The Internet can be a scary place, with all kinds of bad guys, and even good guys, trying to spy on what information you're sending through the tubes. Even if you have nothing to hide, maybe the thought of folks snooping on you makes your skin crawl. In this Insider Secret, you'll learn how to surf anonymously.
Watch the video to see all of this in action.
For basic Web surfing, there are free services coming and going all the time that allow you to avoid cookies and other tracking while using your regular old Web browser. A good place to keep track of your options is thefreecountry.com.
However if you want a more reliable and tested anonymity network, may I suggest The Onion Router (TOR). TOR was created by the U.S. Office of Naval Research to get around censorware in countries like China. The EFF took it over and ran it for a few years and it is now run by the Tor Project, a nonprofit organization.
When you run TOR, your Internet requests are sent through a series of computers that pass along the request. The computers don't know where the request originated and the request itself is encrypted. It only emerges in the clear when it reaches the destination server.
Imagine an onion. Or watch the video version of this article to see a real onion. I initiate an encrypted request that gets sent to the first layer, which then gets sent to the next layer, then on to the next layer. But the layers only know the last layer they got it from. They can't trace it back to the onion's skin. See? Hence the name, onion router.
It's very easy for you to use TOR on your end. Go to torproject.org and download the right software bundle for your computer. You get a few pieces of software in addition to TOR. Vidalia is a graphical user interface. It starts relaying traffic through TOR, and allows you to manage how TOR works for you. There's also something called Privoxy, that I'll explain later.
First though, you have to configure the different programs you use to take advantage of TOR. Read the guide or visit the TOR Wiki to learn how to configure specific apps. I'll explain how to set up Firefox.
Once Firefox is up and running, go click on the words "Tor Disabled." They should become Tor Enabled. Now your Web traffic is securely running through TOR.
The final piece of the software installed with Vidalia is the one I mentioned earlier, Privoxy. This is a filtering proxy server that adds additional security at the application layer. Privoxy hides your true location. You appear to be surfing from somewhere you are not. Cool, sort of. Some sites autodetect your location. With Privoxy running, they get it wrong. Google may force you to use another country's search engine for instance, and network television video may complain that you are out of the country and refuse to stream video.
If you don't want the added protection of Privoxy, you can turn off the proxy settings in Firefox. Go to Preferences, advanced, settings, and choose No proxy. That decreases your anonymity though. Just remember that you have to have TOR enabled every time you browse, or what you're browsing can be tracked.
Also keep in mind some security researchers have found some possible vulnerabilities in TOR. Nothing is 100 percent. But the Vidalia interface with Privoxy and the Firefox plug-in greatly increases your anonymity.
We've only touched the epidermis of what TOR can do. If you want to learn more, start at torproject.org. You can even volunteer.