Recently by Bill Rounds: Vanishing In a Digital Age: LessonsFrom EvanRatliff
Hansel and Gretel wandered through the forest leaving tasty bread crumbs behind to find their way home. Unfortunately, the various little critters of the forest found those little bread crumbs irresistible and gobbled them up leaving Hansel and Gretel lost and hungry.
There is less anonymity on the internet than many people realize. When people surf the web they also leave behind bread crumbs, well their IP address is left behind. And, unfortunately, those crumbs are awfully tasty to many little creatures like search engines, snoopers, and cookie monsters. The wrong creatures getting a hold of those crumbs can leave you much more than lost and hungry if you are not careful. You may even incur tax liability of you do not properly guard your IP address. From building a user profile to viewing sensitive data, there are many opportunities for others to benefit from knowing your IP address. Fortunately there are ways of keeping your web surfing anonymous.
Free Proxy Servers
In simple terms, anonymous web surfing is connecting to another computer that does the surfing for you and keeps your own IP address, your unique identifier, secret. There are a number of free anonymous web proxies available and each has a different user experience (for example some are slower, you may be subjected to annoying advertising, time limits, some dont allow you to log in to sites like Facebook, etc.) so each individual should choose which is best for them. It is a good idea to do a simple Google search to find reviews and information about particular proxy servers before using them. One that I have found useful is Anonymouse.org. You can even send an anonymous email from their site.
Using a proxy server is very straight forward. Once you have searched and found a proxy server you are comfortable with using, you can either enter a URL directly into the text box which is the search prompt of the site, or you can enter the URL of your favorite web browser and begin surfing anonymously from that point.
There are also paid subscription services which may be more secure or that open a secure encrypted host service. They tend to run faster and offer more flexibility than the free sites. Those sites are often by subscription, $10US each month is typical, many of which are offered as an upgrade from a free service.
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In addition to the paid services is free or paid software that can be downloaded and can be activated any time that you are surfing the internet to block your IP address. Some of these software are better than others, so read the reviews before using them to make sure you are getting what you want. Although some are free of charge, they usually require some time to configure and some attention whenever you use them to make sure that you are maintaining the desired privacy. As with any software, download it and follow the installation instructions to maximize your utility. The paid software usually offers better customer support and usually has other desired features that you arent likely to find in free software.
Keep in mind that most of these options will keep your browsing anonymous for the most part, but cannot offer online invincibility, so you may still be vulnerable to an expert hacker.
Ultimately, the internet can be as private of a place as you want it to be. Without taking measures to protect your anonymous browsing, your identity is displayed by your IP address to whoever might be interested, be it advertisers, search engines, governments or others. Even more tools and techniques for creating a comprehensive plan for online privacy can be found in the book How To Vanish, Legally Protecting Your Personal and Financial Privacy. So become an anonymous web surfer for security, privacy, peace of mind, and yes, even for fun.
Reprinted with permission from How to Vanish.
January 4, 2011