Privacy is a necessary component for the empowerment of civil society, and this premise remains valid in cyberspace. Our cybersecurity experts put their heads together to bring you a list of the most important things you can do to ensure your anonymity and privacy online. Armed with the tips and tricks they came up with, you can easily become an empowered ghost in the machine.
While the news is you can protect your location with a simple proxy service or the Tor network, these so-called anonymity services do nothing to hide your real personal information, location, or activities from your internet service provider, government surveillance, or thieves. Also, any Google search will stay attached to your browser, readily identifiable by any service wanting your real connection info. Also, even if you get the Tor browser and use it through the best proxy, it won’t hide you from websites you stay logged in to.
How to Stay Anonymous Online
Protecting your internet privacy on the web can seem daunting at times. You speak of needing a new dishwasher on your smartphone with your mother. The next day, you notice ads appearing everywhere you turn online for dishwashers. Want to speak and browse the web anonymously to price check without Google bots, Siri, and Alexa spying on and tracking you?
This post will teach anyone how to take back their privacy. Let’s start with this basics check:
- Understand Data Collection
- Any data moving between your device and the web can be tracked. Many of the tips in this article teach how personal information is collected from unwary individuals and how to stop this from happening to you by staying anonymous.
- Assess Your Threat Model
- The privacy needs of each individual are different. Analyzing your vulnerabilities and recognizing who might want to take advantage of them makes up your threat model. As a high-level executive with trade secrets to protect, your threat model would likely differ from a social media influencer whose audience may include stalkers. Your income level, family, geopolitical climate, and even your social status should all be taken into account when assessing your threat model. Everyone has different threat models, and they can all benefit from being more anonymous on the internet.
- Take Advantage of Secure Tools
- Many people are coming to understand the importance of privacy. The ways to help keep you anonymous on the web grow in number every day. Once you’ve assessed a threat model for yourself, choose tools based on your internet habits. This includes how you browse and what information you need to share or access through the web.
- Learn Secure Internet Habits
- While on the internet, habitual behaviors can ruin your day before you even realize what you’ve done. Even the most secure tools to help hide your identity, real location, and activities won’t help if you buy into a scam, share private information on social media websites, or remain logged into a global tracking giant like Google or Facebook.
There’s a continuing flood of unscrupulous opportunity seekers on the web. They come in all forms…
- unskilled script kiddies lashing out from mom’s basement to get street cred or feel a sense of power through phishing, DDoS attacks, and worse
- corporate marketing giants with increasingly intelligent AI networks seeking to control your ideology including political and purchase decisions
This makes it increasingly important to know how the internet search tools you use work. You never know where your shared data could end up.
Best Tips, Tricks, and Tools to Secure Online Privacy
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
— Oscar Wilde
Take Advantage of Ad Blockers
Not only can ads while running a Google search be annoyingly distracting, but they can also disrupt your life and set you up for long-term aggravation. Your online profile is being added to every action you take on the internet. Everything from the sites you visit to the videos you watch and even the products you look at or buy are noted and stored in databases for political and commercial marketing and even potential litigation purposes.
Ad blockers can significantly lower the amount of information gathered about you. Aside from just keeping ads from visually showing up in your email and internet browser, most ad blockers also prevent ads and their scripts from tracking you when you run a Google search. There are some tracking tactics ad blockers don’t help with, though. Things like tracking pixels, browser fingerprinting, and supercookies can still help others build a profile of you.
Use Only Secure, Encrypted Email Accounts
If you’re like most people, there are probably bits of information in your email inbox and outbox that you wouldn’t be comfortable allowing random strangers access to. Can you imagine what they could do with the information found in your emails? If entrusting communications to Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, or any other corporate information broker, you might as well be shouting your messages across a shopping mall.
There are many encrypted mail services available. Several use open-source code for the added security of public scrutiny. With end-to-end message transfer encryption along with encrypted storage and contact lists, these services can make your communications virtually impregnable.
You can also use PGP/GPG encryption on your emails, which causes the receiver of your messages to need a public key from you in order to decrypt and view your messages. When that Google account really feels necessary, this is a great way to access it only with IMAP from your device, with decryption only taking place off-server. Used only for outgoing mail (use a secondary return address), Google never has access to the information within your email communications.
Use More Than One Email Address
Even with an encrypted email account, you are still placing all your eggs in one basket. Splitting your communications across multiple email accounts works excellent for protecting your privacy. Split your contacts up in logical categories such as work, shopping, school, and personal among numerous email accounts.
Even if you feel the ‘need’ for a Gmail account due to the convenience it provides for login assistance on some sites, get and use it only for that purpose if possible.
When signing up on sites you aren’t 100% sure of; there is also an option of using a temporary email address. Nothing can save you from bad passwords, though.
Only Use Secure Passwords
If you care about your privacy, then using “qwerty” or “abc123” is not gonna get it. Most websites and databases that suffer breaches do so because of unsecured passwords.
Hackers use programs that try the most common password combinations on accounts, and many open up for them. Invariably, a large number of people use “123456,” “password,” or “princess” to secure their account. In 2018 alone, hackers gained complete access to over 1 billion accounts in data breaches on the web.
Be sure to use long passwords when possible, and avoid dictionary words. Use a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols to make your password and connection more secure. Do not use real personally important words, such as family or pet names or even dates that have significance in your life. Try to make your passwords easy to remember ($0m3Th!n9e@5Y?) but very hard to guess.
Take Advantage of a Password Manager
The way you set up your browser and system can make a big difference, but most browsers are not secure enough to be trusted with saving all of your passwords. Password managers can help give you the same convenience of access while also safeguarding your passwords.
Password managers can automatically log you into the sites you visit online without exposing your security information in the process. Your collection of passwords will be encrypted and locked up tight with a single master password. Having your passwords encrypted and stored in this way is far more secure than saving them in your browser or operating system.
Use TOR Network if Slow is OK
TOR (The Onion Router) is a privately hosted network of nodes/relay locations. While accessing TOR services, increased personal anonymity is achieved because your traffic is routed through the TOR mesh network. That traffic is only traceable to the previous node and the following node, where the traffic is headed from and toward. Once a packet is a few nodes away from you, in theory, it is not immediately traceable back to you. Hopping from node to node is how the TOR network works to keep your information anonymous on the web.
The most significant caveat to the TOR network is speed, though TOR will help with anonymity and security on the web. Upload and download speeds are affected by the bouncing node TOR network activity. The TOR proxy relay locations protect security slowly one node at a time. Studies have indicated that TOR does work, but only when speed isn’t a priority. For passive web browsing like a simple Google search or reading the news, TOR proxy services are a great option. You may want to consider VPN services instead of TOR if faster speeds and overall performance are essential to you.
Proxy services like TOR don’t use tunnels to hide and encrypt your real digital data and activity.
Ensure Extensions & Plugins are Private
This has to do with more than just browser addons. Always make sure you have done your homework before installing addons of any kind. Even Kodi addons have been known to exploit users by making their devices parts of a botnet for DDoS attacks.
Most privacy-oriented browser plugins can probably be trusted, but many others may collect your data for marketing to third-parties. Many are developed by individuals without the scrutiny of the public at large, though you can usually find news reviews done for many by impartial privacy experts to let you know about any potential security vulnerabilities.
Browse Anonymously Online With a VPN
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are the only way to keep all of the information traveling between your device and the internet completely secure and private. They encrypt all of your internet traffic and not just from your web browsers. Top-tier VPNs such as Surfshark VPN keeps hackers, snoops, marketers, and even your ISP or government agencies from recognizing your identity, location, or online activities.
There are plenty of free VPN services, but please do your homework before investing your security in one. For the lack of anonymity, you may as well use simple proxy services. Free VPNs can’t be trusted with your privacy and security. We published an article recently explaining what the best free VPN in the world is.
Most Private & Secure VPNs Available
Only a premium VPN such as the Surfshark VPN service will keep you truly anonymous online and your personal data secure. Take advantage of features like DNS leak protection, military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, unlimited bandwidth, and even unlimited VPN server-switching among their over 3200 worldwide servers. Surfshark VPN also provides a choice of VPN protocols IKEv2, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPsec to meet all your needs.
It's highly recommended to hide your identity, location, and online activities with a secure VPN.
Right now, you can try the Surfshark VPN app free for 30 days. Get the fastest, most secure VPN available risk-free with their 30-day money back guarantee.
Why is VPN Important?
If unsure what a VPN is, how it works, or why you really should use one, save yourself a lot of trouble and learn more about them.
Read Why Encrypted VPN is so Important: What is VPN?
Retain Your Privacy Online
There are many more things that can be done to fortify your online identity, location, and activities. Check in often to get real-time privacy info on cybersecurity safety trends and news. We will continue investigating new ways of safeguarding data and passing them on one security article and news story at a time. Until then, stay out of the news and…
May your streams never run dry!