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Internet Privacy For Beginners

The Internet has gone a long way too far in advancement making its reputation largely different today when compared with that of around 10 years ago. When we first hear the word ‘Internet,’ we may associate it with a lot of things from social networking to entertainment to research and even to work. But no matter how we define internet, one thing we might not notice is that somebody is watching us.

That might scare you a bit, more if you do a lot of suspicious or sensitive things on the Internet. On top of this, you better start getting aware that what you usually do maybe harmful if not beneficial to you. What I am talking about is anonymity or privacy, and by the terms themselves, you know that it’s about you and what you do. Don’t you know that by simply searching for different types of rifle scopes, you are also being entitled as a suspect of an unknown crime probably in the future?

I must put this straightforward: yes, there is somebody watching you, and by ‘you,’ I do not necessarily mean your name, but it may also include your social status, your family, your career, your interests, your pursuits, or even your past. Lately, we learned about the big issue regarding PRISM (it’s a US-based government-funded firm for ‘listening’ to online activities, even the ones you thought as secure) as it attempted to penetrate even the most private organizations or platforms such as Facebook. Though the obvious reason would be for security, do you honestly agree to allow them work on every detail of your online identity?

You might be wondering now, but if you’d ask, there’s absolutely no guarantee of a perfect solution for this, i.e., of going totally invisible on the internet. Thankfully, though, there are a few things to improve the situation and hence give you a large amount of peace of mind.

1. HTTPS

No need to mention what HTTP is, but with an ‘s’ on it, it means the line or connection is secure. Probably every person aware of this would tell you to ensure it on every transaction you will make, and that includes logging in and out from virtually every online account you have. Checking for this is simple: within the address bar, check if the web address (the URL) is preceded with https which is usually green in color to indicate security.

However, not all sites are equipped with this security measure because of the expense behind it. If you really want to make this tag available across all sites that you’d visit in the future, you may try equipping your browser( that is, if you are using either Firefox or Google Chrome) with HTTPS Everywhere. Though it does not fully promise security on absolutely all websites, at least it handles the job well. In some cases, it may slow down your connection a bit, but the change is hardly to be noticed. To download or get more information, you can visit https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere.

2. Search Engine

By default, major search engines such as Bing, Google, Yahoo! are all tracking you based on your IP address and by your activities which is searching. The said and pronounced reason for this tracking function is to better facilitate offers and filter results based on preferences or history, but again, this will still open a backdoor for unwanted occurrences that would use the online channel.

If you want to search ‘safely’ or, should we say, ‘objectively,’ thankfully there are several search engines that promises a no-tracking feature. I would love to recommend StartPage since it is enhanced by your favourite engine of Google, and it was actually known as the IxQuick. Another viable option is DuckDuckGo. You may want to set one of these as your homepage or default search engine.

3. IP Masking/Funnelling

Your IP address is the address unique to the device you are using to browse your internet. Like any physical address, your IP address is subject to tracking, which means that what you are doing, searching, or communicating, may all appear to another’s end. If you are keen to this, there are a lot of solutions to ‘fake’ your address.

Probably the most recommended is Tor. Tor comes in a lot of forms from simple desktop app to browser to specific handheld devices, but what Tor does is simple: it makes tracking overly difficult and almost perfectly impossible. It works by making your tracking credentials ‘bounced’ to different volunteer ports around the world, hence your identity and activities are almost synonymous to anonymous. Tor has but a disadvantage: it can slow down your results, but not too much to affect your productivity.

Other options for masking your IP address include the use of several apps such as Real Hide IP. This type of app works by faking your IP address to an address probably from another country, which alongside gives you an extra feature of allowing you to surf country-restricted sites. There’s a downside to this: this type of app is hardly guaranteed to be safe and promising.

You’d love to know HotspotShield and HideMyAss as well. Both work well by making your IP address sealed via a VPN (virtual private network), and the results are almost the same as I discussed above. The only probable problem you could encounter with these tools is that, you will be forced to use the paid versions of each of them to get the best of promised features.

4. Scripts and Trackers

Don’t get shocked with these jargons, but to make you understand its capabilities, they are simply trackers in the truest sense. However, scripts can be different that it is actually a body of coded language designed to perform ‘something,’ and now you ask what that ‘something’ is and how safe it is.

Specifically, these tracking ‘agents’ are more popularly acquainted with the ads that you see on almost all pages that you visit on the internet. These ads, when clicked, do contain a tracking principle to ‘remember’ you and may even put ‘something’ on your IP address to hunt you later or in the future. Here comes now the ads-blocking extensions that you’d love to have to get rid of all those tempting alerts blinking on your page. Included is the Adblock Plus, which helps by eliminating those ads from the page you are about to visit, and NoScript (NotScript for Chrome - http://goo.gl/3kF30) which helps by asking you permissions whether you’d allow a script to work on a page or not.

5. Encrypting Communication

Frankly speaking, even one simple IM (instant messaging) message can also be tracked, hence you would love to encrypt your outgoing messages no matter what tool or provider you use.

One of the simplest ways in making your outgoing e-mail secure is by simply going to LockBin to send your sensitive message. This is very simple as 1-2-3, and once you filled in all the necessary fields especially the encryption—or ‘secret’—password, your e-mail will be as vaporized as air.

If you are a Mac user, you’d love to hear about GPGTools and install it on your system (Note: you can have a Windows version of it too by visiting http://gpg4win.org/) . It’s a collection of tools, and the results are fairly the same as the one sampled above.

For instant messengers and other chat platforms, you may want to take advantage of Cryptocat in its promise of encrypting every message threads you have on that chat room. It’s a free app and works inside your browser.

Another similar app is Pidgin. What’s better about this app is that it integrates with the major instant messengers such as AIM and Google Talk, but all threads are encrypted and are out of sight from inconsiderate trackers. Alongside Pidgin is a plugin known as Off-the-Record Messaging which makes the transaction perfectly secure and direct without any little trackers to interfere.

pauline c
By Pauline Cabrera

A twenty-something savvy web designer / social media manager / SEO strategist based in Toronto, Ontario. Passionate about web design, HTML/CSS, beautifying things and internet marketing. Follow me on social media and say hello! Follow me on Facebook Follow me on Instagram Follow me on Pinterest Follow me on Twitter

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