How To Surf Anonymously – For Free

Whenever you surf the Web, you leave yourself open to being snooped upon by web sites. They can tr...


Whenever you surf the Web, you leave yourself open to being snooped upon by web sites. They can track your online travels, know what operating system and browser you’re running, find out your machine name, uncover the last sites you’ve visited, examine your history list, delve into your cache, examine your IP address and use that to learn basic information about you such as your geographic location, and more. To a great extent, your Internet life is an open book when you visit.

Sites use a variety of techniques to gather and collate this information, but the two most basic are examining your IP address and placing cookies on your PC. Matching your IP address with your cookies makes it easier for them to create personal profiles.

If you’d like to see what kind of information sites can gather about you, head to two sites that peer into your browser and report what they find. The Privacy.net Analyzer gathers and displays basic information, such as your operating system, screen resolution, what site brought you to Privacy.net’s Analyzer, general system setup, and so on.

BrowserSpy delves even deeper into your system, and even reports on whether you have certain software on your system, such as RealPlayer and Adobe Acrobat, including version information.



Protect Yourself: Surf Anonymously

The best way to make sure web sites can’t gather personal information about you and your computer is to surf anonymously using an anonymous proxy server that sits between you and the web sites you visit. When you use an anonymous proxy server, your browser doesn’t contact a web site directly. Instead, it tells a proxy server which web site you want to visit. The proxy server then contacts the web site, and when you get the web site’s page, you don’t get it directly from the site. Instead, it’s delivered to you by the proxy server. In that way, your browser never directly contacts the web server whose site you want to view. The web site sees the IP address of the proxy server, not your PC’s IP address. It can’t read your cookies, see the referring page, or examine your clipboard because your PC is never in direct contact with it. You’re able to surf anonymously, without a trace.

There are three primary ways to use anonymous proxy servers. You can configure your browser to use an anonymous proxy server (or else get software to configure it for you); you can visit a web site, which does the work of contacting the server; or you can download software which ensures your anonymity when you use the Internet. We’ll look at how to do each.

Keep Yourself Anonymous with Tor

Tor is the best free software you can find for being anonymous when you use the Web. When you use Tor, all your communications, (not just Web surfing, but also instant messaging and other applications) is in essence bounced around a giant network of Tor servers called “onion routers,” until it’s impossible for sites or people to be able to track your activities.

Setting up Tor is straightforward. Download a package that includes not just Tor, but other software you need to work in concert with it, such as Privoxy, a proxy program. All the software is self-configuring, so you won’t need to muck around with port settings or the like. Tor runs as a small icon in your system tray. To start Tor, right-click it, and choose Start from the menu that appears; to stop it, right-click, it and choose Stop.
Once it starts, simply use the Internet as you normally would. If you’re super-paranoid, you can regularly change your Tor “identity,” to make it even harder for anyone to track your travels. Right-click the Tor icon, and select “New Identity”; that’s all it takes.

Firefox users will want to download the Torbutton, which lets them turn Tor on and off from directly within Firefox.

I’ve found only one drawback to Tor; at times, I’ve noticed a slowdown in surfing when using it. But that comes and goes, and slowdowns aren’t that extreme. So if you’re worried about your privacy when you surf, it’s a great bet.

Web Sites That Let You Surf Anonymously for Free

A number of free web sites offer free anonymous surfing via proxy servers. The benefits of these sites are obvious: when you surf, you’re anonymous. But there are some drawbacks as well. Surfing tends to be slower, and in some cases very slow. And when you use these web sites, some sites you visit from them don’t display properly.

The sites all work pretty much the same. Head to them, and in a box, type the web site you want to visit. From that point on, you’ll be surfing anonymously; the site does the work of using an anonymous proxy server for you.

The Cloak is one such service. It lets you customize exactly how anonymous you want to be and what surfing technologies you want to leave on or off. It goes beyond providing anonymity and can also protect you in other ways, for example, by turning off Java and Javascript, or even blocking banner ads. You can configure all that yourself, before you even start to surf.

Once you do that, you type in the address you want to visit, and you’re off. As you browse in your browser’s address bar, you’ll notice an odd URL that contains The Cloak’s URL as well as the site you’re visiting. For example, if you visit CNN, you’ll see something like this:

“http://www.the-cloak.com/Cloaked/+cfg=31/http%3A//www.cnn.com/”

Note that if you want to remain anonymous during your surfing session after you visit the first web site from The Cloak, you’ll have to only click links. If you type a URL directly into the address bar, The Cloak will no longer work.

The Cloak is free but has some limitations. You’ll surf more slowly than normally, and the slowdown may become noticeable. One reason is that the site also offers a for-pay service, and so it throttles down free users, while letting those who pay surf without a throttle. And the site may also limit the amount of time you surf anonymously as well, depending on whether many users are logged in simultaneously.

Use Your Browser with an Anonymous Proxy

If you don’t like the limitations imposed on you by sites like The Cloak, or would simply prefer to configure anonymous surfing yourself, you can easily set up your browser to use an anonymous proxy server that sits between you and the sites you visit.

To use an anonymous proxy server in concert with your browser, first find an anonymous proxy server. Hundreds of free, public proxy servers are available, but many frequently go offline or are very slow. Many sites compile lists of these proxy servers, including Public Proxy Servers and Atom InterSoft proxy server list. To find others, do a Google search.

I prefer the Atom InterSoft proxy server list because it provides more information about each server. It lists server uptime percentage and the last time the server was checked to see if it was online.

Find the server with the highest percentage of uptime. Write down the server’s IP address and the port it uses. For example, if you see 24.236.148.15:80, the IP address is 24.236.148.15, and the port number is 80.

In Internet Explorer, select Tools > ¨Internet Options, click the Connections tab, and click the LAN Settings button (see the picture below). Check the box next to “Use a proxy server for your LAN”. In the Address field, type in the IP address of the proxy server. In the Port field, type in its port number. Check the box next to “Bypass proxy server for local addresses”; you don’t need to remain anonymous on your local network (and if your local network is a private network, the proxy server won’t be able to connect to any of your internal web servers anyhow). Click OK and then OK again to close the dialog boxes. Now when you surf the Web, the proxy server will protect your privacy. Keep in mind that proxy servers can make surfing the Web slower, depending on the proxy you’re using.


In Firefox, select Tools > ¨Options¨ > Advanced, click the Network tab, and click the Settings button. Choose “Manual proxy configuration”, enter the proxy information (IP address and port number), and click OK and then OK again.

Problems with Anonymous Proxy Servers

If you set up your browser to use anonymous proxies, as I just outlined, you need to keep in mind that there’s one potential danger: theoretically, a hacker could set up a proxy server and then use it to capture information about the Web sites you visit. And if you type in usernames and passwords, he could steal those as well.
I haven’t heard of this actually happening in the real world, but you should be aware that it’s a possibility. Using software such as Tor or a free proxy server such as The Cloak won’t expose you to this danger; only the use of public proxy servers does.

How can you protect yourself against this? Before using a proxy server, do a Google search on its name and address, to see if there are any reports about hackers using it. And it’s also a good idea to only use a server that has been on the lists a long time because hackers are not likely to keep a server running a long time without being caught or shutting it down. The other option is to use the proxy only for casual surfing and not use a proxy when you connect to a service that requires a username and password.

Do you have questions, comments, or suggestions? Feel free to post a comment!
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Mr Tricks: How To Surf Anonymously – For Free
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