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What is the best, fastest, safest way to surf the web anonymously, and how much anonymity can you really achieve?

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15 Answers 15

UltraSurf is fast, free, and very easy to use.

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If I wanted to surf the web anonymously, I'd focus on 3 main areas:

  1. concealing my identity
    • concealing my offline identity (physical location, ISP accounts, billing info, etc.)
    • concealing my online identities (email address, forum account, social media accounts, etc.)
  2. concealing my activities online
    • server logs
    • forum messages, messages posted by facebook apps, etc.
    • tracking cookies and other user tracking/profiling technologies
    • packet sniffers and untrusted networks
  3. concealing my activities offline
    • browser cookies, browser caches, web history, autocomplete, saved passwords, etc.
    • bookmarks
    • keyloggers, trojans, etc.

The main ways to achieve these goals (in order to preference) are:

  1. don't leave a track in the first place
    • Not creating any evidence of your activities at all is practically impossible in most circumstances, however, using throwaway accounts, disabling tracking cookies, and not using services known to have poor privacy policies (or help governments illegally spy on their users) is a good start.
    • Also avoid using public terminals you can't be sure are clean of keyloggers, spyware, etc. Need to use a public terminal? How about booting up a live CD/SSD? If you're even more paranoid, bring your own USB keyboard.
    • Anonymous proxies and anonymity networks like Tor are good tools since your physical location (and thus your physical identity) is never connected to your online activities. Though you can still leave an online trail and potentially do something that reveals your offline identity, such as logging into an account tied to your offline identity.
  2. hide yourself using encryption
    • If you can use end-to-end encryption, and especially if even the service provider at the other end is unable to access your data, then there may be evidence that you were online, but no one can tell what you were doing. Here I'm using the term "encryption" generally. You can even disguise your data so others can't tell what you're really doing. But don't do something stupid like use HTTPS everywhere but then transmit your password in plain text when using FTP or send an email over an unencrypted connection.
    • You can even use encryption to hide your activities offline by using full-disk encryption. Even if you don't save browser cookies/histories, you probably still keep bookmarks and so on. If you use a password manager for your online passwords, it might be a good idea to keep the password database in a separate hidden volume.
  3. cover your tracks after the fact
    • Obviously you can't break into a data center to erase your online tracks, but you can still use private browsing/incognito mode so that your browsing history/cache/cookies/etc. are erased as soon as you close the browser. (Note: this doesn't work with Flash cookies. And although many companies, including Clearspring, Quantcast and Hulu were sued for using Flash cookies for tracking, it's still used by many, including Hulu.)
  4. hide yourself in the crowd
    • Most website operators enable basic logging out of necessity. However, the sheer volume of traffic they receive can provide a certain level of privacy if you don't stand out from the crowd. That's why Panopticlick measures your browser's uniqueness. Likewise, if you use a public internet connection that lots of people use and your usage patterns are ununique, then it'll be very hard for others to identify your tracks amongst the noise.
    • Shared public accounts can be handy for this as well. Usually such accounts are simply a way to bypass compulsory registration, but if thousands of people are sharing a single account, it's hard to tie one person to a specific activity.
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1c.) When using IPv6, ensure you're not transmitting your MAC address. –  Arjan Apr 13 '12 at 17:12

Use TAILS, The Amnesic Incognito Live System from https://tails.boum.org/ via either burning the ISO file to a Live CD or a USB flash drive. It incorporates all apps such as email for use over Tor, and appears to release every couple of months. It uses a Debian Linux release with a Firefox derivative (version 10+) that is heavily modified to protect privacy along with the Ad Block Plus and NoScript Firefox add-ons and uses Vidalia, a GUI controller for Tor. They are working on producing a persistent storage (USB related) in a future release.

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You can use TOR + your internet provider proxy + web proxies. You can also try freenet but its more like a private network.

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Using a virtual machine could help out; though it doesn't really hide your ISP, it just produces another one... Could be something you could try out though.

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No. A virtual machine, by itself, will do nothing to hide your ISP (ISP = Internet Service Provider). It will also do nothing to hide your public IP (Internet Protocol) address, although it will change the one used internally on your local network. The most that would do is allow you to tear down the virtual machine to erase any traces of activity on your hard drive, but it would have to be used in conjunction with other methods to hide your IP (such as Tor or UltraSurf). –  Contango Jan 31 '13 at 9:54

There is no real way to be completely anonymous on the internet.

You can use Tor, change your IP all the time, delete all data left behind, but given enough time, it can always be traced back to you. So yes, for simply hiding one or 2 sites you visit, a proxy and all these other good idea work fine.

But if your not supposed to be doing it, legal reasons or whatnot, just remember, they can always fun you given enough time and enough subpoenas will always find you.

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You use an anonymous connection like open wireless networks or prepaid mobile internet cards, strong encryption, and secure services (service providers that either don't keep or anonymize their logs) so that there's no one to be subpoenaed. Perfect security may be impossible, but good enough security is possible, even against governments. –  Lèse majesté Apr 13 '12 at 11:25
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Even with that, browser plugins, IP address, fonts even can provide a unique identifier for almost any computer in the world. Yeah it might be anonymous for the most part but if someone can test your computer versus a known ID, your screwed. –  alpha1 May 21 '12 at 15:37

If you're talking about not identifying yourself, your IP address and browser, etc, to websites, then Proxify may be of use.

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  1. Use Tor
  2. Use Firefox with Adblock and Noscript
  3. Uninstall all plugins and extensions you don't need, things like Flash, Silverlight, Java, etc.
  4. If a site offers a HTTPS version, use it. (HTTPS is encrypted, unlike HTTP)
  5. Delete your cookies between sessions.
  6. Don't give any personal information away.
  7. If your ISP offers a dynamic IP address, use it. Release and renew your IP between sessions.
  8. Enable Firefox's private browsing feature.
  9. Install the RefControl addon and set it to block HTTP referrers.
  10. Use the User Agent Switcher to send a blank user agent, or spoof a completely different browser. (For example, if you're running Firefox on Vista, send IE7 on XP.)
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+ Use application that changes NIC's MAC address on bootup. –  raspi Jul 23 '09 at 5:29
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I always thought the MAC doesn't propagate after the first routing device? –  Arjan Jul 23 '09 at 21:16
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Expanding on point 4, this can be automated now for some sites by using the addon HTTPS Everywhere from the EFF. –  Turix Apr 13 '12 at 11:20
    
I would add Ghostery and Redirect cleaner, to this list. Also check EFF's Panopticlick to check your uniqueness. As a last solution: use different profiles in Firefox to separate privat browsing and using gmail/facebook/twitter. –  Tim Apr 13 '12 at 11:28
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@Arjan: I think you're right; TCP/IP doesn't transmit MAC addresses, otherwise most online apps like forums would use MAC address bans instead of IP bans since most internet users have dynamic IPs. –  Lèse majesté Apr 13 '12 at 13:48

I'll add Privoxy to the list.

Privoxy is a non-caching web proxy with advanced filtering capabilities for enhancing privacy, modifying web page data and HTTP headers, controlling access, and removing ads and other obnoxious Internet junk. Privoxy has a flexible configuration and can be customized to suit individual needs and tastes. It has application for both stand-alone systems and multi-user networks.

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Different anonymity services exist for what type of anonymity you are looking to achieve.

Want to change your IP?

  • Use Proxies and Tor
  • Free Public internet hotspots

Want to surf on a machine without leaving a trace?

  • Use the measures that MiffTheFox mentioned

Also something that has not been mentioned yet is VPN services. These usually cost $$$ and money can always leave a trail back to you depending on how you spend it. It all depends on how much you trust your VPN provider.

There are some other ways of getting anonymity but these cross the lines of what most countries consider to be illegal.

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I would second 'use a public/unsecured wifi hotspot' –  Tim Apr 13 '12 at 11:22

I recently tested tor and decided it the performance was abysmal.

You want to be anonymous with regards to what? This is just like security threat analysis. Are you trying to avoid the attention of the sysadmin, the government or future employers and neighbors?

The government wins unless you can move your interent connection across legal borders, good if you are a political dissident, bad if you're an ordinary criminal or tax dodger. Companies like Anonymizer probably would turn over their records (if any) if the government forced them to.

People trying to defeat TOS and the sysadmins are probably trolls and spammers-- I hope the sysadmins win the anonymity war on that front.

Not providing any correlating evidence will keep you private from future employers and neighbors--e.g. don't post your photo, real name, significant clues, etc. To do that, you don't even need to have a proxy because wordpress.com isn't going to forward your blog posts to your neighbor or your boss.

You could be using Tor, but as soon as you mention a few of your friends names or accidentally sign your real name just once, you've lost your anonymity.

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Not a direct answer to your question, but: when using Flash, then read some details on How to automatically remove Flash history/privacy trail? Or stop Flash from storing it?...

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Installing the Tor Bundle includes the TorButton Firefox extension, which won't allow plugins like Flash - these plugins could leak your identity, even when using Tor. For example, a Flash app could determine the local IP and send that information back to the server, so even if it's being sent over Tor, you're still hosed. So use Tor, Tor is good, but don't use any unsafe plugins.

To be certain that browsing history isn't saved on a hard disk, you can boot from a Linux Live CD and run Tor from there.

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I would imagine you mean not keeping your information from being stored on your computer, but being stored on everyone elses. For the former, just use private browsing mode, which is now in every major browser.

For the latter, there are a few things you can do.

  1. Encrypt your connection
  2. When asked to be "remembered" by sites, don't
  3. Use proxies
  4. Don't have a Facebook/Twitter/whatever

Other than that, I do not know.

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protected by nhinkle Apr 29 '12 at 18:58

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