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7 Ways To Improve Internet Privacy

The President has signed into law a bill that repeals privacy restrictions on ISP’s and how they can sell your internet usage without your consent. For many, this might not be a big deal. For some though who are concerned about privacy, this move has raised eyebrows. Previously, ISP’s had to ask before doing this, but now they don’t.

There a number of ways that help prevent an ISP from tracking your every move online, some of them are easier than others. I compiled this list not as a how-to guide for any one in particular, rather point readers to resources that can help improve privacy and mitigate ISP tracking your every move online for profit.

EASY: Use Tor. Tor stands for “The Onion Router”. Tor is simply a browser that uses a global network to route requests from pages all over the planet while adding a layer of encryption on top of all traffic, which makes it virtually impossible to track a person’s internet usage. The browser can be easily downloaded and installed, and there’s no sign up or username needed. The downside to Tor is that it has a shady reputation as being a haven for the “Dark Web”. It has been used for illegal activities so using Tor can raise suspicion. Also, Tor can be slow, so it might not be suitable for some applications such as streaming video.

EASY: Use HTTPS. HTTPS is the secure protocol websites use to encrypt data between a server and a client, such as banks, email websites, many popular social media platforms and so on. If you use Chrome or Firefox, you can get an extension from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that forces websites to use HTTPS everywhere. This allows websites that don’t have HTTPS installed on them to be encrypted and sent to you as if they did. By doing so, ISP’s cannot see any of your browser’s traffic.

EASY to MODERATE: Use a Proxy. A proxy is like a VPN, except it is specialized for web browsers. A proxy server sits somewhere on the internet, and traffic is sent from the browser to the that server, which in turn puts it on the internet as normal traffic. There are two kinds of proxies: URL rewriters and HTTP Proxies. URL rewriters are simply web pages that request traffic from the internet and make it appear as if the traffic is all coming from a single web page, such as Anonymouse. The downside to URL rewriters is they they may not be compatible with all websites. The HTTP Proxy is an actual server that requires configuring the browser to use.  This will vary greatly depending on the browser and operating system you are using.

EASY to HARD: Use a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it is one of the most sure-fire ways to encrypt traffic. The biggest advantage of a VPN though is that it makes it appear as if your connecting to the Internet from a completely different location – usually wherever the VPN server is. Many expats use VPN’s to access content that isn’t available in the country they might be living in. It does this by creating a secure connection between your device and the VPN server and routing all your internet traffic (not just your browser traffic!) through the VPN. Once it reaches the server, it is decrypted and appears as normal internet traffic. VPN setup complexity can range from easy if you use a commercial service  to difficult if you decide to build one yourself.

MODERATE: Use a third-party DNS such as OpenDNS. DNS essentially works like a telephone book where names like example.com are associated with numbers, and in the case of the internet, these are IP addresses. Most ISP’s provide you with their DNS servers, however most routers can be programmed to use third party DNS servers. This prevents ISP’s from tracking you by what sites you query in the DNS server. It is possible to do a reverse lookup on an IP, but this is expensive to do and not very reliable. The added bonus if OpenDNS is that it provides malware protection and content filtering too!

MODERATE to HARD: Use an SSH Tunnel. SSH is a popular encryption protocol that is widely used in server administration. The protocol enables users to create SSH tunnels similar to the way a VPN works, but only for specific traffic that the user defines. One such mode is “dynamic” mode (also called a SOCKS proxy), which is useful for creating dynamic that work much like HTTP proxies work, but without the need for an actual proxy server. When a browser is configured to use a SOCKS proxy through an SSH, all traffic from the browser is sent over the tunnel. Like VPN’s, the point of presence appears to be wherever the SSH server is being hosted. To use SSH, one needs an SSH server installed somewhere. Setting up SSH, connecting to it, and configuring a browser to use the tunnel is pretty straight forward, but can be daunting for those less familiar with Linux or OSX. It’s certainly not as simple as using commercial VPN solution or a simple proxy server.

MODERATE: Use a combination, such as third party DNS and the EFF plugin. This solution can provide anonymity and speed.

These are 7 ways to cover your tracks while you surf. Doing so can give you more peace of mind that your ISP isn’t snooping on your traffic and provide you’re a greater deal of privacy as you use the internet.

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