A Virtual Private Network is commonly used by the users for online safety against the surveillance agencies and malware. A VPN puts you off the radars of hackers and spy agencies by tunneling your traffic with its secret protocols layered with foolproof encryption.
Since the IP addresses are assigned by the ISPs, they are usually able to see and record the online activities. A VPN helps one prevent all kinds of snoopers including the ISPs from sneaking in without the consent of the user. The only computers able to see the data include the one transmitting it, and the one receiving it at the VPN server end.
What Should You Look for in a VPN Service
- The VPN services work under certain rules and regulations of their origins. Some of them are ordered by their governments to keep an eye on your activities and to prompt them, should they notice something unusual. Always look for a VPN that provides a neatly defined “No Logs” policy.
- Opt for a VPN service that provides multi-protocols support.
- Check the level of encryption you get with the VPN service.
What Should You Not Look for in a VPN Service
- You should avoid looking for free VPN services. Not only do they annoy you with constant ads but they are also vulnerable to malware and hackers due to third party apps.
- It is recommended to every user to avoid a VPN that keeps logs.
Tor can simply be defined as a special network that offers you free software to surf the internet freely and anonymously. Tor routes your traffic through various nodes, and in the process keeps re-encrypting the data to make sure it is safe. The nodes are only aware of the IPs they are connecting to and the IPs that are connected to them.
The exit node – one that proves out to be the bridge between your PC and the internet is one of the most vulnerable points. Since the performance of the nodes is highly dependent on the behavior of other users, you can be exposed to various threats due to the erratic behavior of other users. The IPs of the violators can also be traced down and be easily linked with the exit nodes.
The fear of piracy and other cybercrimes has led the governments in many countries to ban some of the public exit nodes. In countries where using the internet freely feels like a distant dream, hardly any public node is made available.
They are constantly monitored by their respective surveillance agencies. The users have to reconnect to several nodes before finally being able to connect to the desired exit node.
- Its online security cannot be questioned since it was developed by the US Navy to exchange secret information. It works on a mechanism where the connection keeps re-encrypting itself to make sure it is safe.
- It is an ideal choice while connecting to a Public Wi-Fi hotspot. It also helps the users in bypassing the firewalls that are used to restrict the access to internet.
- It is available to all the users for free
- Very slow. Sometimes the browsing experience becomes nothing less than a splitting headache for the users.
- The public exit nodes are usually blocked in countries where cyber laws aren’t as lenient as they are in other countries.
- P2P filesharing on Tor puts a negative impact on the speed of your and your peers’ connections. It can also affect the volunteers of exit nodes directly if you are involved in copyrights infringement.
3. Free Open Source Software
NSA is widely known for forcing the tech companies to create a backdoor for it in their software programs. Such is the ferocity of surveillance that many companies have joined hands with NSA to provide it with the users’ information for monetary gains.
The ‘online security software’, made in the UK and the US, are not trustworthy since they operate under the rules and regulations set by their respective governments.
The proprietary security software companies can easily be influenced and convinced to give some margin to the likes of NSA and GCHQ whereas the free open source software (FOSS) are hard to trace, and the codes are visible for examination to everyone; cutting down the threats of hampering the software.
That being said, it is hard to deny that the NSA has never infiltrated any FOSS software. You can easily find millions of free open source software that have been hampered with to gather data from the users all over the world. The free open source software still lead the proprietary software by miles when it comes to trusting the software with your online security.
4. Make Anonymous Online Payments
According to a report, cybercrimes result in losses of $400 billion every year all around the world. The cybercriminals do not only look to get hold off your information, they also look to exploit your personal data for monetary gains.
Read about Bitcoin and tips for other payment methods to make your transactions safer than ever.
This payment system was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, a group of people who came up with the idea of virtual currency for trading for the first time. Making its first appearance as open- source software in 2009, Bitcoin soon became popular among the masses owing to the way it operates.
The working mechanism of Bitcoin is very much similar to that of Skype and BitTorrent. Bitcoin, like the aforementioned services, also works on a peer-to-peer connection and provides a modern day platform to the users who wish to make payments without disclosing their confidential details.
Mainly used as a “crypto-currency”, Bitcoin can easily be used for trading while purchasing the online services. But out of all the services, Bitcoin remains a hot choice while purchasing online security services like a VPN or an Anti-virus.
Tips for Utmost Anonymity
- Use a pseudo email address while registering with Bitcoin to ensure your email address does not contain your personal data.
- While purchasing a service, make sure to create a separate Bitcoin wallet each time. Using the same on all is not recommended because a single mistake can expose all your past purchasing records.
- Never reveal your personal information to third parties while making payments online.
- Instead of buying the Bitcoin anonymously, use a mixer service such as shared.com to ‘cleanse’ the ‘cleanse’ it further.
a) ‘Prepaid’ Credit Cards
Heavily dependent on geo-location, this method can be used to make your transactions safe. You can use the prepaid credit cards over-the-counter without leaving a trace of your real identity and then can opt for Bitcoin with a pseudo email address by your side. This way not only do you become hard to trace but even your transactions are safe and secure.
b) Use other ‘Crypto-Currencies’
Admittedly Bitcoin is the most popular crypto-currency that keeps your identity secure; but there are some other crypto-currencies as well that are putting in a great deal of effort to ensure your payments are safe from the cybercriminals who seek monetary gains and pass on your personal data to unknown and untrusted third parties.
6. Privacy Friendly Search Engines
The search engines, apart from helping you with your query, also keep an eye on your activities and actively store your data in their data bases. The likes of Google and Yahoo – two most renowned search engines are also guilty of storing your information on their data bases.
They store the following information:
- Your IP address.
- The exact date and time of your query.
- Your Cookie ID. Cookies act as the identity of your computer. The search engines can easily get back to your computer using your stored Cookie ID.
- Your query’s search terms to determine your behavior on the internet.
The cookies, as you might know, are sent to the webpages you have requested to visit and to the third party ads owners. Once your behavior on the internet is fully understood by the search engines and the ads owners, the advertisements related to your search queries begin to show up on your screens.
7. Search Engines You Should Opt For
Following are some of the search engines that are doing their best to ensure the users receive maximum online protection while surfing the internet.
- Highly popular among the internet geeks, DuckDuckGo is a search engine that delivers the best security to its users when they type and search their queries. DuckDuckGo works on a different model and does not personalize the users’ queries; but rather it displays the same search results to the users for the same query.
- DuckDuckGo maintains that it duly complies with the courts’ orders to share the data with them if they ask for it, but since it does not track its users’ it cannot give away anything that is potentially harmful.
- When you enter your query search term on StartPage, it looks for the answers on multiple search engines while remaining anonymous and rates the answers that are listed in the top ten search results to give you the best possible answer.
- StartPage has a defined policy of not tracking its users or using their Cookie IDs against them to send your information to third parties.
- YaCy provides a free search engine portal platform to anyone for its intranet network using the peer-to-peer technology. It also allows the users to connect to world-wide peer network and brings out the best results out of billions of indexed web pages.
- YaCy believes in promoting the freedom of speech and does so by not censoring the data. YaCy does not store your Cookie IDs and your query search terms.
8. How to Make Your Browsing Impregnable?
From the likes of NSA to the owners of advertisements, all of them want your data to be shared with them. The NSA wants your data because it uses your data against you and sets its sight on your usual activities. Reason? NSA has been proactive since the infamous terrorist attacks of 9/11 and it has made its objective very clear that it wants to eliminate the elements of terrorism.
That being said, there is absolutely no denying the fact that the unwarranted surveillance has inflicted more self-damage than self-protection. But to make your browsing safe, many web browsers have integrated private browsing extensions to ensure your browsing remains unaffected from the usual poking of NSA and other surveillance agencies.
(i) AdBlock Plus
- AdBlock Plus allows you to block all kinds of ads (free and paid) that show up while you are surfing or watching a video on Youtube. It works on various web browsers and can easily be installed as an extension in Chrome and Firefox.
- AdBlock Plus also warns its users’ of the consequences if they visit any known malware hosting websites. AdBlock Plus also works on to disable all third party tracking apps and cookies that are stored on your computer.
- AdBlock Plus, however, allows some ‘genuine advertisements’ but you can turn them off as well by simply filtering the settings under the Add-ons tab on your web browser.
(ii) HTTPS Everywhere
- This open source web browser is a result of the joint efforts of Tor and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. HTTPS Everywhere is compatible with Google Chrome, Opera and Mozilla Firefox and it works by making the website work on HTTPS connection – which is considered safer than the default HTTP.
- SSL, however, is a commonly used and implemented connection source and one that has been ruptured by the NSA to gather your data while you browse.
- Apart from providing its VPN service, Disconnect also offers a web-browser extension which can be used to block ‘malvertising’ and all other threats which can be used to track your location.
- Disconnect also works against cookie storage on your device and also keeps the social networking websites and search engines in balance that otherwise track your activities.
(iv) Privacy Badger
- Privacy Badger – a browsing add-on for privacy is used to block the tracking tools that gather your information by simply sending cookies on your devices.
- Privacy Badger, unlike the aforementioned web browsing privacy add-ons, works a bit differently and blocks the malware, ads, cookies and other tools from multiple sources.
9. GNU Privacy Guard
Replacing the Symantec owned PGP software, this open source software is free to use and can be used to protect and encrypt your emails and data for offline communication. The GNU Privacy Guard has been aided majorly by the German government and it is acquiescent with RFC 4880.
Versions of GNU Privacy Guard
- The classical portable version 1.4.19
- The latest 2.1.7 version which comes with built-n support for ECC
- And the stable version 2.0.28 – commonly used by most users
GNU Privacy Guard is one of the tools which Edward Snowden used when he revealed the dirty secrets of NSA. The software can be used on Windows, Linux and OSX and can be used to hide your emails and other data from the surveillance agencies.
10. Encrypted Email
SSL encryption between the start point and the end point is commonly provided by many email services. Google has even gone as far as fixing the problems that arise while implementing the SSL encryption. That being said, the SSL encrypted connections do no good because many email services hand over your data to third parties.
Google and Microsoft have two most popular email services – Gmail and Hotmail respectively. Since they pass on your information to third parties, it can be assumed easily that even your mails are forwarded to NSA and other surveillance agencies. As for the smaller email services, they remain unaffected from the surveillance as of now.
Even though end-to-end mail encryption seems like a good idea where the sender encrypts the data and only the receiver decrypts it; it remains the least preferred way of email encryption mainly because of the way it operates. Since end-to-end encryption requires the involvement of both the sender and receiver, it usually leaves the receiver perplexed about the attachment and information in the email.
(i) Encrypted Webmail – Can it be trusted?
Until a few years ago, Hushmail was very frequently used by the users whenever they needed to send “secure webmail”. Since it was one of the least services that offered PGP encryption, it was automatically the users’ first choice whenever the security of the email came in question.
But eight years ago, a backdoor was used to track emails of three accounts and the tracked emails were handed over to the Canadian courts. Hushmail itself recommends its users to use a non-web based service like GnuPG or PGP Desktop, if they are looking for a stronger suite to encrypt their emails.
(ii) Extensions that Keep Your Emails Safe
“Encrypted Communication” is one of such extensions that encrypt your emails and offer you AES 256-bit end-to-end encryption support to ensure your emails are protected from the hackers and spy agencies. Since it is compatible with Mozilla Firefox, the extension only needs to be installed to work.
It follows a simple process where the sender is required to type in the email and right-click anywhere on the text. Once he has done that, he only needs to select “Encrypted Communication” to protect the email. The sender will need to enter the password which will be needed at the receiver’s end to decrypt the message.
“Mailvelope” is another such extension that uses end-to-end OpenPGP on the leading webmail service providers like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! and can be installed on Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox by simply downloading the extension from its website.
11. Encrypt Your Messaging and VoIP Services
One of Snowden’s revelations also indicated that VoIP services like Skype are renowned for passing on your communication details to NSA. Skype (now operating under Microsoft) has shown vulnerability even though it is commonly used by millions of users all around the world due to its free and cheap calls and video calls services.
You can secure the information you share and messages you communicate over Skype and other Instant Messaging services with a VPN service. As stated above, a VPN service cordons off the data you transmit and protects it with shield layered with extra protection in form of encryption.
12. Substitute Skype with
There are tons of free and paid VoIP services in the industry that are not only offering you voice and video call features, but they are also offering you an option of encrypting your communication. We have picked up the following out of them:
- Jitsi is free open source software that offers the same features as Skype.
- Compatible with all the devices and operating software, Jitsi offers its users the unique choice of encrypting their communication (read: chats, filesharing, voice calls and video conferences) with ZRTP.
- The initial setup of encrypted call may need a few minutes before it gets smooth.
- RedPhone is free open source app available on Android only.
- It offers end-to-end encryption on voice calls and lets you encrypt the calls.
- The working model of RedPhone is different than that of Jitsi or Skype and it allows you to use your phone number with the normal dialing system to ensure your communication remains safe.
- Tox is considered as one of the best replacements of Skype because it offers the same features as Skype with “encryption”.
- You can make free calls, send messages, share files and make video calls with surety that no third party will be monitoring your activities on Tox.
- Although, unlike Skype, Tox can be used for Tox-to-Tox calls only.
13. Use Secure Text Messaging Services
Ever since Edward Snowden – the whistleblower came forward and revealed how NSA taps your phone calls and monitors your text messages, the need for secure text messaging services is at an all-time high. There are many free and paid apps available that encrypt your text messages to provide you better safety.
- TextSecure is a private messaging application that is available to the users of Android only.
- Unlike the usual texting applications, TextSecure does not necessarily have to be installed on both (senders’ and receivers’) devices for SMS encryption.
- The users can attain maximum anonymity by chatting over TextSecure.
- Considered as one of the most secure apps for messaging, Gliph is available on different platforms including iOS, Android and desktop PCs.
- Gliph can be used for personal and professional communications. It allows you to change your name to a pseudonym for personal messages and switching it back to real for professional communications.
- It has a unique feature called “Real Delete” which allows you to delete the messages from sender’s and receiver’s devices as well as from the servers of Gliph.
- Telegram works on iOS, Android and Windows devices and provides end-to-end encryption to protect your messages so that they can only be received and decoded by the receiver.
- Telegram does not store your messages on its servers, and deletes the messages off both devices simultaneously so you can be sure there is no record of your text messages at any end.
- Telegram lets you create chats groups of up to 200 recipients to ensure you avoid the hassle of sending text messages to your colleagues and friends separately.