Welcome to the 2nd part in our series on anonymous browsing. If you’re coming here fresh you might want to checkout Part 1 first. Presuming you’ve those basics under your lets continue on our journey to turn you into the ultimate invisible man (or something like that…)
In this part we’ll focus on IP addresses, how they identify you, and how to get around them but without further ado, lets begin!
What are they? IP addresses are unique identifier assigned to devices within a network, they can be easily recognised as a series of numbers with dots in between, usually looking something like 126.96.36.199.
To demonstrate you can find out yours by simply entering ‘ip’ into any search engine. Every website has an IP address too, to find out a sites IP, enter your command prompt and type:
to have the IP returned to you (obviously replacing with the address of the website you’re interested in).
So what are they used for? Just like your house has an address so it can be located, your device has an IP address to locate it online. For example, if you were to visit a website without an IP address the web server wouldn’t know where to send the information you requested. Much like if you sent somebody a letter without signing it or providing a return address, you wouldn’t be receiving a reply. Without them, communication would be impossible.
Okay, that’s interesting and all but why does all this matter? IP addresses are assigned by your ISP (Internet Service Provider, e.g AT&T, Comcast, Virgin Media) and tied to your geographical location. Every website you visit will record your IP address (along with your activity) in logs stored on the server, your ISP also uses it to keep track of your activity online. Even when you delete your history and cookies your address stays with you. If you were planning on staying anonymous this isn’t great news to say the least.
So how can you stay anonymous? You can’t exactly just delete your IP. Well this is where most anonymizing services come in, that will allow you to “fake” your IP address, which we’ll now explore.
Proxies essentially work like a middle man, instead of communicating directly with the servers website you instead go through the proxy server. This means the website only ever sees the IP address of the proxy, and your ISP only sees you connecting to the proxy. Proxy servers are mostly web-based and are usually free such as Zendproxy and Hidester. While these services are free and easy to use they do have their downsides, for one they are often flagged as sources of spam by major sites such as Netflix. Secondly, connecting to a site through a proxy server is very unsecure as the entire connection is unencrypted, meaning your traffic can easily be intercepted – the exact opposite of what you want! If security and privacy is your main aim, you need a VPN.
VPNs (Virtual Private Network)
VPNs work much like a proxy server however they encrypt your traffic between you and their servers, preventing anyone from intercepting and snooping on your activities unlike a proxy service. VPNs are usually packaged software services and while there are free services available I’d recommend paying for one if you’re serious seen as many free sites have been found to be lax on security as well as honey-pots for law enforcement to track user activity
Anonymous Browsers and Tor
Both of the above will successfully change your IP address online, but having to configure VPNs and Proxies can make browsing the web cumbersome, especially if you have multiple plug-ins and configurations. Specialized browser software packages combine these tools together to maximise your privacy, one example being the Epic Browser, which combines various tools into onto browser. If you’re really serious about staying anonymous you should perhaps consider downloading Tor, which routes your traffic through its own set of servers run by the community, while allowing you to browse the web it will also allow you to access the deep web, which isn’t accessible by regular browser however I won’t go into too much detail about that here as that’s an article for another day…
Cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin
The problem with online payments is how easily traceable they are, every payment is made in your name and address, immediately identifying you, any purchases you make is linked directly back to your personal identity. What if there was an alternative digital currency that would better protect your privacy? That’s where digital or cryptocurrencies come in, payments are not linked to your identity and the whole system is decentralized with every payment being instead verified by others on the network. Bitcoin, of course is the most famous example of such.
Ultimately it’s a balancing act between staying anonymous and protecting your digital privacy and your own convenience. Extreme anonymity takes extreme efforts but hopefully the topics covered in this beginner’s guide have given you the information you need to get you on your way.