Many people are concerned about their privacy and anonymity when using a computer or browsing the internet. This article gives an overview of some tools to protect against identity theft, spyware, malware and other nefarious threats that could potentially jeopardize an online experience.
These days, more and more people are connecting to the Internet with more devices than ever. While we have access to more information than we ever have, that access comes with a risk. The Internet is full of nefarious individuals who would like nothing more than to spy on your computer use or use your computer as a launching point (along with many others) to attack various websites.
In order to even use a computer with a minimal amount of security involves many pieces of software (anti-virus, anti-spyware, malware detection, intrusion detection, etc.), which often times slow a computer down considerably. In addition constantly keeping a computer up to date with current updates and patches can be a time consuming task.
Many variables must be considered when trying to maintain a level of security and anonymity when connected to the Internet. What level of anonymity do you require? Depending on what you want to accomplish there are a few tools available.
The TOR (The Onion Router) is a very good way to make sure your web browsing activities are kept anonymous and safe from browser hijacking. TOR keeps your web browser connections anonymous by encrypting your data (so it can’t be sniffed) and bouncing it around the TOR network before sending it out an “exit node” to the final destination, a web server. The level of anonymity is such that anyone sniffing your network packets, or the network packets cannot trace the connection easily or quickly, if at all.
The distributed nature of the TOR network slows down your network connection, but this is a small price to pay for ease of mind when browsing the Internet.
The TOR project has a downloadable, portable (no installation required) package, called the “TOR Browser Bundle”. This bundle comes with the TOR software required to establish a connection to the TOR network, a secure browser to browse the web, and a tools for advanced users. The secure browser that comes with the bundle is a secure implementation of the Firefox browser. This browser is configured to work with the TOR network, and comes with a couple of security minded plug-ins to enhance your online security. These plug-ins allow you to manipulate the level of security you’d like, and are very easy to use.
TOR cannot keep you completely safe however, as it has no control of network connections outside of its network. Even though it is possible to force all connections through the TOR network, total security and anonymity requires more than this.
While TOR is a great start to online anonymity and privacy, it is not enough by itself. For example, if a computer has been compromised with spyware, or a keystroke logger (logs everything you type and captures son-screen content), TOR cannot help.
TAILS (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System) goes further than TOR to help achieve a more secure computing experience. TAILS is a live Linux system, which means that no installation to the hard drive of the computer is necessary. TAILS can be booted from a thumb drive, or a CDROM.
TAILS leaves no fingerprint on a computer, unless explicitly told to. This means that even untrusted computers can be used to access the Internet securely. TAILS includes the TOR Browser, and many other tools and features that allow you to encrypt data stored on external USB drives, use traditional desktop applications, avoid hardware key-loggers, use email with GPG encryption, and much more.
Finally, it is very important to mention that TAILS also erases RAM on shutdown, or whenever the boot media is removed, this helps to avoid or eliminate cold boot attacks.
Security is more than the sum of its parts
Keeping anonymous and secure online is more than just installing software or booting from a secure USB drive. Users must change the way they think about computers and how they use them. Using TOR or TAILS listed above will provide NO anonymity if a user checks their personal Gmail account, or uses some other personally identifying website or credentials. Users must constantly be wary of what information they give online, and how that may affect their online fingerprints.
Users must also keep in mind, there is no way to be completely secure online. More exploits appear every day, and no software or combination of software can keep a person completely anonymous and secure. Only by keeping aware of what information they choose to release online, and taking steps to secure and anonymize their connection to the Internet can they hope to have a reasonable amount of security.
by Boondocking Sojourner