In the aftermath of the Edward Snowden and Wikileaks scandals, it would seem that our right to online privacy means little to businesses and governments who routinely capture it, mine it, sell it or otherwise use it against us. Without any semblance of oversight or accountability, users are essentially left exposed when they step into the web. Advocates for online privacy rights have repeatedly protested these intrusions that have been the basis for many conspiracy theories of late. We’ve all heard the mantra from the opposition that “if you have nothing to hide, you don’t need to worry.” However, most would strongly agree that this rationale is no more than a self-serving, circular justification to violate our firmly held belief in a person’s right to anonymity.
While the debate on this issue continues in the public forum, users can take steps to protect their privacy. This article will consider two technologies that are free and available for everyone. Here’s how to protect your privacy with TOR & TAILS:
TOR, which stands for The Onion Router, is a free opensource software project designed to help users browse the web anonymously while simultaneously blocking traffic analysis and cookie tracking. It can be downloaded for free at https://www.torproject.org/ and is available for all the major operating systems, like Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. When the TOR browser is launched, it begins wrapping your IP address in multiple layers of protection by routing your packets through random routers around the world. In fact, you can click the onion icon in the menu bar and see what IP address you are masked with as you browse the web.
In addition, TOR features default settings that block scripts and cookies that are normally used to identify you, where you are located and track your browsing history. Of course, this will not protect you if you download something through the TOR browser. For example, you might download what you believe is a harmless pdf, but in reality it may have a script that sends a message directly (without the encryption of TOR) to a third party when it’s opened, revealing your true identity and location. TOR will also be unable to protect you if you post identifying information about yourself while using it. In other words, if you log into your bank account, email or buy something online with your credit card, all of those packets will contain pieces of your identity.
However, when used properly, TOR gives everyone a way to access the internet anonymously and express their opinions without fear of reprisal from big brother. There are those who abuse this functionality to protect themselves from being identified in criminal transactions, which has been the focus of the media throughout the trial and conviction of Ross Ulbricht, founder of the Silk Road. This website was only accessible through TOR as a hidden service or ‘darkweb’ site and acted as a marketplace for the sale of illicit drugs, weapons, and other contraband.
TAILS (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) is a live operating system that you can start on almost any computer by the use of a DVD, Flash Disk or an SD Card. This OS takes a step further along the privacy protection road by completely containing your web browsing to the removable media you’ve installed it on. TAILS forces all internet connections through TOR and has state-of-the-art cryptographic tools for sending/receiving emails, files, and instant messages. Because can be self-contained on a flash drive, it won’t leave any traces of your activities on your computer unless you allow it to.
Because it accesses the web through TOR, it has the same drawbacks mentioned above. To enhance your privacy with either TOR or TAILS, it’s considered good practice to utilize end-to-end encryptions through https protocols that check SSL certificates for the sites you are visiting. Otherwise, the connection from your computer to the first TOR node and the connection from the last/exit TOR node and the destination are vulnerable to attack.
Unfortunately, there’s no single perfect measure that will prevent your identity from being discovered while you browse the web. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to make it more difficult to obtain by using tools like TOR and TAILS. Perhaps when the citizenship and legislature have weighed in on the matter and implemented more safeguards against the violation of our privacy by government agents, we may feel less compelled to deploy our own independent measures. Until then, it’s up to each individual to decide how to best protect their anonymity.
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George McLain says
I use TOR all of the time and not because I am up to no good. I just refuse to be tracked and even though browsers claim to have an option to not be tracked, I feel extra special with this one!
Roy Bogan says
I have never heard of TAILS before. I like the fact that your information is controlled once you are done. that is probably the best bet if you want to hide yourself. I understand that each of these is NOT 100% safe, but at least it gives you an option that is better than an incognito window in Chrome.
Eva Ayers says
I use the TOR browser once in a while just to see how it all works and it’s a pretty genius setup. I am not a fan of how slow it works, but I can see the benefit of using it. I have even recommended it once or twice.
Dana Williams says
The TOR browser works great for me. There is some freelance work that I do that requires that my IP be hidden from the end user. It took me many years, but once I found the TOR, it has been much easier.
James Moore says
Hiding online is getting easier with all of the companies use VPN and things like that, but does that mean that your information is really safe?
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Andra Mickles says
Even though these look like great options for hiding online, I always said that as soon as you were plugged into an internet connection you gave up privacy. I think that goes for these as well.
This is a very complex issue because I don’t really feel like using stuff like TOR or TAILS to browse the web, but I recognize that they absolutely need to exist with our criminal government overlords going crazy to control our every move. For the average person, you really don’t need to use it. Most people use TOR as a statement about whether they feel they need to be tracked by the powers that be. Good write up on both of these systems as it’s becoming increasingly harder to stay out of the crosshairs of the government. There’s major drawbacks to using this stuff and to be honest, a lot of what’s on the darknet is crazy shit that isn’t even useful, but it’s good to know something exists if we ever really did need it.
Larry Sprague says
Even if this options did not exist in this internet world, there is a way, or many more for the criminals to get activities done they need done. Having this as an option is also for those that are not criminals and would just like to not be tracked every second of the day.