How to Stay Anonymous Online
Learning how to stay anonymous online is an essential in this post-Snowden revelations world. The tools that you need to use are out there if you know what to look for. Best of all, the average person can use them effectively with a little bit of knowledge.
— quras (@qurasofficial) January 15, 2019
You don’t have to be a secret agent, a criminal, or a hacktivist to care about anonymity. The majority of people worry about online privacy, but only a few take action. This guide seeks to give you anonymity on three levels, and covers all of your online activity. Each level offers you another type of protection, making sure that your information doesn’t leak in any way.
Staying anonymous online: Anonymous browsing
The first thing you will want to do to enjoy anonymous web browsing is to hide your IP address. As you can see with our IP address location tool, any website can find out exactly where you are. This information is tracked by any number of online services, but you can change your IP address in one of three ways:
- Use a web proxy server: By using a web proxy server you’re putting your Internet connection through someone else’s server, and taking their IP address instead of your own. You will find hundreds of web proxy services, and most of the well known browsers feature an extension that will let you do it. Reliability is a major issue here as a free service gives you what you pay for.
- Use a VPN provider: A VPN operates much the same as a web proxy, but with much higher reliability and anonymity. It works by connecting your public Internet connection to a private network with its own IP address. Most will have thousands of IP addresses to use, and will offer servers in dozens of countries. Check out our top 10 providers to start learning what else each provider can do for you.
#MIUI Quick Discussion VPN Vs Proxy: Which One You Prefer? VPN encrypts all your traffic and allows you to hide and change your real IP address, While A proxy allows you to hide and change your real IP address only. Vote here! https://t.co/qQrpj9KGwb— MIUI (@miuirom) May 23, 2018
- Use TOR: TOR stands for The Onion Router, that’s why their logo is an onion! The logo illustrates the hundreds of different proxies that a user’s connection is routed through. You can think of them as similar to a VPN, but with a much steeper learning curve to use, and a much slower connection speed as you route through all those connections.
Staying anonymous online: Anonymous communications and email
Your IP address can be hidden by using proxies, VPNs, or TOR. Sending messages, and using email, however, is a different story. What if you want to message someone but you don’t want the receiver to know your email address? A number of tools are available for this task. These tools can come in handy in a number of legal situations, like when you’re communicating with your (divorce) lawyer:
- Use a forwarding address: A forwarding address will hide your actual email address by routing anything you send through another email address. This will cause the person receiving your email to only see the address of the forwarding account, not your own account.
- Find a disposable email address provider: You can do this by either creating a brand new email address and using it for a short time, or by using temporary email account providers. People commonly do this to sign up for things that require an email verification and they don’t want to be spammed on their actual email account. 10 Minute Mail is a popular provider of this service.
- Using HTTPS Everywhere: This browser extension will add an extra layer of encryption, that is freely available, to all of your online communications. You’ll know it’s working when you see the ‘s’ on the end of HTTPS in your address bar. It isn’t 100% reliable, but it does increase your anonymity when sending messages.
- Install PGP software: Using HTTPS will encrypt your data on the network level, but PGP will actually encrypt the information you’re sending itself. If you’re the victim of a man-in-the-middle or Fake WAP attack, the hacker will not be unable to read the information they steal as it will be a series of indecipherable characters.
As PGP once expressed it in a marketing paper: There are two types of encryption in the world, one where you prevent your siblings from reading your thoughts and conversation, and one where you prevent NSA, CIA, GCHQ and PST (Norwegian surveillance police) from doing that.— Inge Harsten (@iharsten) January 15, 2019
- Use an anonymous chat client: There are two main chat clients to use right now; TOR chat and Cryptocat. Both have high levels of encryption, and hide anything you say over them completely. Facebook also experimented in 2014 on an anonymous chat application called Room, but it failed and was pulled out from the App Store a year after it was launched. Facebook Messenger now have Secret Conversations, which allows users to send encrypted messages to their contacts. There’s also Whatsapp, which is end-to-end encrypted.
Staying anonymous online: P2P sharing and file transfers
P2P file sharing, both in a legal and illegal context, is incredibly popular online. While it’s easy to find all kinds of different files to download, it’s also easy for companies that issue DMCA warnings to find out who you are as the downloader.
Here are the two ways to stay anonymous while doing P2P file sharing:
- Using a proxy or a VPN will be fine if you’re using a file hosting site like MediaFire or Mega. Your IP address will be obscured, and you can’t be traced. Be sure to choose a VPN that allows P2P sharing such as the five VPNs we have reviewed for torrenting here.
- For those using BitTorrent specifically, you can still use a VPN, but BTGuard is another option. Be aware that it only helps you with BitTorrent, and doesn’t offer you the diverse protection of a VPN.
Staying anonymous while file sharing is nearly the same as staying anonymous while browsing. The addition of BTGuard gives you a specialist tool with limited diversity. Again, a VPN is your best ally when it comes to torrenting, here are our three favourite:
What you can learn about staying anonymous online
These days, staying anonymous online is very important since a lot of entities around the web do not value online privacy. Your ISP, the government, advertisers, data brokers, hackers, spies, those in corporate espionage, and e-commerce sites are just some of those that are collecting your information, some of which are sensitive and too personal. There are three main activities that you need to be concerned about anonymizing when you’re online:
- Email and communications
- File sharing
This article has given you the tools to stay anonymous for each one. The link that you can find between all three is using a VPN service. You can learn more about reliable VPN providers on our home page. While there you can also learn about all the other things that a VPN can do to keep you anonymous, protected, and safe online.