With cyber crime at an all time high,
Anytime you send traffic across the Internet, your IP address is recorded. When you make a post on Reddit, comment on a blog, or even access a website, your IP address is open for the entire world to see. How many times have you heard of the following happening:
- Gamers getting DDOS attacked after getting into an argument with other people online.
- Controversial Internet figures getting their home address posted online, and getting SWAT teams called to their house
- Ordinary folks getting their personal information stolen or phished by hackers due to sheer negligence on their part.
The vast majority of people who use the Internet make absolutely no effort to protect their anonymity.
This is largely due to ignorance of exactly HOW to go about doing it, and by (falsely) assuming that taking security seriously is unnecessary.
Many people find out the hard way after their personal information has been leaked or they become the victims of cyber crime. I've come to know number of hackers myself in real life and through the Internet and although I'm not a super high level professional, I do know a fair bit about computers. Hacking, for the most part is EXTREMELY EASY for two reasons
- The majority of people who use the Internet don't know jack shit about how to protect their anonymity. They establish connections to the Internet directly from their home without taking any measures to conceal the source of their traffic. Their IP Address is freely available for the entire world to see and planning an attack on them through the Internet is as simple as robbing someone who left the front door of their house wide open and posted a big sign on their porch saying - gone for vacation, feel free to take anything you want. With just your IP address alone, a not so nice person can figure out a whole lot about you - your full name, your address, your Internet activity, and your Internet Service Provider with very little effort. It's so damn easy, it's almost scary to me.
- These days, you barely even have to know how to code to carry an effective cyber attack or find information about your target. 10 or 15 years ago, you actually had to have extensive knowledge on computers in order to do this. That is no longer the case in the day and age we live in. These days, there are plenty of free tools and software available to do the job for you (especially on the Linux Operating System). These tools are user friendly enough that a 10 year old could figure out how to use them, without having extensive knowledge on computers or network security.
The good news is, even if you aren't tech savvy, protecting yourself online is VERY EASY to do. It doesn't take a lot of time to implement and the tools used are user-friendly enough that even my grandmother could figure it out without having to learn anything about how computers work.
I'm going to go over the 3 major tools that I use. To be honest, you don't even have to bother with the second or third one if you're just an average user. They have their place for certain specific situations and add an extra padding of security, but they aren't necessary by any means if you're just a regular person who's trying to protect yourself on the Internet. Without further adieu, lets dive right into it...
Tool #1: Using a reliable, trustworthy VPN provider.
If you don't know what a VPN is or how it works, I'll explain it to you in layman's terms. Anytime you send data over the Internet, the information has to pass through a common entry and exit point. Let's take the example of your home router. Anytime you enter a Skype call, an online gaming match, or even send a simple email, the information on your router is sent along with it - specifically, your IP address. When you do so, you leave yourself wide open and vulnerable because now anyone who sees this can track you down and find out a lot about you. When you use a VPN, instead of sending traffic from point A (your home) to point B (a server across the Internet), you first send the traffic through a middleman at point C (your VPN).
Once you send the information to your chosen VPN server, that server goes ahead and relays the traffic to point B (its final destination). It also works in reverse. Anyone on the other end who is trying to contact you or send information your way cannot do so directly. All information that you receive goes through a third party (your VPN server) before it reaches you.
In doing so, you effectively conceal your own personal IP address. The receiving party will see that traffic is coming from some unnamed VPN server instead of your home address. If they want to trace you, they're pretty much left with a dead end.
How to get access to a VPN:
There are various websites and services on the Internet that claim to offer "free VPN service". Don't waste your time with anything with the word "free" in it. Your VPN is your first line of defense and it is the strongest tool in your arsenal. Quite frankly, you don't NEED to take any other precautions if you have a reliable VPN in place.
The problem with these "free" services is that they almost always have some kind of data restriction on them and the company that hosts it isn't bound to guarantee you anything because they don't have the financial incentive to do so.
If you're going to do this right you are going to have to pay for this service. It is not expensive at all (we're talking like $10/month here). I don't even use any of the common anti-virus programs that people consider "mandatory" and I've never been hacked.
The biggest mistake people make when choosing a VPN provider is being a cheapskate and refusing to pay for something so crucial. The second biggest mistake is picking a shitty provider.
There are a few qualities you want to look for that set apart shitty VPN providers from good providers:
- They can't be keeping data logs of your information. If they do keep a log, it has to be restricted to 48 hours. Anything longer than that is very suspicious, because you have to ask yourself,
Why does a third party company "need" to keep a history of my Internet usage?
It doesn't benefit you in any way and can only serve to harm you.
- They can't be the type of company that will sell you out to anyone who makes a phone call and claims to be from XYZ bumfuck agency and demands that they hand over your information.
The most popular VPN provider on the market right now is hidemyass.
I highly recommend AGAINST doing business with them.
They're the kind of company that will hand over your information to just about anyone that makes a phone call with a stern voice and claims to be somebody, without requesting any kind of verification. They are also notorious for keeping extensive data logs that go on for weeks at a time of your Internet usage.
The VPN provider that I recommend is IPVanish
When you download their client, you have access to hundreds of their VPN servers across your country (and across the world) that you can choose from. You can pick the one closest to you to shuttle your traffic through, and maintain a fast and speedy connection. For example, I could pick a server in Miami, and with a click of a button, anyone that tries to trace me will think I'm living out in Miami even though I could be in California. If I want to switch servers and make it appear like I'm in Texas, I'm two mouseclicks away from making that happen.
Flexibility and Ease of Use:
The best part is you don't even have to be on a desktop or sitting in your house to have access to this kind of service. You can hook up your smart phone, your gaming station, or any other electronic device with an Internet connection to their server, and POOF, you're anonymous. It's that simple.
If you take away nothing else from this article, go invest in a trustworthy VPN service. It's the easiest and most reliable tool anyone can use to stay anonymous and safe on the Internet and its also the simplest to implement on a regular basis. I recommend IPVanish, but if you're going to go with another company, just make sure you read their terms of service before you sign up.
If they keep logs of your usage or will dish out your information to practically anyone, those are big red flags and I would highly recommend against signing with them.
Tool #2: The Tor Browser
Tor is an Internet browser much like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. It is seen as the holy grail of anonymity among web browsers. It has a few distinct benefits that a VPN doesn't have, but it also comes with its fair share of limitations.
How does it work?
I'm going to try to explain this as simply as possible. If you get confused, it's not a big deal. In my opinion, you only need this if you're transferring super sensitive information and you want to make it impossible for any individual or agency to trace you.
Let's say I want to access a website (such as modafinilexpert.com). Under normal circumstances, my information would pass from my home router to modafinilexpert.com's server, and back to me via my home router.
Once my information reaches modafinilexpert.com's server, that server knows the source of the traffic (which would be my home router). In addition to that, if my information passes through any other servers along the way, or if modafinilexpert.com redirects that traffic to another website (such as Twitter), the information has to exchange hands multiple times. Every instance of that is recorded and the final destination (Twitter for example) can see every instance the data changed hands.
When you send information across the web, that data may have crossed hands 5 times. By the time it reaches its final destination, someone with the proper equipment can trace every step of the way that data crossed hands. (Ever wonder how Law Enforcement tracks people for doing illegal activities online? Well this is how.)
The Tor Browser is effective for hiding the source of your traffic for two reasons.
- Instead of sending traffic from point A to point B, it makes it exchange hands with several random servers along the way (kind of like a VPN).
- Each time data exchanges hands, there is no record of previous interactions (think of the children's game "telephone"). I'll use an analogy to explain this.
Suppose you have 5 people; John, Tim, Sally, Susie, and James. Let's say John wants to relay a message to James, but he doesn't want James to know the message came from him.
So instead of telling James directly, he will relay the message to Tim.
Tim will in turn relay the message to Sally.
Sally will relay the message to Susie.
And finally, Susie will relay the message to James.
The cool thing about this is the person who has the message only knows two things - who they heard it from and who they're going to relay it to. Susie knows that she received the message from Sally, but she has no knowledge of John or Tim. Likewise, John has no knowledge of Sally or Susie.
John (the original sender) knows the final destination of his message (James), but James has no idea how many times it changed hands or whom else it passed through. Furthermore, if James wanted to relay a message back to John, he would follow a similar process. By the time the message reaches its destination, John doesn't know that James was the original sender.
Tor's weaknesses and limitations:
Limitation of Devices:
Tor is a web browser. This means if you're out and about on your smartphone, or you're trying to connect to XBOX Live from your console, you can't use it. Unlike a VPN, it's pretty much limited to desktop and laptop users. On top of that, it only conceals traffic that goes directly through the browser itself. That means if you're going to enter a Skype call or an online gaming match, Tor is practically useless in aiding you.
I notice a significant drop in the amount of time it takes for me to access webpages when I'm using the Tor browser. If you try to stream videos on it (thats not what its intended for), you may be very frustrated by the amount of buffering you have to go through. For this reason, I don't it on a regular basis. When I'm connected to my VPN, I can't even notice a drop in connectivity speed. I wish I could say the same for the Tor Browser.
Tool #3: MAC Address Filtering
This is one can actually come in handy in your day to day life for certain situations that aren't even security related. For example, don't you ever get annoyed when you enter a coffee shop or a hotel and you're restricted to only 30 minutes of WiFi? I sure do.
Every electronic device that contains a circuit board, from your iPod to your TV has something called a "physical address". Think if it as a unique bar code that identifies that particular device. When you connect to a third party via an Internet connection, a lot of times, the physical address (MAC address) of your device is recorded as well. Normally, this doesn't give a hacker much to work with from a security standpoint. But nonetheless, it can be used to identify your particular device.
When you enter a mall or a hotel and you're kicked off the WiFi after half an hour, ever wonder how that happens? It's quite simple really. They set their network up to record the address of your device, and after the time limit of connectivity expires, the network automatically filters you out. HOWEVER, if you were to keep changing your address, the network would see this as an entirely new device that is attempting to make a connection with it and treat it as such.
It's a neat little life hack that I find to be quite useful 🙂
How do I change my MAC address?
There are a number of ways to go about doing it. If you have a Windows computer, you can change it manually without having to install anything at all (do a Google search to find the exact steps).
Most of the time, you won't be able to manipulate the physical address on your electronic devices without the aid of special software or hardware. As far as software goes, I'm partial to LizardSystems. It's very easy to use and you don't have to be a tech wiz to figure out how to use it.
*There's a lot of other cool stuff you can do by manipulating the physical address of your devices. Since the scope of this article is limited to keeping yourself safe online, I'm not going to get into that right now*
Well there you have it.
The tools I mentioned above are the big 3 when it comes to keeping yourself safe online. The best part is, you don't have to have ANY programming experience or barely any technical knowledge to apply them.
For 90% of you guys reading this, if you only take away one thing from this article it would be this:
Go invest in a solid VPN. The Tor Browser and MAC Address Spoofers are the icing on the cake, but a good solid VPN is your bread and butter when it comes to online security.
I would place it above any of the so called "mandatory" expensive mainstream anti-virus softwares that probably won't make that much of a difference anyway.
This is the 21st Century and online security is just as important as securing your car or your house.
Take action and don't allow yourself be a victim.