4 tips to keep your data anonymous

Here are several ways to keep many common tasks performed on the web secure and anonymous.

Browse the web anonymously with Tor

Far and away the Tor project is the most popular way to browse the web anonymously. The browser bundle is available for free download at the Tor project’s website. Built on the Mozilla code base, the web browser makes it considerably more difficult for third parties to track browsing activity.

Labyrinth anonymousTor, according to the organization’s website, was originally developed with the U.S. Navy in mind — primarily to protect government communications. To this day, a branch of the Navy continues to use the software for what’s called “open source” intelligence gathering.

A brief word about Internet service providers

While neither hardware nor software, ISPs are an incredibly important part of keeping online data anonymous. That’s because most major ISPs track IP address assignments, and some may even log additional activity.

For that reason, the length of time ISPs store logged user data is one of the most important things to consider with an ISP. The longer logs are maintained, the less likely it is you can use the Internet privately.

If online anonymity is a concern, ISPs with short data retention policies are obviously preferable. I use Sonic.net, which serves the San Francisco Bay area. It keeps logs no longer than two weeks— ranking it one of the strongest privacy advocates in the country, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2013 report on the topic.

While not every provider is so generous, national providers such as Comcast and AT&T are among the worst— holding onto user logs for a year or more.

Storing files in the cloud with Dropbox and Digital Quick

Dropbox itself isn’t all that secure — it doesn’t encrypt files automatically — but a simple add-on for Windows and mobile devices does. Digital Quick, which is free, builds file encryption and decryption right into Dropbox. Its feature-set also allows secure file sharing, that includes assigning different privilege levels to different users.

And, should someone — such as a hacker — obtain access to a Dropbox account, Digital Quick’s encryption ensures an additional layer of security.

Don’t use email

As recently reported by the media Lavabit, the company reported to have stored many of Edward Snowden’s emails has closed its doors. And many other secure email services are following suit, such as Silent Circle.

The writing is on the wall — at least for Silent Circle. “There are far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the email protocols themselves,” the company wrote, “Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP cannot be secure.”

Never fear— for short communications there are many alternatives. Silent Circle offers several. Burn Note too offers an app-based, Mission Impossible-style system of self-destructing messages. So too does Cryptocat — an encrypted chat service.

Max Cherney
Max A. Cherney is a San Francisco based tech journalist. Email tips to [email protected]
Max Cherney
Max Cherney
Tags: Software,Technology