Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet

Anonymity

I can see you hiding in the shadows over there and so can the logs of all the web sites, FTP servers and other nooks and crannies you visit on the web. The sort of information gathered by these logs and which is available to the webmasters of the sites you visit include the address of the previous site you visited, your IP address, your computer's ID name, your physical location and the name of your ISP along with less personal details such as the operating system you're using and your screen resolution. If someone was snooping through your dustbin to gather information on consumer trends or tracking your every move to see where it is you go everyday you woudn't be too chuffed would you. Well the web is no different, it's still an invasion of privacy and a threat to security and you don't have to put with it.

Proxy Servers:
Every time you visit a web site, detailed information about your system is automatically provided to the webmaster. This information can be used by hackers to exploit your computer or can be forwarded to the market research departments of consumer corporations who by tracking your activities on the internet are better equipped to direct more relevant spam at you. Your best defence against this is to use what is known as a proxy server, which will hide revealing information from the web sites you visit, allowing you to surf the web anonymously. These work by altering the way in which your browser retrieves web pages or connects to remote servers. With a proxy server set up, whenever you 'ask' IE or Netscape to look at a web page, the request is first sent through an external server which is completely independent of your ISP's servers. This third party server then does the requesting on your behalf so that it appears that the request came from them rather than you and your real IP address is never disclosed to the sites you visit. There is nothing to download and the whole process takes less than a minute.

There are two different ways to use proxy servers and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The first method is to use a web based service. What this method is to use a web based service. What this involves is visiting the proxy's home page each time you want to browse a web site anonymously. The core component of such a system is the dialog box where you enter the address of the web site you want to visit. Each time you enter the URL of the site you want to browse via the proxy into this box, your personal information, IP address and so on is first encrypted before being sent to the site allowing you to maintain your anonymity.

Anonymity - Cookies
One last important point you need to be aware of before jumping in with both feet is that different programs have to be setup in different ways before being able to make external connections via a proxy server. For example, you can surf the wed anonymously by modifying the settings in Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator as explained earlier in this tutorial, but this will only affect your browser. If you then used Flash FXP to copy a batch of 0-day releases from one FTP server to another, this isn't going to protect you in the slightest. What you have to do is enter the name of the proxy server into each application you wish to make anonymous before making any external connections. This can usually be done by browsing through the preferences of your program to see it there is a 'use proxy server' option available. If there is, make sure you use it.

Cookies
The solution to this problem is to delete any cookies which contain sensitive data once you have completed your transactions. You cookies will be stored in a different place depending on which operating system you are using so you will have to use your detective skills to find them. As an example, in Windows XP they are located in your 'c:\documents and settings\Rob Brown\cookies' directory (that is if your name is Rob Brown. Mine isn't in case you're wondering!). If you look in this directory, in some cases it is easy to identify which cookie is associated with which web site, but in other cases it's not so obvious. The cookie which was created when you visited yahoo.com to check your email may be called rob brown@yahoo.txt for example. Unfortunately some cookies refer to the IP address of the site you visited and so look more like rob brown@145.147.25.21. These cookies can be selectively deleted one at a time if it's obvious which ones are causing a threat to your security, or you can just wipe out the whole lot in one fell swoop and have then recreated as and when they are required. However, if you're really struggling to find your cookie jar, you could delete your cookies via your browser's tool bar instead. In Internet Explorer this can be done through the 'Tools" > Internet Options' menu items.

If all this sounds like to much hassle, you can always find a labour saving program which will be happy to take the job off your hands. These 'cookie crunching programs allow you to be more selective when editing, viewing and deleting cookies from your system, and some of them will even prevent cookies from being created in the first place. I know you're hungry for links so I won't deprive you. Have a look here - Code: hxxp://www.rbaworld.com/programs.cookiecruncher.

Good luck!


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