Idealogic: Your guide to online privacy

Idealogic: Your guide to online privacy
Between PRISM and our own GCSB law changes, it’s not just the crooks who are wondering how to cover their tracks online.

Between PRISM and our own GCSB law changes, it’s not just the crooks who are wondering how to cover their tracks online.

OK, it’s the crooks too, but a handy dash of anonymity can be just the thing when, for instance, you want to take a look at a competitor’s website without them knowing, blow the whistle on something dodgy at work or in government or just throw a big old bucket of troll at someone on nbr.co.nz without anyone working out that you’re actually the Minister of Finance (just joking, Bill!).

Doctor, it hurts when IP
Every device on the internet has an Internet Protocol address. So even when you make an ‘anonymous’ comment, a site owner can associate it with your IP address, and if you’ve ever used the same device to post a named comment, bingo!

Open Tor policy
Luckily, the US Navy (yes, actually!) is our friend here, thanks to a project they kicked off a while back called Tor. (It’s now an open-source platform.)

Tor allows anonymous browsing by directing web requests through any one of the thousands of IP addresses associated with the project. It’s legal, and according to the Mega crew, is even used by US law enforcement when they don’t want people to know they’re visiting your site.

Take a look at torproject.org – unless you’re worried (and we would be) that Big Brother is making a list of everyone who downloads it.

Nom nom nom de plume
It works for authors – well, it worked for JK Rowling for a wee while recently – and managed well, it could work for you.

Establishing an alternative identity to use online can be a handy way to participate in discussions you might not be able to otherwise, and we know of several very senior executives and – yes – even media types who, like The Matrix’s Mr Anderson, lead a double life.

This approach takes discipline though, especially if you also have an official, authentic online self. See also the 1979 hit song ‘Pina Colada’ for the possible romantic consequences of this popular but risky subterfuge.

Down tools
The online tools you use every day can have an impact on how visible you are online. Slashgeek.net claims your search history is more secure, for example, if you ditch trusty old Google in favour of niche search engine Duckduckgo.com (“Search anonymously. Find Instantly.”). Slashgeek also favours not-for-profit Firefox as a browser (especially with certain privacy plugins added) over Google’s Chrome.

Device and conquer
With smartphones now costing even less than a political party leader might invest in a natty bow tie, one solution offered at the recent Nethui conference is to pay cash for one, along with a prepaid SIM card, and use it only for your anonymous activities. Your phone’s IP address will still be visible, but connecting it to you will take some detective work.

And if you simply must have a laptop, online sources advise buying a brand new one, never ever connecting it to the internet, copying files to an encrypted USB stick and using that to upload via your neighbourhood Internet cafe or WINZ kiosk. (We might have made that last bit up.) To be honest, though, if you’re going that far you might also want to consider a helmet’s worth of tinfoil while you’re out shopping. Which leads us to:

The bottom line
One well-known blogger (who, in the spirit of this piece we won’t name) summed up the whole issue recently in a Venn Diagram.