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How (and why) to surf the web in secret

Brad Chacos | Nov. 8, 2012
They say no one can hear you scream in space, but if you so much as whisper on the Web, you can be tracked by a dozen different organizations and recorded for posterity. Simply visiting a website can allow its operators to figure out your general physical location, identify details about your device information, and install advertising cookies that can track your movements around the web. (Don't believe me? Check this out.)

Internet Explorer 9: Navigate to Tools > Internet Options > Connections tab > LAN Settings. Check the Use a proxy server box and enter the port and IP address info for the proxy server, then click OK. If the proxy you chose uses a secure or SOCKS connection rather than HTTP, enter the settings in the Advanced option.

Firefox: Click on the Firefox button and navigate from Options > Advanced Tab > Network Tab, then hit the Settings button in Connections.

Chrome: Click the Wrench icon choose Show Advanced Settings > Change Proxy Settings, then simply proceed as you would with Internet Explorer.

Hide your IP address with a VPN

Virtual Private Networks are a good option for people who want an anonymous yet speedy connection and don't mind paying for the privilege. Premium VPNs maintain dedicated proxy servers for their users. Your connection is encrypted and the websites you visit see the VPN's identifying information, not your own.

There are a ton of VPNs out there, and virtually all of them block your identity from third-party websites, but the question an anonymous-minded person wants to ask is, Does my VPN provider keep server logs? TorrentFreak asked several top VPNs that very question and several answered with a resounding "No!" Once you've settled on a provider, you'll need to configure Windows 7 to connect to the VPN.

One of the best and most well-known virtual private networks is The Onion Router, or Tor for short. The Tor network has proven its mettle under fire, helping journalists file reports from countries where Internet access is restricted and allowing citizens to communicate digitally when governments shut down the Internet. Rather than establishing a direct connection between your PC and a proxy server, then connecting the proxy server to the website you want to visit, Tor bounces your data request through several random Tor server relays before pointing it to the final destination. In fact, Tor got its name because like an onion (or an ogre), this network has layers.

The server at each of those layers only knows the identity of the relay that passed it information and the relay it subsequently passes that information along to, with each hop in the chain being encrypted with a totally new encryption key. The robust security measures mean that even if someone is able to intercept one of the data packets en route and crack the encryption, they won't be able to identify you or your final destination. New relay paths are randomly generated every ten minutes or so.

It sounds complicated, but tapping into Tor couldn't be easier. Simply download the Tor Browser Bundle for your operating system of choice (there's even an Android version) and boot up the browser file when you want to surf anonymously. The program handles all the dirty work automatically and even goes so far as establishing an HTTPS connection at your final destination if it's possible. But if you're feeling particularly vulnerable, you can right-click on the Vidalia onion icon in your system tray and select New Identity to tell the browser to create a new relay server path.


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