Whenever you surf the Web, you leave
yourself open to being snooped upon by web sites. They can track your
online travels, know what operating system and browser
you're running, find out your machine name, peer
into your clipboard, uncover the last sites you've
visited, examine your history list, delve into your cache, examine
your IP address and use that to learn basic information about you
such as your geographic location, and more. To a great extent, your
Internet life is an open book when you visit.
Don't believe me? Head to http://www.anonymizer.com/privacytest/. This
page, run by the Anonymizer.com web service, tells you your IP
address and machine name. And that's just a start.
Click the links such as Exposed Clipboard and Geographical Location.
You'll see just a small sampling of what web sites
can learn about you. Figure 1 shows a web site
reporting on my IP address, the contents of my clipboard, my browser
information, and my geographic location. It's close
enough; I live in Cambridge rather than Boston, and we generally
require that people turn over their passports at the border.
Figure 1. The Anonymizer.com web service, exposing my current geographic location
Much of the reason why web sites can find out this information about
you is due to the trusting nature of the Internet's
infrastructure and is inherent in the open client/server relationship
between your web browser and the servers on the sites you visit. But
a lot of it also has to do with the ability to match up information
from your PC to information in publicly available databases—for
example, databases that have information about IP addresses.
The best way to make sure web sites can't gather
personal information about you and
your computer is to surf anonymously; use an anonymous proxy server
to sit between you and the web sites you visit. When you use an
anonymous proxy server, your browser doesn't contact
a web site directly. Instead, it tells a proxy server which web site
you want to visit. The proxy server then contacts the web site, and
when you get the web site's page you
don't get it directly from the site. Instead,
it's delivered to you by the proxy server. In that
way, your browser never directly contacts the web server whose site
you want to view. The web site sees the IP address of the proxy
server, not your PC's IP address. It
can't read your cookies, see your history list, or
examine your clipboard and cache because your PC is never in direct
contact with it. You're able to surf anonymously,
without a trace.
There are two primary ways to use anonymous proxy servers. You can
run client software on your PC, which does the work of contacting the
server for you, or you can visit a web site, which does the work of
contacting the server.
If you don't want
to go to the hassle of installing a client—and if you
don't want to pay for software—to surf
anonymously, go to Anonymizer.com (http://www.anonymizer.com). In the box near
the top of the page, type the name of the site to which you want to
surf, and you'll head there anonymously. The proxy
server will grab the page for you, and you'll get
the page from the proxy server. You can also download a free version
that runs as a toolbar in Internet Explorer. Surf as you would
normally, and you'll visit those web sites directly.
When you want to visit a site anonymously, click a button and the
anonymous proxy server will do the work for you.
A fuller version of the program is available on a subscription basis
for $29.95 per year or $9.95 for three months. It blocks banner ads,
stops pop ups, encrypts the URLs you type so that they
can't be read by your ISP or network administrator,
and adds a few other features as well. I don't find
the extra features worth the money, but if these kinds of things are
important to you, go ahead and spend the money. (To learn how to
block pop ups, turn to [Hack #33].)
When you use this site, some sites will appear broken, with text and
graphics displaying oddly. But it's a small price to
pay for your privacy.
Use Internet Explorer for Anonymous Surfing
If you want to surf anonymously, you don't have to
pay a service. With a bit of hackery, you can use Internet Explorer,
or any other browser. To do it, you use an
anonymous proxy server to sit between
you and the web sites you visit.
To use an anonymous proxy server in concert with your browser, first
find an anonymous proxy server. Hundreds of free,
public proxy servers are available, but many frequently go offline or
are very slow. To find the best one, go to http://www.atomintersoft.com/products/alive-proxy/proxy-list.
The web site lists information about each server, including its
uptime percentage and the last time the server was checked to see if
it was online.
Find the server with the highest percentage of uptime. Write down the
server's IP address and the port it uses. For
example, in the listing 220.127.116.11:80, the IP
address is 18.104.22.168, and the port number is
In Internet Explorer, select Tools → Internet Options, click
the Connections tab, and click the LAN Settings button. Check the
"Use a proxy server for your LAN"
box. In the Address field, type in the IP address of the proxy
server. In the Port field, type in its port number. Check the
"Bypass proxy server for local
addresses" box, as shown in Figure 2; you don't need to remain
anonymous on your local network.
Figure 2. Setting up Internet Explorer to surf the Web anonymously
Click OK and then OK again to close the dialog boxes. Now when you
surf the Web, the proxy server will protect your privacy. Keep in
mind that proxy servers can make surfing the Web much slower.
Get Software for Anonymous Surfing
If you prefer to install
software, get Steganos Internet Anonym 5 (http://www.steganos.com/en/sia). In addition
to anonymous proxy serving, it kills pop ups and manages cookies. You
can try it for free, but if you want to keep it
you'll have to pay $29.95.