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17 essential tools to protect your online identity, privacy

Roger A. Grimes | Nov. 1, 2016
From secure chips to anonymity services, here’s how to stay safe and private on the web

Some anonymity sites store your information, and some of these have been compromised or forced by law enforcement to provide user information. Your best bet for privacy is to choose an anonymity site, like Anonymizer, that doesn’t store your information for longer than the current request. Another popular, commercial secure VPN service is HideMyAss.

Anonymity hardware. Some people have attempted to make Tor and Tor-based anonymity easier using specially configured hardware. My favorite is Anonabox (model: anbM6-Pro), which is a portable, Wi-Fi-enabled VPN and Tor router. Instead of having to configure Tor on your computer/device, you can simply use Anonabox instead.

Secure VPNs, anonymity services, and anonymity hardware can enhance your privacy greatly by securing your network connections. But one big note of caution: No device or service offering security and anonymity has proved to be 100 percent secure. Determined adversaries and unlimited resources can probably eavesdrop on your communications and determine your identity. Everyone who uses a secure VPN, anonymity services, or anonymity hardware should communicate with the knowledge that any day their private communications could become public.

Secure applications are a must as well

With a secure device and secure connections, security experts use the most (reasonable) secure applications they can find. Here’s a rundown of some of your best bets for protecting your privacy.

Secure browsing. Tor leads the way for secure, almost end-to-end Internet browsing. When you can’t use Tor or a Tor-like VPN, make sure the browser you use has been set to its most secure settings. You want to prevent unauthorized code (and sometimes legitimate code) from executing without your being aware. If you have Java, uninstall it (if not using it) or make sure critical security patches are applied.

Most browsers now offer “private browsing” modes. Microsoft calls this feature InPrivate; Chrome, Incognito. These modes erase or do not store browsing history locally and are useful in preventing local, unauthorized forensic investigations from being as fruitful.

Use HTTPS for all internet searches (and connections to any website), especially in public locations. Enable your browser’s Do Not Track features. Additional software can prevent your browser experience from being tracked, including browser extensions Adblock Plus, Ghostery, Privacy Badger, or DoNotTrackPlus. Some popular sites try to detect these extensions and block your use of their sites unless you disable them while on their sites.

Secure email. The original “killer app” for the internet, email is well-known for violating user’s privacy. The internet’s original open standard for securing email, S/MIME, is being less used all the time. S/MIME requires each participating user to exchange public encryption keys with other users. This requirement has proved overly daunting for less savvy users of the internet.


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