Increasingly, almost every aspect of our lives is becoming under surveillance by the industrial estate and governments alike. Its all around us. Many things we would never suspect, can be or are used to track us from hydro smart meters to financial transactions. Even money in digital format, at this point in history, is surveillance.
Nowhere is the fight for your inherent right to privacy more apparently than the digital world. Advertisers, particularly in the mobile world thanks to customer analytics and location based marketing technologies, are tracking your every move as a “consumer” (there are no shortage of such companies tracking your every move across all devices). By this point, thanks to Edward Snowden, we are all intimately aware of the incestuous relationship between tech companies and the all-seeing panopticon known as the NSA.
Luckily, there are some steps that we can take to minimize the invasion of our personal lives and protect our anonymity as much as possible, perhaps even bullet-proof it.
Protect yourself with a VPN
Luckily there are some private VPN providers out there that do take Online privacy seriously. What a VPN is essentially is an encrypted SSH (Secure Shell) tunnel between your computer to the VPN provider’s machines to wherever you visit online. So, if you happen to be in Vancouver, Canada and connect to a VPN provider in Phoenix, Arizona, that connection between the two is obfuscated by an encryption layer, so your own ISP cannot even tell which websites you are visiting.
Choosing a VPN provider. The most important thing about whether or not you can reasonably trust them is if they keep logs on their users or not. Some do, some don’t. And if they do, guess who can subpoena them? Also, ironically enough given that the NSA is an arm of the US government, the US itself doesn’t have any mandatory date retention laws.
VPN services will allow you to browse, download, and upload with complete anonymity. Your actual IP address will be hidden to the world, and the sites you visit and Online activities will remain hidden from ISPs and governments. Great if you do lots of torrenting etc, or if you are in Canada, and want to access the US-based Netflix or Hulu (the latter is apparently blocked in Canada!)
One of the best VPN providers out there which does not log user’s history is Private Internet Access. They do not log, or monitor traffic at all! Nor do they do not discriminate against any kind of traffic/protocol. Cool thing is that you can be 100% bullet-proof anonymous Online with them as they take bitcoin!
Some other recommendable ones are:
VikingVPN. A “zero knowledge” VPN network which does not retain any user data. For VPN providers like this which do not yet accept bitcoin, you can always use pre-paid credit cards.
BT Guard. They are based in Canada and also do not log and take bitcoin, do not have any incoming ports monitored, so that they cannot even acknowledge takedown requests from der homeland.
Use a Live Linux CD/DVD
Using a so-called Linux-based “Live CD” is a great way to go. Just write all your saved data to a flash drive and access the Internet from a public WiFi. Sine the whole operating system loads into RAM memory, there is nothing written to the machine.
Some Linux Live CDs which are especially made to either be used in live-only mode or are made for maximizing anonymity are:
Knoppix. KNOPPIX is a bootable Live system with about 8gb of software to use!
Privatix Live System. This is another Debian-based OS which makes it so that your private data, documents, e-mails and PGP-keys are not saved on the your computer and are instead saved on an encrypted USB drive etc. Privatix gives you anonymous web surfing through Tor, Firefox and Torbutton.
Spoofing Your MAC Address
Every device has a unique hardware identifier known as a MAC address, similar to the VIN number on a car. However this can be faked for an added layer of security. The above-mentioned TAILS Linux OS has an easy to follow guide on how to spoof your MAC address.
Apart from using a VPN, you can also use a proxy to connect. There is a huge ongoing list of them at http://www.samair.ru/proxy and more at publicproxyservers.com. Although it is infinitely better to use a VPN because you are guaranteed an encrypted tunnel to connect to the outside, proxies might be a good thing to hide your browsing activities while at work etc. Not all proxies are anonymous, so look for ones that are.
Secure Your Browser
Staying safe with Firefox HTTPS Everywhere Browser Extension. SSL is still your best bet for keeping your web traffic private. If you want to keep packet sniffers out of your online life your web traffic should always go through an SSL connection. This combined with a good anonymous VPN that doesn’t log is perfect!
Use extensions like NoScript for Firefox, NotScripts for Chrome allow you to turn off scripting for whichever websites you choose. Ghostery is an extension for your browser which allows you to dynamically see exactly which parts of websites are tracking you in Firefox, Chrome, Opera, or Safari. Turn off whichever offending widgets you want to!
Use a secure browser. One good alternative to Google Chrome is the Chrome-based SRWare Iron from Germany (Windows Only!). Like Chrome, it too has an “incognito mode”, which is best to activate. This leaves no cookies written to your system.
Use a free VPN. Better than nothing for when you in a public Wifi location like a Starbucks etc.. Hotspot Shield is a free VPN. Being free its ads based but it is pretty easy to disable its ads in Windows by editing your HOSTS file. Also, be careful on the install as it will try to install some toolbars etc.
There are many useful sites like BugMeNot, which allow you to circumvent paywalls, which are typically used my media companies.
You can get around web-filtering software like SmartFilter, by using Circumventor. Some countries block social media and other popular sites. Read more about Circumventor at their site – Peacefire.org
As with anything else, nothing is foolproof, so always keep this in mind and be mindful of what you are doing. I don’t doubt that this list might need to go through several revisions over the next few years as this is a cat-and-mouse game between industry, government and the individual. Whenever possible use aliases and throwaway email addresses online and never give your personal email to anyone other than trusted friends.