0

Using proxies is certainly a great start to staying anonymous online. A proxy will allow your IP to be hidden and the web site you are visiting will never know your real IP address if you are using a level 1 or level 2 proxy. However, there are many other variables to anonymity that are not usually taken into account.

What is a cookie?

Beyond your IP address, you are leaving numerous identifying 'trails' on every website you visit. For example, take the most commonly known tracking device used by websites: a cookie. The cookie will store information that the web server dictates on your computer. The website can then access that cookie at a later time to retrieve it. If you visit a website with a previously stored cookie on your computer for that specific website, then you have already been identified as the user you are. To put this into context, think of every time you have visited eBay or Amazon and it says something along the lines of, "Welcome back, Joe!", or whatever your name may be.

If your goal is to remain anonymous to a specific website, then you need to clear your cookies. A situation that this would apply to is using multiple identities (usernames, logins, etc) on a website that need to be kept separate and unidentifiable from each other.

You can avoid a website from storing a cookie remembering your login details simply by unchecking the box near the login area that says 'Remember me?'. Many websites have this feature, allowing you to decide whether or not your login session is remembered the next time you visit.

How does my browser compromise my anonymity?

Let's get the introductions out of the way first and briefly cover what a browser is and what it does. You are using a browser right now to view this website. Some of the more popular browsers are Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. While each browser has a few unique features, they are the same for the most part and just have different outsides. Think of different brands of car makers: all cars generally fulfill the same end goal but it is small details that set specific cars apart.

The entire reason that you can 'store' a cookie and be remembered is due to your browser. The browser is what actually does the saving and loading of the cookies. Thus the browser is also the same tool you would use to clear your cookies. Unfortunately, your browser also tells web sites a handful of information about you that can be used to identify your computer. In short, your preferred language, your installed plugins, your time zone, your system fonts and your user agent are all sent to the server without ANY additional plugins running on your computer. If your browser security policy is more lax and you allow Java applets to be ran, you will leak a significant more amount of information. To really have this point illustrated, check out Panopticlick, a website that will actually tell you how unique your browser is among the other 2 million it has scanned to date.

Blending in will make you more anonymous

In order to avoid being identified based on your browser information, your best bet is probably to look for a plugin for your browser to help falsify or block the HTTP headers containing your information. All browser information is communicated as HTTP headers and ergo modifying or masking them will help to protect your anonymity. Alternatively, you can avoid using any plugins and try to keep the same system fonts and user agent as most other users. Doing so will allow you to 'blend in' and make it impossible to differentiate you from the other people using the same fonts, user agent, etc.

If you are not sure what I mean by 'blending in' with your browser, think about a Where's Waldo picture. Would you rather be Waldo, the guy that is unique and separate from all of the rest, or like the other thousands of people that are difficult to differentiate from each other? In some situations, I would agree that being unique may be favorable, but being unique when trying to maintain anonymity is a no-no.

In conclusion, be sure to use not only an anonymous proxy when browsing online, but also to monitor your browser usage and your cookies. Practicing the techniques demonstrated in this article will help to keep you safe on the internet!

Leave a Comment