Thursday, December 20, 2007

Advice to Surf the Web Anonymously

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Advice to Surf the Web Anonymously
By Ricardo D Argence (c) 2007

So, let's talk privacy, and then let's talk about how you haven't got any. That's right, if you are surfing the Internet, and you aren't doing it through some third party proxy server, the sites you surf to can potentially learn everything about you-your habits, your likes and dislikes, your buying preferences and more.

In this way, advertisers can serve up those annoying pop-up ads, spyware can quietly download to your computer in the background and track your every move, government agencies can watch you, and hackers can slither into your hard drive and steal your world.

Paranoid yet?

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If you aren't, re-read the the opening to this article slowly. While you are reading it, remember an advertiser's spyware could be phoning in your private information for future use as you read.

What is anonymous surfing? Remember the old punchline, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog?" Well, if you practice Anonymous Web Surfing 101, nobody will know whether you're Fido, the family pet out looking for the latest craze in dog food or the parakeet looking for warmer climes.

But seriously folks, put simply, anonymous web surfing erases any trace or trail of where you've been or going on the Internet.

Your private world remains private and no one, not even your Internet Service Provider (that's the guy you pay $20 to $40 dollars a month to get on the Net) won't have a clue about who you are. This is how it used to be, and this is how it should be. Period. End of story.

Beyond simple paranoia, people have various reasons to surf anonymously ranging from general terror about losing their privacy to wanting to keep their personal surfing sites that they go to on the job away from the prying eyes of their employers.

Beyond the obvious, what are spy websites looking for, and how do they accomplish it. Websites use a variety of methods to gather intel from the most basic which is your IP address to placing cookies on your website.

Your IP address is where you started from, like your home street address. Cookies are little bits of information placed on your computer that keeps track of your habits.

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One of the easiest cookies is kept by Internet Explorer, when you visit and log in to a website, IE will ask you if you want it to remember your username and password. If you say yes, it will download a small file with that information to your hard drive. Forever more, or until you clear your cookies in IE, whenever you visit that site, it will automatically fill in your log in information.

Neat, huh? Well that's okay. But what about the cookies that are downloaded that you don't know about. That's where the grey area of invasion of privacy comes in. That's also where anonymous web surfing stops it dead in its tracks.

Sites use a variety of techniques to gather and collate this information, but the two most basic are examining your IP address and placing cookies on your PC. Matching your IP address with your cookies makes it easier for them to create personal profiles. If you'd like to see what kind of information sites can gather about you, head to these two sites, which peer into your browser and report what they find. gives a comprehensive report plus an introduction to which shows you more about cookies, gives you a look at what others see when they look at your computer and more.

Browse Spy goes even deeper into your system and gives an eye-opening report on what's on your system right down to the software you own.

Now that you know why you should surf anonymously and how easy it is for others to violate your privacy, how do you stop it? It's actually easier than you might think.

There are a couple software packages out there for anonymous surfing. I personally like Tor and Vidalia. It runs in the background through my Firefox settings, and while it slows down my surfing a little, The Tor/Vidalia combination is a bit tricky to set up so if you don't need heavy-duty protection, you might want to select one of the packages listed below. Either way, I no longer have to wonder who's virtually following me around taking notes.

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Like most anonymizers, it sends my information through a special series of computers called proxy servers which screen me from the websites I'm contacting.

My computer contacts a proxy server instead of the website directly. The website, in turn, doesn't see me, it sees the proxy server's IP address and proxy servers are like the aircraft carriers of the net.

They have so much armament to block cookies, popups and other web parasites that they don't get infected or pass anything on to their clients.

Other programs that facilitate anonymous surfing include Guardster, SnoopBlocker, Mega Proxy and Anonymizer. My second favorite, anonymizer, is one of the four I just listed. Anonymizer is recognized as the leader of the pack and is relatively simple to use.

It's where I started before I got involved with servers and such, and is really good for web surfing protection.

Last, if you are at work and can't load a bunch of stuff to your workstation, simply surf to It's web based, easy and with nothing to download, a real godsend. Give them a donation and you can log in and surf to your heart's content.

It's not the prettiest site to look at, but it is functional and it hasn't yet failed me for fast cloaking.

It's done by having a special computer -- called a proxy server -- screening you from the websites you are contacting. Your computer contacts only the proxy server, which contacts the website for you.

The website, in turn, sees only your proxy server and not you. In addition to hiding your IP address, a proxy server will usually block cookies, pop-ups and other annoying web parasites.

With some systems you have to go to an anonymous service website and access your favorite website from there. With others, you download and install software which finds an anonymous server for you.

There are numerous services and programs that facilitate anonymous surfing such as Guardster, SnoopBlocker and Mega Proxy, but Anonymizer is the pioneer and recognized leader of the pack.

About The Author is the premier web hosting company in Mexico, offering a range of services for all business needs.

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