How to stay private online

Protecting your privacy online is not an easy task and it takes a lot of knowledge to be able to do it correctly. “Correctly” doesn’t mean “perfectly”, but you can start with a few easy tricks to increase your online privacy by orders of magnitude, and here is how.

Hide your IP

Use a VPN service and Tor for online anonymity. Avoid free VPNs since they are all shady and they have no incentive to protect you. The same applies to free proxy services and also note that a proxy doesn’t encrypt your traffic.

Tor provides anonymity and it is free, but is often slow and many websites block access from Tor gateways. A VPN can be much faster, but does not give you complete anonymity. The most paranoid users can use them both at the same time: first connect the VPN, then use Tor for anonymous browsing.

Use only VPN services that are serious about privacy and don’t keep logs of your online activity.

Always check your new IP address after you connect to VPN or Tor: tools to check your IP info

Fix your browser

All browsers will disclose a lot of information about you, including your real IP address or other sensitive information that would help 3rd parties to identify you. There are some very efficient ways to reduce the risk of exposing your identity online through your browser:

  • Block Flash completely or selectively (it represents a huge risk to security and privacy), Java and even Javascript
  • Block ads and tracking services

You can do all the above with these free plugins:

Use a privacy-focused email service

There’s no secret that Gmail, Yahoo and all popular email services are harvesting user data and they even share it with governments. These are some of the best email services that are focused on user privacy: ProtonMail and Tutanota are email services that we recommend (details in our review: Best Email Services for Security and Privacy).

Use fake identities

Create fake identities when signing up to online services that you don’t really need to share your real data. fakena.me is a service that generates random names including addresses, phone numbers and credentials that you can use when you want to sign-up quickly to a service.

Use strong, unique passwords

Reusing passwords is just as bad as having very weak passwords for all your online accounts. Use a password manager to save them privately and generate random, unique passwords for each online account you have. Keepass and KeepassX are excellent password managers.

Use separate browsers and virtual machines

For better privacy protection, it’s a good practice to use a separate browser so you don’t “mix” identities or leak information that might disclose your identity (for example through use of cookies). Using virtual machines is even better, so the activity in the virtual machine would be isolated from your personal environment. For best security use Linux virtual machines in VirtualBox or VmWare. Tails and Whonix are Linux distributions with a strong focus on privacy and anonymity.

Protect your DNS requests

Use a DNS service that doesn’t log instead of your own ISP’s DNS. Check OpenNicProject. Be warned that DNS queries are still insecure because the protocol itself is not encrypted. If you use a VPN, make sure you don’t have DNS leaks: dnsleaktest.com, ipleak.net

More details on DNS leaks and how to fix them

Encrypt your chats

Secure your online chats using Pidgin (Adium on Mac) with OTR plugin, Jitsi, TextSecure for Android, ChatSecure (Android and iOS), Threema (for Android, iOS, Windows Phone).

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