April 24, 2024

9 practical ways to stay anonymous online

Yes, staying untraceable on the internet is challenging, but it is possible. Here are some ways to help you stay as anonymous as you can.

1. Use Ad Blockers

Adblock website homepage

Being bombarded by ads can be annoying. Ad trackers can get insights into your interests, shopping habits, and behavior to create an online portfolio of yours. They then use this information to target you with personalized ads.

Some of the most popular methods companies use to track you online include cookies, URLs, pixels, and even advanced tactics such as fingerprinting and special scrips. There’s a solution, though—ad blockers.

These tools block invasive ads, scripts, cookies, and popups. They also reduce the risk of being tracked by ads and other third-party sites.

Most browsers have built-in ad-blocker settings. In Chrome, visit the Settings options by clicking the three dots on the top-right corner. Click Privacy and Security > Site Settings > Additional Content Settings > Ads. Then, turn off “Block ads on sites that show intrusive or misleading ads.”

If your browser doesn’t have an ad blocker, or if you want advanced protection against browser fingerprinting, supercookies, and pixels, you’ll need to get an external ad blocker from a reputable provider, such as Privacy Badger, uBlock, or Ghostery.

2. Stay Off Social Media

Most social media platforms are breeding grounds for privacy violations and data exploitation. As many as 61.4% of the world’s population uses some or the other social media platform and shares personal information even without realizing it.

According to a survey conducted in 2021, 37% of users reported their online profile was hacked, with 35% on Instagram and 77% on Facebook.

Image of person reading instead of using their phone

Oversharing personal information on social media platforms makes you vulnerable to risks such as unauthorized access to your personal life and data hijacking.

To stay anonymous online, limit sharing your personal information like address, names of family members, education, work, and other sensitive details with any online platform unless it’s government-sanctioned.

The best way to not have your data leaked or not be tracked is to not give your real info in the first place. This is why many users furnish fake personal information on social media platforms. However, this might have its own legal repercussions as it is against the policy of these platforms. Also, make sure you’re not impersonating someone in the process.

Also, remember to check your privacy settings regularly.

For example, Facebook lets you lock your profile so that only your friends can view your activities. Doing so is pretty simple—click on the three dots on your Facebook profile and tap on the lock profile option.

Twitter (now X) also has a similar feature where you can limit your tweet’s visibility to just your followers. Go to the Privacy and Safety settings of your X account and click on Audience and tagging. Then, check the box beside the option “Protect your Tweets”.

However, for these methods to work, make sure you only add people you know to your friend list.

3. Use HTTPS

If you use Internet banking or shop online, you’re sharing sensitive information like credit cards, bank accounts, and social security numbers. So, make sure the site you are using is secure. You can easily identify a secure website by checking the URL begins with HTTPS instead of HTTP.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is a protocol used for transferring information over the internet. HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encrypts HTTP, securing the data that’s transferred between your browser and the websites you visit. It encrypts the data transferred between the websites you visit and the browser you use, preventing eavesdropping.

Both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox come with the ability to only use secure HTTPS connections. To activate the HTTPS-Only Mode on Firefox, go to Settings and then Privacy & Security. Head over to the HTTPS-Only Mode where you can select between “Enable HTTPS-Only Mode in all windows” and “Enable HTTPS-Only Mode in private windows only.”

The process is similar on Chrome. Settings > Privacy and Security > Security > Turn on “Always use secure connections”.

4. Use a VPN

Your IP address can be easily tracked by a website’s server, which it can use to identify you or track your online activities. You can avoid this by setting up a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN masks your IP address, and assigns you a new one, making it challenging for anyone to track you.

Surfshark VPN dashboard

The best VPNs also encrypt your internet traffic, which helps maintain your anonymity and protect your online privacy. That being said, not all VPNs are the same. Make sure you choose a premium VPN provider with a strict no-logs policy, secure protocols, excellent privacy credentials, and a good reputation.

5. Use Anonymous Email Services

Popular email services like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook don’t offer end-to-end encryption for your emails, plus they keep your emails on their servers. This puts them at risk of interception by snoopers such as cybercriminals and even government authorities.

ProtonMail homepage

There are many secure email services, such as Zoho Mail, ProtonMail, or Posteo, that will generate a throwaway email address for temporary use. Plus, you don’t have to splurge on these services, either.

For instance, you can get Proton Mail (by Proton VPN – one of the most secure VPN services there is) for free on Android, iOS, and the web. It doesn’t require you to enter any personal information to register, and they do not store user logs or IP addresses.

Also, while creating the email, make sure they are not connected to any personal accounts and don’t contain any of your private information.

6. Use a Proxy Server

A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your system and the websites you visit. You send an information request to the proxy server, which then forwards the request to the website. So when you visit a website, it won’t see your IP address but the IP address of the proxy.

You can enable the proxy server settings in Windows 11 by clicking the ‘Start’ button, and opening the ‘Settings’ tab. Next, select ‘Network & internet’ and choose the ‘Proxy’ option. Then, turn on the ‘Automatically detect settings’ option under ‘Automatic proxy setup’.

Much like VPNs, it masks your IP address and makes it difficult for someone to track you online. However, it’s worth noting that not all proxies are free, nor are they always secure. Some proxies are honeypots set up by cybercriminals themselves! If you want to go the proxy route, we recommend carefully vetting the service you want to use.

7. Use Private Browsers

A browser is your most personal and direct connection to the internet. Popular browsers like Microsoft and Google can fall prey to vulnerabilities, such as identity and data theft attempts or attacks by snoopers who may throw malware your way which can sneak into your device and damage it.

A study in 2020 revealed that Edge uses identifiers to track user requests, making it the least secure browser out there – and Chrome collects user data for targeted ads.

Tor homepage

That’s why consider using a private browser like Tor for more secure browsing. With Tor, your data is encrypted three times, making it harder to track your digital footprint. It’s also a free and easy-to-use browser, which you can download from its website.

Although Tor is a reliable browser, it runs slower than both proxies and VPNs, to the point of regular web browsing being very time-consuming – a slight fee for privacy, if you may.

If you want a simple way to access the Tor network, you’d be glad to know that popular VPNs like NordVPN offer Tor connections from their own apps. Nord also comes with built-in antivirus and ad-blocking for all-round security.

8. Use Encrypted Storage

As we’ve been saying, everything you share or do online should take place through an encrypted or secure connection, even your storage. If you use cloud storage, go for a zero-knowledge service offering end-to-end encryption.

It’s worth noting that cloud storage’s alternative is local storage wherein your data is stored locally on your device. So, it never reaches the internet, thereby cranking up their safety.

However, for cross-device syncing and remote access to data, as well as for storing massive amounts of data (that may not be cost-effective, nor convenient, via local storage), cloud storage is a no-brainer.

Person encrypting their files on a laptop

These services use end-to-end encryption to safeguard your data against snooping third parties. Some of them, like Internxt, come with a virus scanner to check your stored files for malware, further cranking up your data’s security.

They also employ zero-knowledge architecture to keep your data safe. This means that the provider has no knowledge of the contents of your data.

Some popular solutions include Backblaze (best for backups), NordLocker (easy to use and secure), and IDrive.

9. Secure Your WiFi Router

Netgear Wi-Fi router

Securing your WiFi router is important to protect your personal information and maintain online anonymity. If you leave your Wi-Fi router unsecured, hackers can tap into private information that flows through the many devices connected to the router. This included your and your family members’ passwords, email, and even online banking details.

Reset the settings on your WiFi router when you purchase it. This includes changing the default WiFi network name and password. Most routers offer a mobile app to simplify this process. So, just download the app, log in with your admin credentials, and then head over to Settings to change the aforementioned details.

Also, consider updating your router’s firmware, disabling unused services (a WiFi router, by default, runs many services that are not needed), and using strong encryption like WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 Protocol). WPA3 is the latest and the most secure wireless encryption protocol. It prevents unauthorized access to your Wi-Fi network.

If you regularly use public WiFi or someone else’s, we recommend that you use a high-quality VPN that will encrypt all your internet traffic. However, the best practice would be not to access any sensitive information when using public WiFi, because they are not (well) encrypted.

So, Can You Stay Anonymous Online?

In today’s digital age, maintaining our online anonymity is a hot-button issue. Our online lives are vulnerable and we need to take steps to protect ourselves from hackers, internet service providers, and government authorities trying to track us and gain unauthorized access to our data, which could result in identity and financial fraud.

There are a few simple steps you can take to protect your anonymity on the internet. This includes using secure browsers, encrypted email services, VPNs, and ad blockers, as well as staying cautious on social media as far as sharing our personal information is concerned.

While it may be seriously difficult to achieve complete anonymity due to the invasive data collection and tracking, you can still take steps to minimize the risks. It’s worth the effort, and we hope the tips we’ve described will help you stay safe online.

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