Personal Privacy and Security Online
How to protect your online identity and personal data.
Every time you log on to any web site, send an email or chat via IM you are leaving breadcrumbs leading right back to your computer. This is because each internet connection uses an IP address in order to connect, send and receive packets of information. Just like the post office, if you don't have an address the letter carrier has no idea where to send your letter.
What can you do about it? Actually protecting your location is not that hard. There are free anonymous proxies which will do a decent job of hiding your location. Many of these provide for limited bandwidth and some sites may not fully function.
Masking your IP does nothing to protect your actual data. For this you could consider a VPN or "Virtual Private Network" service. In addition to hiding your IP location it also encrypts your actual data as it goes in and out of your computer. Some VPN services allow you to configure your network router to provide secure internet for each device on your network including WiFi. In many cases you can also add VPN to your smart cell phone.
The basic step is to use a proxy server service which will be faster. It will provide you with a different IP address which you can change frequently. Browsers such as FireFox have add-ons that will incorporate a proxy server switch at no cost. You will need to manually add servers from a list and these may change every day. It works but is not particularly convenient and only protects that browser's traffic. It will not protect your emails or IM etc.
If you really want professional grade security do what big corporations do, use a VPN service. You can obtain this service for a small monthly fee.
VPN takes your security to the next level. In addition to providing you with a different IP address, it also encrypts all traffic in and out of your computer or network. This means email, Skype, Yahoo IM etc. Any application that sends/receives data via the Internet will be encrypted provided your set up correctly.
Some things to look for in a service:
How many servers and IP's do they have available?
Do you need to install software on your device?
Will the software work on all devices or only specific operating systems?
Can I secure IM, Video Chat, FTP and other programs?
Can you have more than one device in use?
Is there good support to help you set up and troubleshoot your VPN?
I have spent some considerable time researching the offerings and I made my choice of what I believe is not only a decent service for the money, it is capable of protecting all of your devices with one account. You can configure your router and thus protect every computer, WiFi, laptop, cell phone or tablet as long as they are connected to that network.
You can take your laptop on a trip with you and your VPN goes with you! Likewise your compatible smart phone also takes your VPN with you when you travel outside of your home/office WiFi network.
Their system is compatible with all versions of Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iPhones.
They have good 24/7 support! The fees are very reasonable.
When you have VPN enabled your identity, the contents of your communication and your location are virtually undetectable. Not even your own ISP can see what you are sending as ALL traffic is encrypted both ways. The most they can see is the IP address to which you connect to your VPN. All other information is hidden. The VPN servers do not keep server logs so there is no way to back track to you.
This is great for private business communications or for online payments as your data is ALWAYS encrypted into and out of your local computer.
If you are a whistle blower and want a means to send documents in a private and secure way, this is what you should be doing.
It is better safe than sorry.
Not all VPN providers take your privacy seriously enough for me to warrant listing them here.
Some such as HideMyAss.com openly admit they keep logs of your activity for up to two years. If you are a journalist or a political dissident this can be dangerous even fatal depending on your location.
We recommend these VPN Providers who have made it clear they do NOT retain logs to connect you with the IP address they provide nor do they track what you do when on the internet.
More to be added based on research.