There was a time when the internet was full of people who didn’t really know how to use the internet. Sounds like a paradox right?
Nope. Before Google, it was extremely hard to find worthwhile information. Even before that, the powers that may didn’t even encourage online commercial activity.
Fortunately, those times have passed. Now, we use the internet to get most of our life’s work done whether it be our finances, our career or everyday tasks.
And whenever people engage in financial transactions or any transaction for that matter (like giving and receiving information) there are always those nasty little kids who want to ruin the day for everybody.
In other words, today the internet is full of cyber criminals and hackers who try to take advantage of users who are ill-prepared for the dangers that await them in the online universe.
Needless to say, securing your identity in today’s online world is not a simple task. Websites now go for clicks rather than useful information. That results in most of the websites being filled with irrelevant and relevant ads.
Websites also want to know what their visitors want a bit too much and hence you have giant corporations tracking your every move every minute.
In short, the internet of today is starting to become a heavily guarded and surveilled place. Perhaps that is exactly what this modern ecosystem requires.
But that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the system and give up what you like and not like just for the sake of visiting your favorite websites. Make no mistake, there are advertising agencies out there who want to know who your friends are, where you live, where you go to the shop.
They know everything about you except your name or your mother maiden name (that’s because they don’t really need that to hack your account too).
Whatever you try to do in order to guard your privacy and secure your sensitive information, the advertising agencies along with government organizations will always come up with a new tool or method to do exactly the opposite of that.
But not all tracking is made the same.
There is bad tracking and there is some good tracking. We’ll just have to accept that fact that some folks, with big organizations, just want to help us get to what we want faster.
Sometimes, government organizations might track your whereabouts in the online world because of a national security issue.
Other times, the guy at the other end of the line just wants you to buy a smartphone from him/her.
All of this should lead you to understand that governments along with technology companies of all sorts, want to know what you do on the internet.
If it was possible, they would want to know everything about everything but due to technological restraints, they can’t do that, yet.
So it should be obvious by now that evading these entities won’t be a simple matter.
Of course, that does not mean that you can’t protect yourself and secure your sensitive information when in the online world.
We’re here to tell you that it is certainly possible for you or anyone with a laptop and an internet connection to stay anonymous away from the prying eyes of government agencies and marketing companies.
But it does take some amount of effort and in all likelihood, it will get more difficult with time since government agencies along with marketing ones are always investing tons of money researching ways they can know more about online users everywhere.
Needless to say, you should be comfortable with the fact that no amount of countermeasures will guard you one hundred percent again spying and other surveillance activities.
But we’re going to assume here that you’re not a high-profile criminal of some sort and hence it is likely that you will not be reading this post while running away from law enforcement agencies.
Let’s say you’re just an average joe going about your business in the online world with no intention of hurting someone. In that scenario, it is possible to keep hackers and other cyber criminals at bay.
By that, we mean that you can keep them away from places you want them to be away from. Sounds confusing?
In short, you can protect yourself against these agencies and organization provided you don’t want to use your newfound powers of anonymity for evil purposes.
We’ll teach you the techniques using two types of software applications (the second one will be discussed in another post) with which you will make it extremely hard for anyone to track you, know you and then when the time is right, expose you for who you are. Not that we’re judging or anything.
Besides, being totally anonymous on the internet in a world where everyone can see which post you liked and which YouTube video you commented on, has its perks.
Some of you might have already figured out the immense benefits that come with being untouchable, untraceable and unidentifiable.
But remember, to get those benefits, you will have to make certain sacrifices. Not like give your blood or slaughter an animal, but sacrifices like not going to certain places. We’ll get to those in a bit.
The modern web is a great place to experience some of the most diverse content that has ever been created in the history of man. But you must understand that this modern web has been built on three basic foundations.
These foundations, as far as the end-user is concerned are:
Yes, that what websites try to do when you click and make use of their shiny new BONUS features. As of this moment in time, you should take it as a fact of life because all of the modern web has been built around these concepts of tracking and intruding and then studying the varying user behavior.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the tools you can use right now to stay anonymous online for the better. Some of these tools will also help you to stay well hidden from spying entities.
Can I Really Use Tor To Hide Myself From Anyone And Everyone?
Of course, you can. But that would require an extreme amount of effort. Effort, you’re advised to spend somewhere else, like learning a new programming language and all that stuff.
Nevertheless, no anonymity how-to or guide would be complete without a mention of Tor. Tor is basically a vast network of volunteer nodes which are randomly spread around all corners of the world.
The word Tor is pretty much considered to be synonymous with anonymity. Sometimes, people refer to Tor as the onion router.
And it does have some resemblance to an onion in its functioning given the fact that just like a natural onion, the Tor network also hides all user activity under several layers of encryption.
That is also precisely the place where all the magic happens. Tor basically allows users to encrypt their online internet traffic.
Tor further enhances the protection it provides to its users by changing the route the online traffic takes for any given user through a randomly selected array of volunteer nodes before that specific online traffic reaches the desired destination.
Moreover, each time a user connects to the internet and then to a Tor web server, the software application does the process described above from the beginning.
Hence each time you connect to Tor, you get assigned a new random IP address and hence no one can really monitor your activities unless you happen to be Edward Snowden living in the US after you have released all the classified documents.
Do keep in mind that there are multiple ways of using Tor. There is no single best way but there is a single simplest way. That way is to simply install the Tor browser on your computer machine.
The methods of using Tor also vary according to the device you install it on. It works on many different and popular devices but we’ll get to that some other time.
As indicated earlier, the most popular method of using Tor is by installing the Tor browser from the official website and running it every time you want to search for something on the internet instead of firing up the trust Google Chrome of Mozilla Firefox even though the Tor Browser is itself based on Mozilla Firefox’s engine from the ground up.
Isn’t it just great that the only thing you need to do, in order to surf the online world with almost complete anonymity, is download the Firefox based software application, the Tor browser, on your computer machine, be it Mac or PC, install it and then run it by following simple instructions given on the homepage of the Tor project.
If you’re one of those people who surf the internet through the use of their smartphone or tablet (an Android based one of course because all the other suck) then you should give Orbot a change.
The Tor project, for some weird reason, does not support iOS users. At least that is the official stance of the company when it comes to iOS users. Now whether that is the case because the team behind the Tor project hates Steve Jobs or just don’t want to get involved with Apple in any way, is anyone’s guess.
With that said, iOS users should not despair because for them the Onion Browser is a pretty reasonable alternative.
Is Tor The Perfect Solution To Online Anonymity?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: Read below.
Even though Tor is great and perhaps the best option out there in the market at the current moment but it is far from being the perfect solution to online anonymity.
There are a couple of downsides to using Tor on your computer machine. Let’s take a look at them turn by turn.
The first problem with using Tor on your computer is that it is rather slow. People who live in the 21st century hate anything that is slow. Developers are put through hell by their employers because they want to make the website 0.001 seconds faster in loading and rendering text and images just so that visitors would “feel” good, stay longer and maybe even buy something of value to them and to the website (in the form of advertising, commissions and what not).
Moreover, if you want to use Tor to view videos, stream your favorite TV show or download torrent files from the various piracy websites or otherwise, then you should not use Tor because it will really slow down the speed of your internet connection.
However, if you just want to have a bit of privacy and just surf the web without having to worry about the government spying on your activities then Tor is perfect for you.
To put it another way, Tor is only good to surf the web. That could be explained by the fact that there is a severe problem with the amount of volunteer resources available to the Tor project.
Of course, when the number of users on the Tor network increases, it decreases the overall speed for all its users. So any increase in the number of people who use Tor services will likely be balanced by a slower connection speed.
Additionally, even though Tor tries its best to encrypt your online internet traffic and makes it almost untraceable, the project still cannot hide the fact that you’re using the Tor browser from your internet service provider.
In other words, your internet service provider will definitely know, if the people working there wanted to, if you’re using Tor.
And what happens then you might ask?
Well, not much. But for some organization, using Tor could be enough of a reason to raise alarm bells as, even though the internet is filled with good people, there are always those who want to use a service like Tor for their nefarious designs.
In other words, most hackers along with cyber criminals use Tor to do their dirty work and hence that gives your internet service provider the perfect excuse to choke your internet bandwidth.
In some cases, they can even shut down your connection by issuing a cease and desist letter. What’s more, they can even report you to law enforcement agencies if they think you might be up to something bad even though you might not have done anything illegal or illicit.
Did that scare you? At all? Maybe a little?
Don’t worry. This is the exact reason why experts recommend that you should always use another tool alongside Tor. That tool is called Obfsproxy which is basically an obfuscation tool.
You can achieve the same result with the help of a VPN service while using Tor. Or, if you’re the paranoid type, then you can use both the tools alongside Tor to further fortify your borders.
Obfsproxy is a pretty safe software application to download and install because it comes from the same team, the Tor project.
Obfsproxy basically changes the user’s encrypted Tor traffic and makes it look like your average, normal, unencrypted open-to-anyone-with-a-half-a-brain traffic.
That way the user doesn’t garner any more attention than he/she should while using Tor. We’ll talk more about VPN services in another post so stay tuned.
One Caution About Tor
Recent reports in the media have strongly suggested that the United States government have finally managed to crack Tor and can now successfully see the traffic that goes through the anonymity service.
In fact, the US government has even managed to arrest a couple of criminals by analyzing their traffic through Tor.
You might have read about how the US government arrested Dread Pirate Roberts who ran a drug empire on the online marketplace known as the Silk Road.
Now, there are reports circulating the cyber security industry that the US government has the ability to monitor general Tor traffic and can even operate activity on numerous Tor exit nodes.
Of course, nothing has been confirmed yet since the evidence for above rumors is, at best, sketchy.
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