Anonymous Browsing: Anonymously Use the Internet
Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, or? So far as privacy and anonymity are concerned, this conflicts with our rights to both. At the end of the day, we should be able to decide which aspects of our lives are kept private and which are made public, especially online. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ISPs, corporations, and cybercriminals all have an insatiable hunger for one thing - our data.
In this guide, we'll let you know whether you should make an effort to maintain your privacy online and which methods are at your disposal for surfing more anonymously.
What Traces Do You Leave Online?
Not only criminals are on the lookout for your information: Third parties, like Internet service providers (ISPs) or the operators of websites you visit, can use your IP address to learn quite a bit about your behavior, making it easier to identify you. They won't find your name, but they can see your physical location and which websites you frequent or search for.
Beyond that, everyone who uses the Internet is exposed to some degree of tracking: This occurs when third parties follow and log your online activities using what are known as cookies. Most of the time, no ill will is intended, with the focus instead on optimizing websites and increasing profits through personalized advertising.
Finally, there are also criminals who try to canvas you as a potential mark by gathering valuable data and information, which they later use to launch more sophisticated cyber-attacks. Through eavesdropping when connected to public WiFi or visiting non-encrypted websites (those without HTTPS SSL certificates, easily recognizable by their closed lock symbol in the address bar), these villains can sneak a peek over your digital shoulder.
With our EXPERTE.com Privacy Check you can see what traces you leave online.
Anonymous surfing means that you re-exert control over your own data, making it difficult for any third parties to access it. There are a few good ways to do this.
Step #1: Hide Your IP Address
Think of your IP address as the number on the door of your home or apartment. Needless to say, it can offer some clues as to who you are. In the worst case, cybercriminals can use your IP address to uncover your identity or access your device.
There's good news though, as several ways exist to conceal your IP address. Below, we've listed some of the most popular:
A proxy server is a web server that acts as an intermediary between you and the Internet, replacing your IP address with its own. This means that you never come into direct contact with websites that you visit, and they won't be able to elicit identifiable information about you, such as your location. One neat benefit of this is that you can circumvent country or region blocking, making it possible to access otherwise unavailable content on Netflix & Co.
Proxy servers operate between your device and the Internet.
Using a proxy server becomes particularly easy when you work with web proxy services, which establish proxy connections directly in your browser. For greater flexibility, you can manually configure a proxy server in your browser or on your operating system. All you'll need to do this is a proxy IP, which you can find in our free proxy list. Walkthroughs for configuring a proxy on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS are available in our tutorial.
However, it's important to remember that even though a proxy server conceals your IP, it does not encrypt your traffic.
Tor (short for The Onion Router) is a free browser designed for ensuring maximum anonymity online. When using it, data traffic is routed through a whole network of nodes, known as Tor relays, which are operated by volunteers. Tor is based on the concept of asymmetric encryption, which provides your connection with multiple levels of protection (most easily visualized as the layers of an onion).
With Tor browser, you can anonymously surf the Web.
The main disadvantage to Tor is actually its strength, namely, all those layers of encryption that have the unpleasant side effect of reducing speed. As such, you'll peruse the Internet slower than with a (reliable) proxy server. In addition, Tor also has a somewhat poor reputation, since it's often used for dubious or illegal Darknet activities. But don't let these drawbacks demotivate you from giving Tor a go - it is completely legal to use and legitimate.
Should you just want to briefly do a bit of anonymous online browsing, you can connect to a public WiFi network or hotspot. You'll be assigned a new IP address that isn't tied to your home network or Intranet. However, the dangers lurking on public WiFi definitely surpass those of other methods we've detailed here. This is because you're vulnerable to everyone else using or connected to the network. If on public WiFi, we strongly advise only visiting encrypted HTTPS websites.
A virtual private network (VPN) functions according to the same principles as a proxy server: Your traffic is directed through an external server, masking your IP address. However, unlike a proxy server, a VPN also encrypts your data, providing enhanced security. With a VPN, you'll be able to more confidently and safely connect to public WiFi, all the while profiting from all of the other advantages of IP masking, such as the ability to bypass region restrictions.
VPNs don't only mask your IP address, they also encrypt your connection.
Step #2: Prevent Tracking
Wherever you go online, chances are that you're being tracked. Some of the solutions we've mentioned above, such as VPNs, proxy servers, and Tor, provide varying degrees of protection against this. However, there are other tools and methods available that make following your online activities either difficult or impossible.
Most browsers offer integrated anti-tracking tools or features. These include:
A number of browsers offer some sort of incognito mode, which hides traces of your surfing activity. This is primarily designed to prevent other users of the same computer or device from seeing which websites you've visited and doesn't really do much to counteract industrial-scale tracking.
Do Not Track
Several browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome, come with built-in Do Not Track features. These automatically send requests from your browser to websites you visit, asking them to not track your activities. All the same, websites are not obliged to agree to it.
Some browsers take matters a step further. With Firefox, for example, you can activate additional protection against activity tracking by entering a command in the address bar.
In our guide, we show you how to configure these browser-based tools in Chrome and Firefox.
When what your browser offers isn't enough, you can take the fight to trackers by installing additional browser extensions, a number of which exist. For example, Privacy Badger ⇱ (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Opera) is completely free and either prevents known ad-trackers from monitoring your surfing behavior or deactivates them completely.
Malwarebytes' Browser Guard is a free browser extension that helps in the fight against tracking.
Browser Guard ⇱ (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge) from the antivirus software developer Malwarebytes is a free browser extension that blocks trackers and ads. In addition, it also protects against malware and other unwanted downloads.
There also exist so-called privacy browsers, which are even more focused on enhancing their users' privacy. We already mentioned one of these above, Tor, however, there exists a whole range of other options to choose from.
Data privacy is the centerpiece of Brave browser.
Brave ⇱ is just such a free and open-source browser, which, like Chrome, is based on Chromium. It offers plenty of security and privacy settings, and by default, blocks ad trackers and ads.
Anonymous Search Engines
As we all know, few search engines are able to compete with Google, however, high-quality search results have their price, namely, your data. But, there do exist anonymous search engines, which are more discrete than those of the Internet giant. Among the most popular are DuckDuckGo ⇱, Startpage ⇱, and Qwant ⇱, with Startpage currently offering the best combination of privacy and search result quality.
Startpage is one of the most promising, privacy-focused alternatives to Google.
In our article on anonymous search engines, we introduce some of the best alternatives to Google.
More and more antivirus programs come with integrated anti-tracking capabilities and features. EXPERTE.com's top performer, Bitdefender automatically installs an anti-tracker in your browser. Take note, however, that some software does put these features behind additional paywalls.
Antivirus programs, such as Bitdefender, can also lend a hand in the fight against tracking.
To see the best antivirus programs currently on the market, be sure to consult our EXPERTE.com comparison of the leading providers.
VPN Guide: The Best Way to Anonymously and Safely Surf the Net
One of the best all-in-one solutions for safely and anonymous surfing is a VPN. Not only do they mask your IP address and conceal your location, but they can also help you get around country restrictions and censorship, all the while encrypting your traffic. And the cherry on top? You won't need to manually configure these in your browser or on your system, but just install the app from the service you've selected.
To create a secure VPN connection, follow these steps:
Step 1: Decide on a VPN provider (feel free to use our EXPERTE.com VPN comparison as a guide) and register on their website. For the following steps, we used the best service from our review series, NordVPN.
Step 2: Download the app for your VPN. Most of the time, you can find apps for all operating systems and devices on the website's download area.
With NordVPN, you can find all of the available apps in your Nord account.
Step 3: Install and open the VPN app. You'll be able to connect to any of the VPN servers the provider lists.
Most VPN services have servers around the world.
Step 4: Click on a server from the list or select a location from the map in order to create a VPN connection.
Hint: Problems with VPN connections can occasionally arise. In order not to unknowingly surf without a VPN connection, most programs come with an integrated kill switch, which automatically severs your Internet connection if the VPN loses connectivity. After you've installed the VPN of your choice, double-check the settings to make sure that the kill switch is activated.
Now you'll surf with an encrypted VPN connection.
Each VPN app looks slightly different, however, the underlying principles are always the same. The only thing you have to worry about is finding the provider that best matches your needs.
The Best VPNs: Our Top 3
We assessed and compared 22 of the most popular VPN services according to their user-friendliness, features, and security (among other factors). Here are our Top 3:
NordVPN was best in class in our VPN comparison, since the Panama-based provider combines high-security standards with top performance and plenty of features. In our VPN speed test, NordVPN also came in first, setting the bar for both downloads and uploads. The price-performance ratio is good, especially if you are ready to commit to a longer subscription.
ExpressVPN also performed excellently in our speed test, and its server network is even larger than that of NordVPN. We found its apps to be user-friendly, and laud the provider's commitment to undergoing independent security audits.
Less impressive was the service's price tag, as ExpressVPN's most affordable subscription costs three times as much as that of our top price-performance pick (for a monthly subscription, the difference is negligible). Another cause for concern: The provider is owned by Kape Technologies, a company that, in the past, was heavily criticized for spreading malware.
Our EXPERTE.com price-performance winner was Surfshark, which, in comparison to its competitors, is relatively new to the market. But don't let that fool you - it's among the best providers out there owing to its excellent performance, tons of features, and unbeatable subscription price (for 12 and 24-month contracts).
For more extensive reviews of these and the 19 other providers from our sample, be sure to consult our VPN comparison.
If you're using the Internet, you should know that total anonymity does not exist. Life is difficult to imagine without the Web, since it makes many things possible or easier, however, we pay for all of this convenience with our data. Thanks to our IP addresses and tracking (the monitoring of our digital activities) companies, ISPs, and in the worst case, cybercriminals can gather clues that let them know who is behind the keyboard or screen.
However, there are ways to make yourself more anonymous online. You can conceal your IP address with a VPN, proxy server, or Tor browser; or confound trackers with browser-based tools, special extensions, or antivirus software.
The best all-around method to enhance your online anonymity is, in our opinion, a VPN. This won't only hide your IP address, but also encrypt your connection. To learn more about which security promises VPN services make, as well as the risks and limitations of these, be sure to read our article, VPN Security: Are VPNs Really Safe?
There are lots of ways to enhance your anonymity online. You can mask your IP address with a VPN, proxy server, or Tor browser. Another option is to block or prevent tracking to the greatest extent possible, by configuring settings in your browser, adding extensions to it, and/or using a privacy browser, anonymous search engines, and antivirus software.
Tor browser offers the greatest degree of anonymity by asymmetrically encrypting your traffic. This is achieved by routing it through an entire network of nodes (relays), each of which adds another layer of security. However, alternatives also exist which come with advanced privacy settings, such as Brave browser.
100% anonymity can never be guaranteed. With EXPERTE.com's privacy check, you can quickly see which traces you leave online.