Browsing the Internet safely

[c: made some edits and linkifications in the browsing section below]

[c: reckon the intro section needs a rewrite, anyone object if I do it?][go for it just make a revision when you do - mick]

In this page we look at:

  • Why you might want to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Using anonymous networks - PAYG and public Wi-Fi.
  • Using a better search engine than Google.
  • Using a Linux system and open browser to reduce sharing personal information.
  • Using a public proxy, TOR, VPN or Linux live CD systems for anonymity.
  • Using add-ons to Firefox like Https Everywhere, Adblock Plus and NoScript to make browsing safer.

Why browse the Internet anonymously

Here are some of the reasons for browsing the Internet anonymously:

  • To circumvent restrictions on what you can look at imposed by the state (or your boss).
  • To avoid being traced when you visit or upload to websites.
  • To avoid leaving a trail of sites you have visited open to authorities, advertisers and scammers.

When we visit a website on the Internet we leave a trail of information behind us, both on our own computer and on the server (the remote computer that hosts the website): who we are, what we are looking at, when we looked at it and what pages we visited before and after the site we are currently looking at.  When you visit a website, you leave a record of what is called your IP (Internet Protocol) address behind. This is unique to you and it is linked to the home address that the computer is being used at by your ISP (Internet Service Provider eg. BT or Virgin). The police, scammers or advertisers can use this information to find out who has looked at what site and when. Your web browser is also likely to be disclosing all sorts of information about itself, and, by implication, about you too, without you knowing it.There is more information on this in an interview here.1

Non-Technical approaches to using the Internet Anonymously

Using an internet cafe or library may help. However, a lot of them require ID (library card, passport or drivers licence) or may have CCTV.

Technical Approaches to using the Internet Anonymously

Here are a few broad categories to think about and pointers to further information.

  • Can the network you are using be linked to you? If you use a public wifi hotspot, or if you buy a pay-as-you-go 3G adapter with cash, and then credit it with top-up cards bought with cash (check for CCTV in the shop), there is less chance of leaving a trail of evidence that leads to you.
  • Your browser and operating system store a lot of information about you, probably without your knowledge. For this reason we recommend using Firefox on a GNU/Linux system
  • You can hide some information about your network location using a proxy (a computer that fetches web pages for you on your behalf), or better still a network of proxies and routers like the TOR (The Onion Router) project2 - for a great (and detailed) see here for description of using TOR.
  • Another option is to use a Linux live CD, which allows you to run Linux straight off a CD (or USB stick) on any PC. All your activity is stored in the computer's memory, which as soon as it is rebooted leaves no trace behind.  Check out PureDyne3  as a great example.
  • Using a Virtual Private Network may be a possibility for you. VPN (virtual private network) and tunneling are techniques that allow you to encrypt the data connections between yourself and another computer
     

There are no methods of security that are 100% reliable and they do not always work with all operating systems. It is a good thing to ask your techie friends about. There is a mailing list on aktivix where people may be able to help too: aktivix-discuss@lists.aktivix.org  However be aware that it is open and publicly archived.

Better Search Engines

Google changed their privacy policy to make it easier for them to collect, store and sell information about you to be able to sell targeted adverts. There are alternatives which don't log your IP address. 

Duck Duck Go - http://duckduckgo.com/ : We don't track or bubble you.

 

Ixquick - https://www.ixquick.com/  : The world's most private search engine.

 

There is a more in depth guide to searching the web securely elsewhere.

Improving your browser's security

Here are some of the other things you can do to increase your safety when browsing the Internet

We recommend installing Firefox as your browser. Firefox has a great selection of add-ons to help you browse the web safely and securely as we will find out.

Using https

Https is a form of encryption for browsing the web. It stops other people from being able to see the conversation between your computer and the website you are visiting. You can tell if it is being used as you will see https instead of http in your browser's address bar. You will probably see a picture of a padlock somewhere too.

Https Everywhere

Https Everywhere is an add-on which forces your browser to use https everywhere that it possibly can. Get Https Everywhere from https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere or read more about it at http://en.flossmanuals.net/basic-internet-security/ch018_noscript/

Using Adblockers

AdBlock Plus

Adblock Plus (http://www.adblockplus.org) is mainly known for blocking advertisements on websites. But it also can be used to block other content that may try to track you. To keep current with the latest threats, Adblock Plus relies on blacklists maintained by volunteers. Get AdBlock Plus from https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/adblock-plus/

Ghostery

Ghostery IconGhostery tells you all the companies who are tracking you when you visit a web page. You can set it up to block some or all of those companies from tracking you at all.

Setting a Master Password on Firefox

Firefox can remember your internet passwords. This can be a very convenient option to use with all those different sites requiring passwords nowadays. However, if you use this function you have to set a master password, otherwise this feature is a real security threat. To enable a master password open your Firefox preferences and select the security icon. Check the "use a master password" box. More info here.4

Some other privacy-enhancing plugins for Firefox

NoScript

Noscript pluginiconThe NoScript add-on takes browser protection further by globally blocking all JavaScript, Java and other executable content that could load from a Web site and run on your computer. To tell NoScript to ignore specific sites, you need to add them to a whitelist. This may sound tedious, but NoScript does a good job in protecting Internet users from several threats such as cross-site scripting (when attackers place malicious code from one site in another site) and clickjacking (when clicking on an innocuous object on a page reveals confidential information or allows the attacker to take control of your computer). To get NoScript, visit https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/noscript/ or http://noscript.net/getit.

Flagfox - puts a flag in the location bar telling you where the server you are visiting is most probably located. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/flagfox/

BetterPrivacy - manages "cookies" used to track you while visiting websites. Cookies are small bits of information stored in your browser. Some of them are used to track the sites you are visiting by advertisers. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/betterprivacy/

GoogleSharing - If you are worried that google knows your search history, this extension will help you prevent that. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/googlesharing/

What Next?

  • Read the online resource Basic Internet Security.5
  • Install Firefox and learn how to extend Firefox with add-ons to ensure safer browsing.
  • Try using TOR or a VPN