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For data collectors, analyzing network traffic can prove to be extremely valuable. Your browsing history and behavior are then basically up for sale to advertisers, marketers, and those with ulterior motives. Even if your exact identity isn't given (just information about browsing behavior), it's still likely possible to use that dataset to identify you.
Unfortunately, it's challenging and maybe even impossible to hide 100% of the time completely. But if you're proactive, you can dramatically decrease what you leave on the table for others to find.
Where should you start? One of the easiest things you can do is be mindful of the browser you use to access the internet. And this article will help you do that. There are quite a few browsers and other software that aim to keep your information private. Here are some that you can consider.
Note: We aren't affiliated with any of these and are in no way saying that these will keep you completely safe and hidden. They're a good start, though. It would be best if you looked individually into the ones you consider using. We also encourage you to look into a VPN. Hostwinds' VPN service ensures that no one can follow you around the web or spy on your browsing. Your browsing is never tracked, and there's no history of it, period. Plus, you don't have to deal with pesky firewalls.
(Available for Windows, Linux, Mac)
If you've looked into privacy online at all, you've probably heard of TOR. Or it may ring a bell because it's more recently got attention for its ability to show dark web content that most popular search engines don't show.
It started getting attention in the early 2000s and has had loyal users since. The selling point has always been that you can access the internet completely anonymously. It doesn't let on about your location. It tries to hide everything from anyone (or any potential bot) from seeing anything about you. That includes location, personal data, browsing history, and even any online messages you send.
Did you know? The US Navy uses TOR and even was a central part of its development.
TOR uses a vast network of servers located all over the world. When you use the TOR browser and connect to the network, your info is encrypted and sent through an array of these different servers before exiting onto your destination. This makes it virtually impossible for anyone to piece together enough information to determine your identity, let alone track your behavior or where you go on the internet.
I highly recommend watching this six-minute video to get a better understanding of how it works.
Since TOR is a portable app, you could install it on a memory stick if you want and strictly use it from there. That means you can use it anywhere – your PC, a friend's PC, or even a PC at the public library.
The main downside to using TOR is its speed. Don't expect lightning-fast browsing here. Since you're being routed through all these different servers (or nodes), it does take a toll, and it's obviously slower than what you're probably used to. If you're on a great connection, it might not be as noticeable, but for many users, it's super noticeable.
While using TOR will significantly increase privacy, nothing online comes with complete security. If you're using it to partake in risky behavior, then, of course, you're putting yourself at more risk. We're talking about using it to download torrents. Or if you're using not-so-honorable scripts, programs, or browser plugins. When you compare it to using almost any other well-known browser that most people use, though, it's a definite boost to your privacy.
If you don't want to use TOR, there are other alternatives that you can consider too. Here are just a few that we've gathered…
The Invisible Internet Project (I2P). Like TOR, I2P utilizes a complex layer of different networks. But it does so differently than TOR. It uses UDP sessions and TCP/IP. It carries multiple bits of information along a route instead of TOR and routes carry both incoming and outgoing traffic. It's more robust and a preferred choice if using services vs. just browsing the internet (TOR would probably be preferred).
(Available for Mac and PC)
Next in line is Epic Browser. No, it doesn't use a special network comprised of different layers. However, it quickly squashes the odds of your privacy being compromised. Some of the most common ways your privacy gets compromised are through DNS pre-fetching, a saved cache of your browsing history, and of course – 3rd party cookies. Epic Browser doesn't allow any of this.
When you're done browsing, and you close the browser, everything is wiped. It deletes:
They claim they protect you from over 600 hacking attempts in a typical browsing session.
(Available for Windows, Mac, FreeBSD, and Linux)
By default, it'll launch in what would be considered an incognito or private mode. When you close it, everything will be wiped, similar to Epic Browser. If you want it to remember anything at all about your browsing, you'll have to set up a master password before doing so.
It's a bit rough around the edges for some, but the built-in privacy features may make it worth a shot.
(Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, OS)
Globus combines the power of their global VPN and TOR to create a secure, private browsing session. You can see the breakdown of how it works on their site. This is not a free service, though. You get the first five days free, then to continue, you have to choose one of their monthly subscription plans.
(Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android)
Because SRWare Iron is Chromium-based (as are several browsers listed here), it'll seem familiar to Chrome users. However, SRWare Iron doesn't label you with a unique user ID every time you open the browser. That's not the only thing that separates it from Chrome, though. You can see other Chrome features that could affect your privacy, which they've removed, here.
(Available for Windows)
The Avira Scout browser is offered for free by a German anti-virus company. It's another Chromium-based browser but supercharged with a slew of features that increase both your privacy and security. These features use both 3rd party plugins and extensions, as well as those developed by Avira itself that:
(Available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)
Disconnect will collect data about the website and visually show you if they're trying to track you. It's offered on a "Pay what you want" basis. They claim that it's used by over a million people and that you'll be able to load sites nearly 30% faster.
The free version is a browser toolbar extension you can use on one browser. If you want to use it more than that across all browsers and your entire device, then it's a one-time $24.99 fee. The premium version will use their VPN to encrypt data even on open WiFi, so it can offer some protection while you're on the go and using your mobile device.
(Available for Windows, Mac, Linux)
The Comodo Dragon Browser blocks cookies and tracking automatically. It also ships with domain validation, which means it'll be able to tell between a site with solid SSLs and weak ones. You get protection from viruses and malware from the Comodo anti-virus suite that comes with it, too.
(Ran from portable media)
Tails is another that's not a browser… It's a free operating system typically installed on a USB drive, but you could also put it on a DVD or SD card. Because of this, it's an OS you can carry with you and load up on pretty much any computer. As with Whonix, all internet traffic within Tails will be routed through TOR. So your privacy is in good hands while you're browsing. And since you take it with you when you're done, your privacy is in good hands afterward, too. There's no trace, no evidence of anything on the computer once it's ejected.
It's preloaded with helpful encryption tools, too. Encrypt the USB stick with LUKS, automatically HTTPS for communications, encrypt documents and emails with OpenPGP, protect messages with OTR, and more.
It also comes loaded with standard, helpful programs, and services like instant messaging, an email client, sound/image editors, an office suite, etc.
There are many things you should be aware of before using Tails, though. They have a list of things you are NOT protected against here.
(Available for Windows, Linux, Max, Qubes)
Whonix isn't precisely an alternative or replacement for TOR. It's a desktop operating system that requires two virtual machines to be set up with Debian GNU/Linux: The Workstation and the Gateway… sometimes called the Whonix-Workstation. You can access the internet through TOR (TOR is the only way to connect) with your IP address wholly hidden.
They claim that DNS leaks are entirely impossible and that even if malware with root access finds its way into your server, it still can't find your IP. For a more in-depth look at how Whonix works with TOR to protect your privacy, see this guide on InfoSecInstitute.
(Available for Firefox, Chrome, Opera)
There are many things you can do to increase your privacy online, from browsers to plugins and extensions to full-blown operating systems that are designed and built from the ground up with privacy and security in mind. And of course, if you want to take it a step further, you can always choose to use a reliable but cheap VPN.
Which have you tried or are you considering? Do you have other tools that aren't listed here that might be helpful?
Are you concerned about your ISP?
Curious… What's your choice of #privacy protection?
— Hostwinds (@Hostwinds) April 20, 2017
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Written by Hostwinds Team / June 8, 2017