Online Privacy – Is complete anonymity possible?

We must accept that complete internet anonymity and privacy is near enough impossible. With the NSA’s surveillance capabilities and UK ISP’s adhering to the Snoopers’ Charter, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for you to retain your privacy.

But there is hope. You can come increasingly close to an incognito nirvana by following these recommendations. Adjusting your online behaviour, give thought to your chosen providers, vendors and enhancing a few of your security settings will help you retain your online privacy.

The key to online privacy is finding an acceptable balance that works for you. Being too strict gives unrealistic solutions that would be more suited for dissidents or NSA whistleblowers. Too lax gives you near to no privacy, which is counterproductive. Well thought out use of technologies and sensible precautions are the only way to change your habits. You need to ensure that your changes do not obstruct your general experience, meaning you ultimately stay with them. It would help if you asked yourself a few questions. What information do you want to protect? Where are you storing your information? Furthermore, who are you protecting your information from?

Be Realistic for Online Privacy

online privacy
Be Realistic

I’ve read too many guides focused on privacy that are just plain unrealistic. You can’t delete WhatsApp (TBH you really should) and use only Signal (which is amazing by the way) if none of your acquaintances are willing to adopt the secure messaging platform along with you. But you can add signal to your collection of multiple messaging apps and overtime transition yourself and others over to it. This is going to be a long walk, not a run.

Another common piece of advice I see often is the permanent use of TOR. I personally love TOR and use it regularly for online privacy, but you can be damn sure I won’t be checking my online banking or emails when I know that my egress is from an exit node.. (google “tor exit node sniffing”). It’s all about finding balance, educating your new secure self and having a good discipline.

Too much of one thing can create stress; this is something that no one needs in their life. But living a life in balance can provide harmony and peace.

VPN gives you anonymity

A VPN encrypts the Internet connection from your device to a server owned by a VPN provider. There are hundreds of providers out there each with their own advantages. It would help if you decided what matters the most to you for your VPN. Strict no-logs policy? Automatic Kill Switch? DNS leak protection? Onion Over VPN? The list is endless.

Regardless of which provider you ultimately utilize, once you are connected to your VPN, you’re basically shielding your internet activity from surveillance agencies, ISP’s, hackers, protecting yourself on public networks and masking your true location and IP address. You can keep access to your favourite websites and entertainment content and forget about censorship or bandwidth limits.

Password Manager

Think of a password manager like a central store of your passwords, encrypted with a master key that only you have access to. Password managers don’t just store passwords. They randomly generate and save strong, unique passwords even when you sign up to a new website using a browser plugin. (The longer and more complex your password is the longer it takes a hacker to gain your password) Password managers sync across devices, meaning you take your passwords everywhere with you regardless of your device.

Passwords are stolen, it’s a fact of life and always will be. Sites and services are at constant risk of breaches just as much as we are to a phishing attack. (something Trying to trick you into turning over your password). We’ve seen from past data exploits and breeches that many companies have failed to hash and encrypt data and passwords at all with many of them not using strong or modern algorithms, making it child’s play for internet fiends to reverse that hashing and gain your password in plain text. Never reuse passwords ever.

Device Encryption

Encryption is a means of scrambling data on a device in such a way that makes it unreadable to anyone without a decryption password. You should always ensure that all of your devices have encryption enabled. In the event of theft (or government detainment for the whistleblowers amongst us) it’s invaluable you have file Vault for Macs, Bit locker for windows and LUKs for Linux enabled.

2FA

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of protection to your accounts beyond your password. It reduces the risk of an unwanted person accessing your online accounts by combining your password with a second factor, like your mobile phone. Most websites have 2FA available from your accounts’ security settings, but it’s up to you to turn on this feature. When you input your password, the website or application will prompt you for the secondary authentication layer. If using an SMS based second factor, you’ll receive a text with the code required, if one-time password-based you’ll typically open up your google/authy etc. auth app and enter the numbers generated.

Secure Browser

Use a privacy-focused browser. Google Chrome is the world’s top downloaded and installed browser its huge drawback is that Google collects so much data. Chrome logs your browsing history and allows third parties to plant tracking cookies that monitor your browsing habits. Use a web browser to block online tracking. Firefox is a great privacy-focused browser, and we highly recommend it.

Protect your search queries

Google tracks all its search request and clicks. If you’re logged in to your Google account while using Google Search, they record this information and connect it to your profile. DuckDuckGo or StartPage are private alternatives to Google Search that don’t store personal data or track activity.

Firefox Browser plugins

online privacy
Firefox Browser plugins

Make your Firefox browser more private with these extensions

Firefox Multi-Account Containers

Firefox Multi-Account Containers lets you keep parts of your online life separated into colour-coded tabs that preserve your privacy. Cookies are separated by container, allowing you to use the web with multiple identities or accounts simultaneously. This is a great extension for people on shared computers or who have multiple accounts for services like Google or Amazon.

Facebook Container

This extension helps you control more of your web activity from Facebook by isolating your identity into a separate container. This makes it harder for Facebook to track your activity on other websites via third-party cookies and lets you keep using a service you enjoy.

Bloody Vikings!

Instead of exposing your real email address to every random site asking for it, right-click on the designated input field and select “Bloody Vikings!”. Bloody Vikings! Automatically inserts a temporary email address and opens the corresponding mailbox in a new background tab.

Cookie AutoDelete

Control your cookies! When a tab closes, any cookies not being used are automatically deleted. Whitelist the ones you trust while deleting the rest. Bonus, it now works with Firefox multi-account containers.

Decentraleyes

Many websites rely on large third-parties for content delivery. Cancelling requests for ads or trackers is usually drama-free, but sometimes ad blockers and tracking protectors break pages. Decentraleyes works around this by providing lightning speed delivery of local (bundled) files to improve online privacy.

Disconnect

Disconnect lets you visualize and block the otherwise invisible websites that track your search and browsing history.

Disconnect for Facebook

Disconnect for Facebook prevents Facebook from tracking the webpages you go to by blocking Facebook related requests sent from third-party websites. Facebook Disconnect blocks traffic from third-party sites to Facebook servers, but still, you can visit and use your Facebook account without issues.

DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials

This extension provides the privacy essentials you need to take control of your personal information, no matter where the internet takes you: tracker blocking, smarter encryption, DuckDuckGo private search, and more.

History Cleaner

This extension lets you set the number of days you want to keep your history for and then deletes it. Great for online privacy

Link Cleaner

Hate it when you copy a URL to share and get a long string of characters? Link Cleaner lets you easily strip tracking parameters, giving you clean and simple links to share.

Privacy Badger

Privacy Badger automatically learns to block invisible trackers. Instead of keeping lists of what to block, Privacy Badger learns by watching which domains appear to be tracking you as you browse the Web. If trackers ignore your wishes not to be tracked (aka you have Do Not Track enabled), your Badger will learn to block them. Besides automatic tracker blocking, Privacy Badger also removes outgoing link click tracking on Facebook and Twitter.

Privacy Possum

Privacy marsupials are here to help you manage your data and online privacy. Or to help you mess up the data collected by third-party-trackers. Privacy Possum disrupts common commercial tracking methods by reducing and falsifying the data gathered by tracking companies.

Smart HTTPS

HTTP is the way a server communicates with the browser. HTTP enables visitors to view a website and send information back and forth to the server. HTTPS is communication through a secured connection. Communications through an HTTPS with the server are encrypted by a secure certificate known as an SSL. The encryption prevents third-parties from eavesdropping on communications to and from the server. Smart HTTPS automatically changes HTTP protocol to the secure HTTPS when it is available. If it encounters an error while loading an HTTPS site, it will revert it to the HTTP, so your browsing experience is seamless.

Secure email and messaging

online privacy
Secure email and messaging

Secure Email

Use one of the many privacy-focused email providers available such as Proton mail or Tutanota for your email

Services like Gmail and Yahoo are known to scan your mailbox to collect data. If you don’t want to give away this kind of private information, you should migrate to a privacy-focused end-to-end encrypted email provider.

Messages between these types of email providers are transmitted in encrypted form. When you send an email to another user, the emails are encrypted on the sender’s device, and can only be decrypted by the recipient. All emails sent to/from an account are stored with zero-access encryption. Once a message is encrypted, only the account owner can decrypt it.

Signal for Privacy

Signal is a smart and secure app when it’s used properly. Available for iOS and Android, It’s an end-to-end encrypted messenger was almost universally accepted as the gold standard among security experts and professionals after its debut audit.

The messaging app and its desktop counterpart are also open-source, meaning anyone can inspect the code to ensure there are no backdoors. And, Signal almost entirely removes itself from the surveillance loop by collecting almost no metadata. Even if a user chooses to upload their contacts list to Signal, each record is encrypted and can’t be used by the intelligence services.

TOR for Online Privacy

The Tor browser lets its users browse the internet anonymously by routing traffic through multiple relays. Not only does it hide a user’s internet history, but it’s also used to circumvent state-sanctioned network blocks. The service also allows users to browse parts of the dark web, which aren’t accessible through traditional browsers and networks and websites and services that are blocked in your region.

If you need a very high level of online privacy, you should browse the Internet via Tor. It works by sending your searches through layers of encryption, protecting your data and concealing its origin. Tor also allows you to access blocked websites via the dark web.

Any Suggestions?

Please submit any privacy suggestions I’ve missed or any updates I can make to the lists above, and I’ll update the post. I have hope for it becoming a living guide that evolves and grows over time.

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