This is the 21st century, the so-called Digital Age, an age where information is more public than it is private. The sheer growth and pervasiveness of the Internet have led to additional concerns over privacy issues for a great number of people.
As we are entitled to our privacy in the physical world, why not so in the virtual one too? There are a lot of genuine reasons for why many persons wish to stay anonymous on the Internet, reasons ranging from simple precaution over personal issues, to more extreme behavior such as hiding browsing activities from a spouse and averting coercive authority.
We are not here to debate the legal, moral or ethical issues surrounding anonymity on the Internet, but merely to provide you with reviews of several methods available for you to achieve it. The programs listed here are classified as free software, and you should never have to pay a penny for any of them. After all, privacy is a fundamental right of ours, and we should not have to pay to obtain it. Indeed, if you have already paid for any of these programs, then I recommend that you demand a refund.
You will find that these programs are of the most help at internet cafes, libraries, schools, workplaces, and public or prepaid Wi-Fi hotspots, and any other frequented place where there is surely a greater need for discretion. On the other hand, depending on your reasons, they are also perfect products for use in your own home in order to prevent curious or prying eyes and even your ISP from taking advantage of the opportunity to monitor you. Although there can be no guarantees of achieving 100% anonymity online, the following free programs do a great job toward furthering that goal in the ubiquitous ether we know as the Internet.
Ultimately, anonymity comes down to two essential program elements:
- The Browser - this is your primary point of entry to the World Wide Web and the primary means through which others can access data about you. If you are serious about your anonymity on the Internet, it is essential that you harden the configuration of your browser to prevent it from revealing your private information.
- The Networking Software components that work with your browser - this is the nuts and bolts of the anonymity machine that deals with network data traffic and where to route it. Normally, our network data flows straight through the ISP on its way to and from our home networks, meaning that our ISP can easily snoop on us all the time and record everything we do. Specialized software allows us to obfuscate our network data so that it is encrypted as it passes through our ISP and so that its ultimate destination is not traceable. In other words, exactly what we communicate and with whom remains private from 3rd-parties.
There are a few types of connections which enable anonymous surfing:
- P2P - peer-to-peer is a decentralized network that routes data through multiple peers as identifiable data pieces by location-independent keys. It is generally secure but could potentially be insecure as a peer could log information about the data passing through it.
- Proxies - routing machines named proxy servers continuously act upon your transfer requests to forward data, allowing you to avoid direct communications with the tell-tale point of contact where the data packets usually would be handled. It is secure to a degree, though in fact routes can only be technically random and any logging of this passing data means vulnerability.
- VPN - a virtual private network that securely tunnels all of your information from one point to another, in essence meaning your data transfer appears to initiate from a remote machine. Generally very secure but could potentially be insecure as the remote server could log information easily about the data that you send or receive through it.
With the popularity of portable USB devices increasing, it is now possible to run portable versions of software which do not need to be installed or interfere with the client machine configuration. JonDo and Tor, for example, and many other anonymity programs listed here are now fully portable and may work under restricted conditions such as being behind a corporate firewall. However, this does not mean to imply that we sanction the breaching of your company's acceptable use policy.
A VPN client with servers based in Germany using encryption on all connections to ensure anonymity and data compression for speeds.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | iOS | Linux | Mac OS | Web App | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 4.7.19
|Our Rating: 5/5
A simple VPN client based on OpenVPN using data compression to ensure you get the very best connection without capping speeds.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 0.2.2
|Our Rating: 5/5
One of the popular tools to bypass Internet censorship and protect online privacy.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 10.08
|Our Rating: 4.5/5
A client program written in Java for routing data across the JonDo network, with limited speeds and unlimited bandwidth.
Platforms/Download: Linux | Mac OS | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 00.17.001
|Our Rating: 4/5
A VPN client based on OpenVPN with a PPTP service also on offer for mobile phone users.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | iOS | Mac OS | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 2.5
|Our Rating: 4/5
A free VPN client based on OpenVPN encrypts all of your Internet activities and not just web browsing.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | iOS | Mac OS | Windows (App) | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 2.78
|Our Rating: 4/5
Built with the advanced Tor user in mind with the ability to force a program to use your Tor connection.
Platforms/Download: Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: n/a
|Our Rating: 4/5
A Debian-based live OS that you can start on almost any computer to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship.
Platforms/Download: Linux |
Version reviewed: 12.1
|Our Rating: 3.5/5
A free service offered by SoftEther Corp as an academic experiment run by the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
Platforms/Download: Linux | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 2.20 Build 5351
|Our Rating: 3.5/5
A PPTP/L2TP/OpenVPN VPN service delivers good connection speeds to most people around the world.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | iOS | Linux | Mac OS | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: n/a
|Our Rating: 3/5
A L2TP/PPTP/OpenVPN VPN service with servers in the USA at varying speeds.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | Mac OS | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: n/a
|Our Rating: 3/5
Other Anonymous Surfing Services
Freegate is a free proxy offered by Dynamic Internet Technology Inc. This specific program offers unrestricted access for Chinese users but restricted access for all others. The extent of this restriction is unknown, but I have successfully managed to search Google, load up YouTube and Facebook without hassle. Obviously, this feature makes it a great choice for Chinese users.
Your Freedom is a Java-based "sophisticated tunneling solution" offered by resolution GmbH. Again, being Java-based means that it is truly a cross-platform solution. The GUI lacks elegance, and it looks plain and simple, even for Java. On the other hand, they have servers located worldwide, have support for lots of protocols, for instance, UDP, and they allow you to play online games using the tunnel.
However, the speeds are on the slow side: 64 kbit/s dial-up speed for free users. They also limit usage of the proxy tunnel for up to 6 hours per day or up to 15 hours per week. It's not much at all and that is why I recommend this service rather as a backup solution. They only keep logs of your statistical data for accounting purposes.
JonDo Live-DVD is a completely secure Debian-based live distribution by JonDonym which is an impressive product. Again, you can download the ISO for free and burn it to whatever bootable media you want to. On first glance, it's almost identical to Tails. However, there are significant differences that set this apart from Tails completely. The default browser is the mighty Mozilla Firefox with the JonDoFox profile as default! The system can use JonDo's super secure servers or the Tor network. It provides a wealth of applications including Pidgin for IM, Thunderbird for e-mails, LibreOffice suite, GIMP to name a few. It's Tails on steroids.
- VPN Steel
- Liberté Linux
The following anonymous surfing services are not recommended as they are no longer updated or potentially insecure.
Tor Browser Bundle is a complete anonymous browsing solution for all platforms. It used to be comprised of a client front-end program, Vidalia, for the Tor proxy that came bundled with Tor and The Firefox web browser, and their purpose is to route data across the Tor network. Nowadays, Vidalia is no longer supported or updated as a separate program so its use is no longer recommended.
JanusVM is based on VMware and is a type of product often referred to as an "Appliance" in the parlance of virtualization software, which means basically that it is a group of programs and settings preconfigured by and large from the vendor, and usually ready to run "out of the box," so to speak. In this case, specifically, it is an Internet Privacy Appliance comprised of Tor, Privoxy, Squid and OpenVPN, which run in a virtual machine as a preconfigured client.
xB Browser (or XeroBank Browser, previously known as TorPark) is a Firefox and Tor bundle. It was at one time unique compared to the other Tor programs, offered as an 'all-in-one' solution.
Privatix is by design almost identical to Tails. One significant difference is that the default browser configuration is Firefox with the Tor button, but it is no longer updated or potentially insecure.
Test Your Anonymity And Speed
Test Your Anonymity
JonDonym's Anonymity Test is a free comprehensive anonymity test. It displays all information that sites can obtain from you simply by visiting them. Lots of sites gather information about you when you visit that is mostly used to enhance your site experience; however, lots of the information you give out to them is not needed and is used for their gain.
Enter; JonDonym's Anonymity Test. It clearly identifies areas of your configuration that are not as secure as they should be and gives suggestions as to how to fix them. Areas are colour coded with easy traffic light colours; red being highly insecure/bad and green being secure/good. They also have a number of other neat features for the 'techies':
- IP Whois
- Show IP location on a map
- Information about your ISP
- Information about your PC including stuff about what OS you have to how any tabs you have open in your browser
Curious to know what websites can gather from you just by visiting them? Take the Anonymity Test and found out for yourself! It's one of the most essential tools I use to test anonymity and I highly recommend it.
NB: This test may falsely identify your IP and User-Agent as 'insecure', but this may not necessarily be the correct conclusion. The reason it does this is because the test was designed for JonDo+JonDoFox therefore any other configuration would marked in red.
The Privacy.net Analyzer is another comprehensive anonymity test. It's a little more cluttered and unorganised compared to JonDonym's test but it reveals more information. I recommend this page for experts.
Are you using Tor? If so, I recommend visiting https://check.torproject.org to check whether or not you are actually connected to the Tor network.
An oldie but goodie, http://www.whatismyip.com/ is a simple site which tells you what your IP address is. See, I told you it was simple!
Test Your Speed
Speedtest.net is a free service that allows users to test their Internet connection speed based on their location. You can use this to test the speed of your connection when using the products listed above to help you decide which is the fastest solution for you. Be sure to select the nearest server to your location for accurate results. You should be aware that there is generally a trade off between speed and anonymity, especially with free products.
Noteworthy Add-ons for Firefox Users
HTTPS Everywhere is an add-on for the Firefox browser developed by Electronic Frontier Foundation and supported by The Tor Project , and its purpose is to force your browser into making certain websites to use the secure HTTPS protocol instead of the standard HTTP protocol. Currently, the number of sites it supports is limited by predefined rule-sets, the list of which is growing through updates made periodically. However, custom websites may be added on an ad hoc basis so that users can access other websites using the HTTPS protocol. By using this add-on, or by accessing HTTPS websites where possible, you can automatically increase your level of anonymity. You will find a thorough and fascinating discussion of this topic on the website where it is supported, www.eff.org. Here are but a few of the many sites supported by this excellent Firefox extension:
- Live (Hotmail)
- NY Times
- Washington Post
On the other hand, if you watch videos on YouTube, then it is likely that YouTube is obtaining your true IP address every time you do so, whether or not you connect with a proxy or VPN. If you really want to watch a "must see" video safely, the smarter thing to do would be to download and watch it offline. You can do so with a number of different programs. You may want to look at some of these options: KeepVid alternatives.
BetterPrivacy is another good extension to help protect you from a persistent form of Flash cookie that is more cleverly hidden and dangerous than regular browser cookies because of the way it is placed so as not to be removed with normal browser cleaning procedures. These so-called Super-Cookies are now used pervasively on the web as a means of tracking users' surfing activities without even making their presence known or apparent. And, what's more, these cookies NEVER expire! However, with this addon you can easily and automatically have them removed just as quickly as they get placed by a website or just as soon as you close your browser. Seize the day!
AdBlock Plus is another popular add-on that blocks adverts and tracking elements on webpages. In addition to the loss of a snappy and responsive browsing experience that comes from having too many advertisements choking your bandwidth and memory, malware from malicious sites often makes its way into your browser from intrusive advertising practices. However, these problems can be prevented by this extension because it allows you to install filters to block forms of html bloat and disreputable domains. These filters were designed to install painlessly and seamlessly into the browser's functionality, and there are several different filter subscriptions to help you keep up-to-date in the never-ending arms race against malware and other kinds of intrusion.
Anonymous Search Engines and Emails
Anonymous Search Engines
If you are like me, you spend a fair amount of time on the Web searching. It is a critical function and one of the features that has allowed the Web to thrive and enrich our computing experience. Its importance cannot be overstated. At the same time, this pervasiveness has in no small measure infringed upon our privacy. Privacy is one of the hallmarks of freedom and one of the liberties we need to protect vigilantly. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that we not underestimate the power inherent in the ability to monitor and record our activities while searching on the Web. The search engines you utilize will profoundly affect your rights of privacy, both now and in the future.
Ixquick purports to be the most private search engine on the Web, and it earned the first European Privacy Seal. The search policy is plainly laid out and easy to understand. Simply put, it does not record any of the individually identifying information normally collected by other search engines: IP address, user-agent, search history, etc. Yet, it provides users with comprehensive results and advanced searching features. If you go to Ixquick's website https://www.ixquick.com/eng/ and click on the About link, you can find out about its functionality and philosophy. I was quite impressed with it, and I use it often. Ixquick also operates another search engine called Start Page, available here: https://www.startpage.com/. Start Page brings all the power of the Google search functionality to you, along with Ixquick's additional privacy features, by serving as a proxy between users and the Google website. Accordingly, "On Startpage the privacy of Ixquick is combined with the Web search results from Google." Thus, for those who are used to Google's search results but prefer not to expose their personal identities or interests to Google's logging and tracking procedures, Start Page is the best solution. I use Start Page as my home page on Internet Explorer 9 (I know, we're up to IE 11 now). It has a built-in proxy function to allow you to visit the search results anonymously via one of the company's own secure proxies. This provides an additional layer of anonymity without sacrificing any of the results.
Another outstanding search engine that provides privacy combined with excellent results is called DuckDuckGo, which you can find here: http://duckduckgo.com/. The name is rather humorous, I know, and its appearance is perhaps a bit childlike, but do not let these features fool you. It is private and powerful. On that linked page you should look carefully toward the bottom, where you will see a few inconspicuous links, one of which is shown as "More". Click it and you will see much more indeed about this search engine's functionality and features, and at the top of that page is another "More" button, which you may want to check out for additional information. Like the other two already mentioned, this search engine prides itself on discretion but delivers much more than you would expect from its lack of flare and advertisements. I also use this site for searching, and I am quite satisfied with it. No frills and no fuss, just anonymity, efficiency and effectiveness. You really need to check out this ducky yourself!
Paranoia Remailer Anonymous Email is a truly anonymous e-mail service that uses random remailers of the mixmaster remailer network. Unfortunately, you cannot receive replies and/or track e-mail delivery. The 'From' address is randomly chosen by the remailer server but it can be defined by you assuming that the remailer you specify supports this feature (see here for more information). It can take up to 12 hours for the recipient to receive the message so don't send any time critical e-mails using this! In order to ensure your anonymity is not compromised, consider using one of the anonymity products programs listed above.
Safe-mail is a secure and anonymous e-mail service. You can define your own e-mail address with the @safe-mail.net domain. As a free user, you get a whopping 3 MB of storage, no downloads, no cookies and no ads. It also includes file storage, secure chat, photo storage, jotter, calender, your own secure messageboard, spam filters and virus protection. It works with most browsers and is compatible with the following protocols:
Finally, a few tips:
- If you set a password, don't forget it! It is impossible to retrieve it from them.
- Try to use one of the programs listed above with this service to increase your anonymity.
10 Minute Mail is a disposable e-mail service. This service is especially useful for signups and activations where you do not want to disclose your real e-mail address. This acts as a good spam prevention method. A random e-mail is generated and is updated automatically when e-mails arrive.
As the name suggests, the mailbox only lasts for time minutes until it self destructs. However, if you need to use the mailbox for a little bit longer, you can request another 10 minutes quite easily and repeat as many times as required. Highly anonymous as your mail is destroyed after 10 minutes. You cannot send e-mails using this service.
Yopmail is a dependable disposable e-mail service. It is a little more sophisticated than 10 Minute Mail and allows you to define your own e-mail address @yopmail.com or generate a random one. The accounts last for 8 days and then they expire. Again, useful for signups and activations where you do not want to disclose your real e-mail address. You can only send e-mails to other Yopmail users using this service. Warning: all mailboxes are public.
Maildrop is a modern open-source disposable e-mail service with a sleek, modern interface. You can define your own e-mail address @maildrop.cc but you cannot auto generate addresses. Exceptionally simple to use and has wide compatibility with services that don't tend to accept temporary e-mail addresses such as Facebook and Paypal. Warning: all mailboxes are public.
Guerrila Mail is the Swiss army knife of temporary e-mail services. It is very basic to look at but very feature-rich. You get things like attachment support, subject field, replies, and you can even lock down your temporary mailbox with your own password. All e-mails in the mailbox will be deleted every hour of their lifetime so be mindful of that. If you want features, try GM.
A Final Note...
I would suggest that you try to avoid web-based HTTP/CGI proxies. They are not serious tools for achieving anonymity, but are a great tool for accessing blocked content. Remember, requests are still sent to your ISP unencrypted and then on to the proxy server, which you may know very little about, and then out to the Internet. If we don't know anything about the host we're sending our data to, how can we be sure we can trust them? This isn't very anonymous at all, is it? :-)
Services like HideMy*** can be seen as trustworthy, as they have a good track record in the business of anonymisation and proxies. I can only recommend 'elite' or 'highly anonymous' HTTP proxies are genuine solutions. Choose your proxy solution wisely.
We, members of 'Gizmo's Freeware' and 'TechSupportAlert.com', are not responsible for any damage that these programs may cause to your computer. We are also not liable for any abuse or misuse of the aforementioned products by users and it is recommended that users read the terms and conditions of use for their chosen product. We cannot be held responsible if you break any laws using these programs, after all, we just review them and provide links to them. In short, don't do anything you shouldn't be doing, and you shall surf long and prosper! The article and the images are the property of TechSupportAlert.com.
We really appreciate your feedback, so if you have any criticisms, ideas, experiences, information or queries regarding the products listed here or the article then by all means use the comments section below. Thank you for reading.
I wrote each of these reviews using their respective programs...a long time ago...
What if we initially connect to one of the aforementioned services, and then connect to another service through our initial connection. Effectively, we would be anonymising our anonymous surfing session! This sounds like a very good idea if we want to double our level of anonymity. Unfortunately, this may come at a price, that price is speed. So far, I've tested this 'theory' with proXPN (proxy #1) and Ultrasurf (proxy #2) and observed only minimal speed degradation. To make this work, follow these steps:
- Connect to proxy #1
- Check your IP
- Connect to proxy #2
- Check your IP
Both IPs should have different values and not your actual IP. What is actually happening here is that your web browsing session is being processed through proxy #2 which in turn is being processed through proxy #1. Try it for yourself and see which mixes you like best.
Related Products and Links
You might want to check out these articles too:
- Best Free Web Browser
- Best Free Browser Protection Utility
- Best Free Browser Scrubber
- Best Free Router Tracer
- How to Improve Your Security When Using a Public Terminal
- Probably the Best Free Security List in the World
This software category is maintained by volunteer editor The_Blode. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.
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