For most of us denizens of the tech community, we inhabit a virtual world called the Internet. We are free to go where we please and be who we want outside of our physical personalities. Many of us have personal accounts on Facebook or Reddit and can socialize with people on the other side of the world. Ameristralia anyone? For most of us, these capabilities are freedoms we possess. But are they really freedoms? Do we act on the freedoms by personal choice, or as an organic evolution of technology socializing the world?
Perhaps the answer is more sinister. I believe we act on these freedoms partly because we’re enable to and partly by choice. However, I think the real reason is that we are allowed to act on them.
If you had unlimited access to the Internet, would you use it? Even if your government banned the use of it? Or, for that matter, if they only allowed you to go to a certain list of sites? Or if they didn’t even make a list and just decided for you without informing you? And they didn’t tell you that the whole time you were on it they were collecting information on everything you did and giving it to third parties? Ok, I think we all know where I’m going with this…
This is a reality. It is real. The things we do, the people we talk to, the places we see – all of that freedom is being decided not by us, but by our government. Just as the quality of life is dependent upon geographical location, culture, religion and government, so does the Internet. So how can we live in a virtual world that defies the physical boundaries of the real one if the special interests of the physical one can affect it? We fight back. Not by force, but by being smarter with our use of the Internet. We need to change our perception on how we exist online and tread lightly everywhere we go. Below are some tips to using the Internet with caution:
Enable Do Not Track
One thing you might not realize is that popular sites like Facebook and Google track you…even when you’re not on them. Check this out. That little like button you see on every site keeps track of your logon status and the sites that you’ve been to. Facebook sells that information to companies who in turn target advertisements at you. Google is notorious for this. Any search on Google is tracked and stored in your online profile. Didn’t make one you say? Don’t have to, they can do it by IP and/or physical computer. Ever go to Newegg then back to Google search and see a Newegg ad for that thing you were looking for. That’s Google tracking at work. If you do have a Google account, it’s 10x worse. Writing an email about what to get for little Sally’s birthday? Hey what’s that Google? My Little Pony 30% at Amazon? Gee thanks. So if you don’t like being followed everywhere you go, try this. Go to http://donottrack.us/ and see how to turn on Do Not Track on your favorite browser.
Encrypt Your Traffic
Even if you’re not into the whole mysterious anonymous person online, you should still encrypt your traffic. Besides stereotypical hackers, there’s a whole trove of questionable characters trying to get a hold of your personal data.
As a general practice, anytime you fill out a form, make sure the site has an SSL certificate. Nowadays this is pretty simple. Just look for https:// at the top of the page or a green lock. Most modern browsers will tell you. As an additional step, if you have Chrome or Firefox, get HTTPS Everywhere. It forces sites that have SSL certificates to encrypt your traffic.
Write code? Good. Use version control? Good. Encrypt when sending over a wire? No? Well you should. Really. Especially if you are working on important life changing code. If you work for a company, make sure they are encrypting all code traffic being sent over wire. Get a good DVCS like Git that has encryption built in as a feature.
Use A Proxy Service
If you really want to hide everything about yourself, you could always opt to use a proxy service, but you’d be putting all your trust in the provider. They will mostly look the other way, and not store personal information, but they tend to attract the unwanted attention of governments around the world because they are used to bypass filters(*cough* UK) and censorship(*cough* Middle East). Request from proxies also get blocked from time to time then you have to switch to a new proxy.
Anonymize DNS Requests
Yet still, there is one last step to try reaching full anonymity. Proxies and even TOR are susceptible to DNS leaks. The first thing you can do to minimize risk in the event of a leak is to switch your DNS settings to use OpenDNS. But as is, you are only sending you DNS resolutions to OpenDNS, unencrypted. To encrypt DNS requests, you need DNSCrypt. By anonymizing DNS requests, it prevents tampering, man-in-the-middle attacks, and snooping of data. It’s the last mile of security needed to come closer to full anonymity.
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