Tips for Stealth Browsing Online

Learn how to be "invisible" on the internet

Hacker at a laptop

Patrick Strattner / Getty Images

It's just plain creepy to think that somewhere in a bunch of digital data warehouses, files contain our search habits, buying preferences, socio-economic status, etc. Amazon knows what we want to buy before we even start searching for it.

Want your anonymity back? We're going to give you a few tips that you might use to keep a low profile while on the net.

Even using these methods, digital forensic CSI-type folks could still find you. 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.

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 real IP address aids advertisers in targeting you, hackers in attacking you, and stalkers in finding you. Your IP could 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 visit a site 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 since the proxy is the middleman, the site only sees their IP address information and not yours.

There are hundreds of commercial and free anonymous web proxy services available. Still, be careful before you pick one, as you're relying on them to protect your data and ensure privacy. The service is privy to the entire conversation, so eavesdropping is still possible. Check the privacy policy to see how your identity and other information is protected.

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. Google Street View could be used by criminals to virtually "case" your home or business, determining the best method of entering your home or business. While you can't have your house completely removed, you could have it blurred.

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

Setup a Throwaway Email Account

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

Many people would love to just put a fake email address instead of the real thing, but confirmation emails must be verified before registering for or purchasing something.

Consider opening a throwaway email account devoted to just your site registrations and online purchases. Chances are your ISP allows more than one email account per subscriber, or you could use Gmail, Microsoft, or any other free email services available

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 continually evolving and changing their privacy options. 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.

Screenshot of Facebook Privacy Settings and Tools

Turning off Facebook Chat also prevents people from seeing when you are online.

Router Stealth Mode

Many wired and wireless home network routers have a feature called "Stealth Mode." This feature 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 tools to find unsecured ports and services on your computer, which they could use to mount a port or service-specific attack. By not responding to these requests, your router makes it look like nothing is running inside your network.

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