With the recent revelations about PRISM it is now 100% clear that corporations and government are very happy to spy on you and lie about it. This post is a bit off topic for digital audio, but if you are interested I have some great information to share with you.
I have a background in Internet privacy and security, but have written this post assuming you are a beginner in this subject. I will try to avoid technical stuff as much as possible.
Please write in the comments if you have any practical questions, but I won’t be getting into any political debates. That’s for somewhere else.
There is no such thing as 100% secure and private, but you can get quite close without spending too much time or any money, and here is how.
Private Web Searching
All the main search engines, including Google, store your web searches indefinitely. These records are mainly used to target you with adverts, but could also fall into the wrong hands very easily. Over time, all your search terms when put together will reveal a HUGE amount of information about you that you probably assumed was private. Even worse it could incriminate you, even if you have done nothing wrong.
Image you work as a chef and do a lot of online searches for knives, if your next door neighbors wife gets murdered it’s not going to look good for you! Search engine results can be used in court.
Unless you are keen to tell advertisers/governments/hackers worldwide everything about yourself, I strongly suggest you use a search engine that respects your privacy, or at least do some research to fully understand the risks and how to minimize them.
Best Private Search Engine – Start Page
This is the best search engine for privacy I have used. It actually gives you the exact same results as Google, but doesn’t spy on you! It’s like an update of the now defunct Scroogle, but with an additional free built in anonymous proxy.
Startpage, and its sister search engine Ixquick, are the only third-party certified search engines in the world that do not record your IP address or track your searches.
Anonymous Web Surfing
Do you really want people knowing exactly what web sites you visit? There are many good reasons for a law abiding citizen to want that kept private. Even if you think today’s government is fantastic, who knows who will be voted in next. This information about you can stay stored forever and always come back to bite you in the future.
Best Anonymous Web Surfing Method – TOR
To use TOR you run the free TOR Browser software (which is a modified version of Firefox). It is portable software and does not need to be installed. Once it is running you can surf the web as normal but completely anonymously. The Web does run a bit slower than normal, and downloading files is frowned on as you will use up all the bandwidth you are getting given by the volunteers who run it.
Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.
Don’t forget to switch the built in NoScript extension to ‘Forbid Scripts Globally (advised)’ mode when first running the TOR Browser, what NoScript does is explained soon. Vist Tor Project Home and download the TOR Browser for Windows, OSX or Linux.
It is important to remember that while running TOR it is impossible for anyone to know your whereabouts, BUT it is possible for you to give away your identity by accident! Someone could intercept the data exchanged between you and the web site visited (that data is not encrypted unless the address starts https:// ). This means if you were to login to that site you would immediately give away who you were.
Never use any personal information like login details or email addresses while using TOR or there is no point in using it.
Web Browser Privacy And Security
Is your web browser your friend or your enemy in privacy? Unfortunately only computer geeks until recently have known that, but now you can get some of that geeky goodness for yourself with these Add-ons:
Best Internet Privacy and Security Browser Add-ons:
Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS, but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP, or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site. The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems by using a clever technology to rewrite requests to these sites to HTTPS.
‘What are they on about!?’ you may ask. When your browser connects to a web site and the address DOES NOT begin with https:// then not only can ‘attackers’ know you are visiting it, but also all the things you do on it. This includes the contents of all the forms you fill in, and the information you enter.
Many websites are able to connect with a https:// but don’t do it. Why? Because it means they have to do all the encryption which costs them CPU power which costs them electricity. What this clever add-on does is force a secure https:// connection when it is possible. Your privacy before their electricity bill. Visit HTTPS Everywhere
NOTE: I am environmentally aware and don’t want wasted resources. I am not sure how much electricity this actually uses, anyone have any data on this?
It is a pain to set-up, but is the ultimate security system for browsing the internet. Basically a website usually runs by operating ‘scripts’. These can be though of as little computer programs that do things that make the website work. Things like menus and forms use them. The bad news is that these little programs can be used to attack your computer.
NoScript’s unique whitelist based pre-emptive script blocking approach prevents exploitation of security vulnerabilities (known and even not known yet!) with no loss of functionality…
What NoScript does is ask you every time a script wants to run so you can make NoScript learn which ones you trust. This will take a while of surfing around your favorite sites and clicking “allow ‘name of site’”. Once this is done you can then happily surf around anywhere without the risk of a website attacking your browser and installing something very unpleasant. Visit NoScript Home
I know this was a bit off topic, but I couldn’t resist jumping in on this subject. There is no need to spend too much time or money to stay safe online, but it does take a little effort to educate yourself about the technology and how it works for and against you. I hope this was of benefit to you.