For data collectors, analyzing network traffic can prove to be extremely valuable. Your browsing history and behavior is 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 very difficult and maybe even impossible to completely hide 100% of the time. 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 about the browser you use to access the internet. And this article will help you do that. There are actually 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. You should look 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.
The Onion Router (Or… TOR)
(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 anonymous. 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 main part of its development.
How does it work?
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 on to 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 if you want to get a better understanding of how it works.
TOR is portable
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 greatly 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 most any other well-known browser that the majority of 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 one like TOR and routes carry both incoming and outgoing traffic. Basically, it’s more robust and a preferred choice if using services vs. just browsing the internet (which TOR would probably be preferred for).
(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 is 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:
- Cookies (Silverlight and Flash included)
- Any of your preferences
- Pepper data
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 setup 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 subscriptions plans.
(Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android)
Because SRWare Iron is Chromium based (as are several of the 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 actually 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:
- Prevent you from visiting phishing sites or those known to be malicious
- Forces secure connections when possibly by using HTTPS Everywhere
- Combines Privacy Badger and Avira Browser Safety to prevent tracking and safer searching
- Lets you turn off tracking elements on social media by highlighting them in a red circle
- Provides pre-built surfing modes, or you can choose to turn on and off features
- Updates for the browser are provided every time Chrome releases a new version
(Available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)
Disconnect will collect data about 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.
Comodo Dragon Browser
(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 strong 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 that’s typically installed on a USB drive, but you could also put it on a DVD or SD card. Because of this, it’s a 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 afterwards, 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, choose to automatically HTTPS for communications, encrypt documents and emails with OpenPGP, protect messages with OTR and more.
It also comes loaded with common, 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 exactly an alternative or replacement for TOR. It’s a desktop operating system that requires two virtual machines to be setup with Debian GNU/Linux: The Workstation and the Gateway… sometimes simply called the Whonix-Workstation. You can then access the internet through TOR (TOR is the only way to connect) with your IP address completely 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 actually 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
If you’ve found this helpful, please share it.