacy mitigates the risk of social engineering attacks, even blackmail. The more an attacker can learn about key people within an organization, the more targeted and effective they can make their attacks. Educating employees about how to protect their privacy, therefore, should be a core part of any security awareness can take specific, concrete steps to protect your privacy or that of your organization’s employees, but they require energy, time and some technical ivacy vs. anonymityThe universe believes in encryption, a wise man once opined, because it is astronomically easier to encrypt than it is to brute force decrypt. The universe does not appear to believe in anonymity, however, as it requires significant work to remain are using privacy and anonymity interchangeably, and this is incorrect. An encrypted message may protect your privacy — because (hopefully) no one else can read it besides you and your recipient — but encryption does not protect the metadata, and thus your anonymity. Who you’re talking to, when, for how long, how many messages, size of attachments, type of communication (text message? email? voice call? voice memo? video call? ), all this information is not encrypted and is easily discoverable by sophisticated hackers with a mass surveillance apparatus, which is most these days. A final thought before we dig into specific technical tools: “Online” is now a meaningless word. Meatspace and cyberspace have merged. We used to live in the “real world” and “go online. ” Now we live online, and things like geotracking of cell phones, facial recognition in public physical spaces, and so forth mean no amount of “online anonymity” will help you if your meatspace self is not also anonymous, which is nearly impossible these are some steps to being completely, absolutely, but not really, only a little bit anonymous. 1. Use SignalYou may have heard the mantra, “Use Signal, use Tor, ” and while this one-two punch combo is a great start, it won’t take down your opponent. Signal is the best-of-breed encrypted messaging app that lets you send text messages and voice memos as well as voice calls and audio calls. It looks and feels just like any other messaging app but under the hood uses encryption that, to the best of our knowledge, not even the National Security Agency can about the metadata? Any network-level adversary can tell that you’re using Signal, for starters, and if your adversary is the U. S. or Five Eyes, then they have mass surveillance access to all Signal traffic and know who is talking to whom, when and for how makers of Signal are well aware of these technical limitations and are researching ways to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Metadata-resistant communication is an unsolved, cutting-edge technical research line: Signal is the most secure, easy-to-use messaging app available to date, and offers marginally more anonymity than any other app. Do not rely on it for strong anonymity, however. In fact, it’s questionable whether anything provides strong anonymity these days, which brings us to Tor… 2. Use TorTor is the largest, most robust, and most effective metadata-resistant software project, and the Tor Project does great work in the space, but the technical limitations of how much anonymity Tor can achieve have been evident to researchers for some time. No clear fix or replacement looms large on the Onion Router, better known as Tor (which is not an acronym by the way; the initial-caps spelling is a shibboleth to identify outsiders) is optimized for low-latency web browsing, only supports TCP (not UDP, sorry torrenteers), and won’t work when accessing many larger websites, as they block access via does not offer guaranteed, complete anonymity, even for web browsing, but it is the best thing we’ve got at the moment. Like so many things in life (and the internet), Tor is dual use. The same technology journalists use to research stories anonymously is also used by criminals to do bad things. When you hear folks badmouthing the scary “Dark Web” and suggesting “someone should do something, ” remind them that just because bank robbers drive cars on the highway doesn’t mean we propose banning cars or Tor Browser should be your go-to choice for mobile usage. The Brave browser also offers a Tor option. There’s an official Tor Browser app for Android devices and OnionBrowser offers a Tor Project-endorsed but unofficial app for iOS. 3. Don’t expect anonymity from VPNsVPNs are not anonymous. There is literally nothing anonymous about using a VPN. No anonymity here. Did we mention VPNs don’t offer anonymity? Just wanted to make sure we’re clear on this everyone expects VPNs on a list of anonymity tools, we’re going to debunk the idea instead. All a VPN does is move trust from your ISP or, if you’re traveling, your local coffeeshop or hotel or airport WiFi network to someone else’s server. There are many legitimate security reasons why using a VPN is a great idea, but anonymity is not on that list. Anywhere. Not even at the Tor, which bounces your traffic through three Tor nodes spread across the internet, making it very difficult, but not impossible, for an adversary to see what you’re doing, a VPN simply shifts your traffic from your ISP (at home) or coffee shop WiFi (on the road) to the VPN’s servers. That means the VPN provider can see all your traffic. That means that an adversary that gains control of the VPN’s servers, by hacking them or by serving the VPN provider with a court order, can also see all your are great. Use them. The good ones are way more trustworthy than your dodgy local coffeeshop WiFi network, but they offer zero anonymity. 4. Use zero-knowledge servicesGoogle can read every email you send and receive. Office 365 scans everything you write. DropBox opens and examines everything you upload. All three companies — among many others — are PRISM providers, per the Snowden documents, meaning they cooperate with mass surveillance programs. If Google can see it, so can folks in Washington. You have no privacy on any of these course, you could encrypt everything before using Gmail or before uploading your vacation photos to DropBox. If you care about privacy, and can figure out how to use PGP, you probably should. On the other hand, though, you could also choose to use service providers that advertise zero-knowledge file you can never fully trust that a service provider hasn’t been backdoored, DropBox-alternative SpiderOak, based in the U. S., advertises zero-knowledge file storage. Protonmail, based in Switzerland, advertises zero-knowledge email and claims that it’s mathematically impossible for them to hand over your email to a third don’t endorse any of these providers, and you should do your homework before entrusting anything important to them. However, the field of zero-knowledge file storage is an encouraging sign, and one worth keeping an eye on. 5. Be careful what you post onlinePrivacy is about autonomy, the notion that you choose to share what you want to share and to keep private what you want to keep private. If there’s something going on in your life you don’t want the entire world to know about, then posting about it on social media — for the entire world to see — may, ergo, not be the best ‘s a striking generational gap on this topic. Older generations cringe at the idea of airing their dirty laundry in public, while the generation that grew up with a cell phone welded to their palm thinks over-sharing is normal. There’s a time and place for everything. Deliberate sharing of things you want to the world to see clearly has nsider also that sharing a particular detail about your life may not appear sensitive on its own but taken in aggregate with many other shared personal details can build up a picture that you might hesitate to put onto a hostile lishing on social media today is more permanent than chiseling hieroglyphics in stone. Take a step back and consider the whole picture of what you’re sharing. 6. Check those app permissionsMobile apps, for both iOS and Android, tend to request way more permissions than they actually need and are frequently caught extracting personal details from users’ phones and transmitting those details back to the app maker in highly inappropriate that random app really need access to your microphone? (What for? Is it going to record everything you say? ) What about your location? (Why? Is it going to track your location? ) Your address book? (Does that app really need to know who all your friends are? What for? )Neither Android nor iOS make it especially easy to do so, but dig through your settings and turn off unneeded permissions with extreme prejudice. 7. Use an ad blockerIn the olden days of glorious yore, advertisements were a one-to-many broadcast. An advertisement today bears no relationship to your grandpa’s ads. Now one-to-one advertising networks watch you to better target ads at acking your every move online and, increasingly, in meatspace, is the business model of huge chunks of Silicon Valley. Google and Facebook are two of the largest players in this space, and they track you all across the web and into meatspace, even if you don’t have an account with either (though most of us do), and even if you aren’t logged stalling an ad blocker is no magic cure, but a paper-mache sword is better than nothing at all when the enemy hordes invade. The Brave Browser blocks ads and trackers by default. AdBlock has a good reputation, and other extensions are worth exploring, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s excellent Privacy Badger extension. You can also sinkhole ad network DNS requests at your local router level. 8. Dump your home assistantIf you value your privacy and anonymity, for the love of the dogs chuck your home assistant (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc. ) and your snitch-in-a-box (Amazon Ring) into the trash. These always-on digital snoops are poisonous to privacy and anonymity, and there is no meaningful way to make them less privacy-invasive. Ubiquitous deployment of such “assistants” makes clear the collective action problem: It doesn’t matter if you choose not to purchase and install one of these devices. If all your neighbors own them and use them, then your privacy is toast. If everyone else in your neighborhood has a Ring recording everything that happens, then your movements in meatspace will also be recorded and technical tips we’ve provided here offer little more than a band-aid on a gaping wound. Use them, but be under no illusion that they will do much to protect your privacy.
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21 tips, tricks and shortcuts to help you stay anonymous online
Frequently Asked Questions about how to make yourself anonymous online
Can online stay anonymous?
INCOGNITO This is perhaps one of the most basic privacy options that just about anyone can take advantage of. The top four most popular browsers – Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari – have a private browsing mode, which can be found in their respective settings menus.Mar 6, 2015
How do I browse the Internet anonymously?
Here’s how to surf anonymously with various tools:Get a VPN, a proxy server, or Tor.Use a private email service.Employ specialized anti-tracking software.Use a more private search engine.Get a secure browser.Feb 18, 2021
How can I be private online?
Here are some ways you can boost your online privacy.Limit the personal information you share on social media. … Browse in incognito or private mode. … Use a different search engine. … Use a virtual private network. … Be careful where you click. … Secure your mobile devices, too. … Use quality antivirus software.Mar 21, 2021