Anonymity online has been a topic for years now. Everyone knows about the tracking search engines have implemented and some of the popular ways of protecting oneself such as incognito mode.
Yet, incognito mode only protects you from the simplest of the simple tracking. Search engines and other internet giants invest millions into tracking methods and algorithms, so anonymous browsing is made much more difficult than just turning on a new tab.
It is still possible, however, to browse anonymously online. There are several methods, most of which rely on ways to hide your IP address as it’s the primary vector of identification.
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5 ways to surf websites anonymously online
1. Use a public WiFi
One of the easiest, although least safe, ways to become anonymous online is to use a public WiFi. Most websites will use IP address tracking with cookie and browser monitoring as supporting solutions to the process.
Once you hop on to a public WiFi, your IP address changes to one of many in the network. All data acquired on the IP address that’s provided by your Internet Service Provider will be rendered null and void.
Websites can still realize it’s the same person through several methods, though. An obvious way to detect someone is to request a login since a username is a dead giveaway of identity outside of phishing or hacking cases.
Additionally, browsers might have cookies stored within them that deliver various tracking data to a website or application, which will essentially turn you in. As such, deleting cookies and clearing out browser data (or using a new one entirely) would be wise before using a public WiFi to change your IP address.
While finding a public WiFi is extremely easy nowadays, there are some security risks associated with it. Most public WiFis have no security protocols installed with some even having no password. Such flaws allow tech savvy people to snoop on network traffic and do even some nastier things to unsuspecting victims.
So, using a public WiFi might hide you from websites, but expose you to locals that might have some malicious intentions. Combining a public WiFi with a VPN or some other solution might help circumvent these issues.
2. Install Tor browser, delete cookies, clear data
As mentioned previously, websites and applications can track you even if you change your IP address with a public WiFi or some other methods. So, it’s best to combine an IP address change with some browser and cookie data scrambling.
If you want to do it all in one go, installing Tor browser will solve all of the problems associated with tracking. Tor browser provides an IP address change, installs various security-related add-ons, creates pop-ups when a website tries to track you, and does much more.
Tor, unfortunately, is a volunteer effort, meaning that the maintenance of the software is done for free. While it means that no one will try to sell your data for profit, it also means that the updates are slow. Additionally, they use volunteer nodes (i.e. user computers) for IP scrambling, so all connections to any websites will be woefully slow.
You can circumvent the usage of Tor browser by employing one of the other methods in the list for an IP address change. Combined with that you can clear cookies and data from your regular browser or just install a new one. Finally, use private browsing or incognito mode to prevent websites from installing cookies and it will be nearly impossible to track you.
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3. Send fake user agents
Another way websites track identities online is through the usage of user agents. Every connection request sent carries with it additional data stored in HTTP headers. One of those packets include the operating system, browser version, and several other details that might identify a user even if they change their IP address.
There are plenty of ways to fake a user agent, ranging from highly technical ones to fairly accessible methods for everyone. The easiest and often simplest way is to find a browser extension that lets you switch between user agents.
If the extension doesn’t have a list of its own, there are plenty of libraries online that store hundreds of millions of examples. All you need to do is to copy and paste them into the extension and websites will have a harder time tracking you down.
4. Use proxy servers
As mentioned previously, changing IP addresses is the critical component of anonymous web browsing. If you don’t keep flipping the switch on IPs, everything else will be nearly worthless. Various extensions on regular browsers (e.g. Chrome browser) can only do so much.
Proxy servers are the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to IP changing. Most proxy services and providers have pools of millions of IPs, which, when in proper use, makes tracking nearly impossible. Users can keep switching addresses as much as they want without hassle.
Integrating a proxy server into your daily browsing activities isn’t that hard either. There are numerous extensions available such as FoxyProxy that make integration a breeze. All you need to do once it’s installed is to enter the IP address and port of your proxy server.
Additionally, most proxy server IPs aren’t well-known as some of them are created through household devices. VPNs, on the other hand, have a smaller range of IP addresses, most of which are known to larger websites, which means they can be pre-banned, making the entire effort worthless.
Finally, there are dozens of proxy server providers, so you always have plenty of options available. Some providers even offer free proxy servers as part of a trial for their paid solutions, so you can test them out before opening up the wallet.
5. Use a Virtual Private Network
The final way to hide your IP address is to use a VPN. These have been exploding in popularity recently, primarily due to how easy they are to get and use. VPN providers have bought out ads on nearly every YouTube video, making these solutions the most visible of the entire list.
There’s good reason to use a VPN for your network traffic, too. While they function almost identically to proxy servers, they have a few benefits that may make them more enticing to the regular user.
First, VPN providers know that their target audience might not be the most tech-savvy, so they make the interface and experience seamless. Installation and usage takes just a few steps and is highly visual, making the entire process a breeze.
Additionally, they hide your IP just as well as proxies while encrypting your internet traffic as well. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, VPNs have tons of users and comparatively few IP addresses, so you can often run into issues such as slowdowns or bans.
In the end, VPNs are a decent option for those who want to browse anonymously in just a few clicks. All you need to do is buy, install, and launch one, all of which takes a few minutes. It will hide your IP, encrypt traffic, and make website tracking that much more difficult.
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