Becoming Anonymous On The Internet (Part 1)

10/1/2013 11:02:47 AM

We look at some of the ways in which you can become invisible while online

There’s little doubt that the current focus of security and snooping in the world press is, for story of the century. Our increasing digital communications make an easy target for government agencies and nefarious hackers. Let's face it, how many of us are actively taking measures to be anonymous? It's not a new concept, by any stretch of the imagination. There have been umpteen Hollywood movies in which the so-called evil security agencies have targeted an individual and accessed their entire digital life and, of course, there have been whistle-blowing individuals who have surfaced in a storm of publicity before being silenced into submission. As long as we use some kind of traceable form of communication, then there will groups who will attempt to access and infiltrate that communication. whether for outright hacking purposes or under the thin veil of anti-terrorism.

How to be completely Anonymous online?

How to be completely Anonymous online?

We're not going to discuss the various political and ethical issues related to this; that's for a different feature altogether. Of course, governments bodies and private organizations should not be spying on us all at, but the fact remains that they do. Therefore, we need to do something that will make their jobs a little more difficult. We're not saying that you can be totally anonymous; such a thing is virtually impossible (although doable, if you know how to manipulate IP addresses and so on). The resources the groups on the other side of the digital line have are effectively limitless, but what we can do is attempt to make our online communications somewhat more clandestine but not in an illicit sense.

Before we show you how to do this, it's worth mentioning a quote from Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." In a way, that's a fair comment, but I have a problem with it. Yes, I totally agree that unscrupulous individuals who are planning to harm others do need to be caught, but I do not believe that the government has the right to store all our personal and digital information. It should not be able to freely access any of my digital history or read/ analyze any digital communications between me and any of my contacts. I have nothing to hide (in fact I'm actually very digitally boring compared to some people), but I'd like to think that what I say privately to another person remains private.

Becoming Anonymous

Becoming Anonymous

It's also worth mentioning that, realistically, the sheer volume of digital information travelling through the ether is in the order of 144 billion emails per day, and of the supposed 2.4 billion internet users worldwide. It's hardly likely that a team of analysts, hidden deep in some bunker in GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), are going through it all with a fine-toothed comb. Even with the best software ever devised, the resources needed to meter every person are far beyond the capabilities of the government. In most cases, they are targeting the individuals and groups who have already been thoroughly investigated or who frequently send digital communications with certain keywords in the body (the old wives tale of mentioning a combination of president, bomb and the Middle East during a telephone conversion may have more clout than you would imagine). Also, those who regularly visit certain tagged websites that contain information that may be deemed as dangerous or under the current anti-terrorism act will no doubt be under strict surveillance. Therefore, it's doubtful that you or I or any other 'normal' person on the street will be under the scrutiny of secret government agencies.

That said, though, there are also groups who are not affiliated with some Machiavellian one world order. These are the hackers, phishers and other disreputable organizations who will try to gain access to your accounts, online information and contacts in order to scam you in every conceivable way. Those are the people whose attention we should concentrate on avoiding when online.

Create a totally fake alias to use online

Create a totally fake alias to use online

Becoming anonymous, the basics

Before we go into the more selective processes of encryption and using any third-party tools or utilities, we'll start with some of the basics of becoming anonymous online, keeping your privacy and avoiding spammers and scammers as much as possible.

Be incognito

Private browsing mode or 'Incognito' mode is a feature that has rapidly become the second most used option in current web browsers. Despite its alternative name, 'porn mode', private browsing functionality is useful for more than just looking at sites of scantily clad ladies (or, indeed, gents). It's also perfectly acceptable for instances where you could be on another user's computer and you want to check your Facebook, Twitter or online mail accounts. Similarly, it's perfect for testing sites that are heavily laden with cookies, and it's good for those times when you're using a public computer or even on your home PC and you don't want any sites knowing where you've previously been.

Private browsing isn't totally fingerprint-free; items such as DNS lookups and certain cookies can stay behind after a private browsing session, so it's best to treat private browsing as a temporary, perhaps on-the- go mode of being anonymous. If you want to see a good example of this, open up a private browsing session and browse through a number of sites, then exit the session, drop into a Command Prompt and enter the following command:

ipconfig /displaydns

This will list all the cached DNS entries that your computer has visited, regardless of whether you used a private browsing session or not. To remove the entries, enter the following:

ipconfig /flushdns

way, the list will be clear and attempts to gain access to that list will be thwarted. A good idea could be to set up a batch file of some description, one that would launch the browser in private browsing mode, then when closed will automatically flush the DNS entries. It's not 100% anonymity, but it can be used to retain a certain level of privacy.

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