Tips for Stealth Browsing Online

Invoke the cloak of online invisibility.

Hacker at a laptop
Photo: Patrick Strattner / Getty Images

Sometimes we just want to be left alone. It's just plain creepy to think that somewhere in a bunch of digital data warehouses there are files containing our search habits, buying preferences, socio-economic status, etc. It's gotten to the point where Amazon knows what I want to buy before I even start searching for it.

How do we get our anonymity-sexy back? I'm going to give you a few tips that you can use to keep a low profile while on the net.

Please note that even after using all these methods you can still be found by digital forensic CSI-type folks, so don't do anything illegal because, as the internet sensation Antoine Dodson once said, "We gon' find you". These are merely tips to protect your privacy and anonymity and not a handbook for becoming the next Jason Bourne.

1. Use a Web Browsing Proxy Service

Using an anonymous browser proxy service is one of the easiest ways to prevent the websites you visit from determining your actual IP address. Your true IP address aids advertisers in targeting you, hackers in attacking you, and stalkers in finding you. Your IP can also provide your actual location (at least down to the city and local zip code if you're using a local internet service provider).

An anonymous web proxy service acts as an intermediary between you and the website you are trying to visit. When you try to visit a website using a proxy, your request goes through the web proxy service and then onto the website.

The proxy relays the web page you requested back to you, however, since the proxy is the middle man, the website only sees their IP address information and not yours.

There are literally hundreds of both commercial and free anonymous web proxy services available, but you need to be careful before you just randomly pick one, as you're essentially relying on them to protect your data and ensure privacy.

The web browsing proxy service is privy to the entire conversation so eavesdropping is still possible. A couple of the more well known commercially available proxies include Anonymizer.com.

Whatever proxy service you choose, be sure to check their privacy policy to see how your identity and other information is protected.

2. Opt-out of Everything Whenever Possible

Google and other search engines feature the ability for you to remove your personal information such as your phone numbers and physical address. They even let you control whether or not the Google Street View of your house is fully available to the public. If you've never used Google Street View, I urge that you try it. Google Street View can be used by criminals to virtually "case" your home or business. They can virtually pull up right in front of your door to see what the best method of entering your home or business is. While you can't have your house completely removed you can have it blurred. Visit the Google Maps Privacy page for details.

Additionally, you can opt-out of targeted advertising and cookie tracking on some of the larger search engines and at many internet-based retailers.

Other Opt-out Resources:

Yahoo Phone Number Removal Tool
Bing Privacy
Google Privacy Center - Ad Opt Out

3. Setup a Throwaway E-mail Account for Site Registrations and Online Purchases

One thing most people hate is giving their e-mail address to everybody and his brother when they have to register for something online. Every time you give someone your e-mail address you risk having it sold to spammers or used for excessive marketing e-mails.

Many people would love to just put a fake e-mail address instead of the real thing but we all know that a confirmation e-mail has to be verified before we can register or purchase something.

Consider opening a throw-away e-mail account devoted to just your site registrations and online purchases.

Chances are your ISP allows more than one e-mail account per subscriber or you can use Gmail, Microsoft, or any other free e-mail services available

4. Check And Update Your Facebook Privacy Settings

Most people set their Facebook privacy settings when they first sign up, but rarely check back to see what additional privacy options are available now. Facebook is constantly evolving and changing their privacy options. It's best to check them frequently to ensure that you haven't granted more information to the public than you intended to.

The best rule of thumb is to set most items viewable to "Friends Only". Be sure to check your application settings as well to see which Facebook Apps you have installed vs. what you think you have installed. Remove any that look sketchy or that you don't frequently use. The more Facebook apps you have installed, the more chances there are that one of them will be a scam or spam app that is stealing your personal information or using it for unlawful purposes.

If you want the Facebook equivalent of turning off your porch light (like when you want the trick-or-treaters to go away), Click the chat button, and then choose "Go Offline". Now you can be invisible so people will quit "poking" you.

5. Turn on Your Router's Stealth Mode

Many home wired and wireless network routers have a feature called "Stealth Mode". Stealth mode allows you to make the computers on the inside of your home network virtually invisible to hackers.

Stealth mode prevents your router from responding to "pings" from hacker's port scanning tools. Hackers use these scanning tools to find unsecured ports and services on your computer. They could use this knowledge to mount a port or service specific attack. By not responding to these requests your router makes it look like there is nothing running inside your network.

Check your router's setup guide for instructions on how to enable this feature if it is available.