How to Avoid Being Tracked Online
Question: When a person searches around on the Internet,
how would they go about making it so that others aren't able to keep track of
where the traffic comes from? For example, when I go to a medical site and
request information using another email address, can they tell where the contact
really originated from?
If the site has a light load, they could literally track every single IP address
and email address that's used to visit their site, and sync them with most email
systems, in order to identify exactly who you are and what you were doing on their
site, along with whatever conversations you held with them by email.
If you use your own computer and email accounts to visit these sites, then all
of that is possible.
What is the solution?
You could choose to use a proxy to visit the site(s), but on some sites
that would actually open you up to more closely being monitored. I personally always
check the IP addresses of any contacts we receive (the form sends this information
along) which enables me to know whether to completely ignore it (example; if it's coming
from Korea, Brazil, or through a proxy), or how much time and effort to actually
allocate to it (example; if it's coming from a college campus or government IP space).
Instead, if you're wanting to reduce the chances of your being traced, the things
you should do include:
- Only use Gmail for sending email messages or as the recipient address in webforms.
Gmail munges the headers to hide identifying information relating to the source of
messages sent through their service.
- Learn how to check your web-facing IP address, and how to
change it (usually by disconnecting from the internet for a minute or so, or by
rebooting your modem/router).
- Disconnect from the internet (make sure your IP changes!) BEFORE
visiting the site you wish to anonymize yourself from, AND AFTER
visiting it! While using that IP in the middle, DO NOT check your
email or any other service (instant messenger systems, forums, chat networks, social
networks) that you have a profile on. Doing so eliminates the anonymity you would have
otherwise gained. This will ensure that IP association cannot be used to track you.
While the IP will still be one from your ISP, the range of IP addresses goes from
"the one she was using" to, "one of the 50,000+ provisioned to this
- Rename your computer. "Hall-PC" is a little too easy to identify, and this
information is included within the headers of emails coming from your computer (from
most email clients and through most mail servers). Use any word from the dictionary, or
a random string of alphanumeric characters.
- Consider using a Virtual Machine to access these sites (a bootable linux distribution
will provide some level of segregation of identity). This will enable you to avoid the risk
associated with opening up the other applications/services on your computer that are used
to phone home to track & announce your location. Your computer is more than capable of
running a "live" Kubuntu release (or any other guest operating system) in a
If you're not yet using OpenDNS, set it up now:
In addition to just being a great service to protect your computer from phishing sites,
malware sites and other undesirable content, doing this will help with managing access on your
nextwork for any teenagers in the home, too.
OpenDNS can be used to filter social networking and other types of sites that could be used
(primarily through toolbars, chat networks or widgets on other sites) to trace you across
the Internet, effectively eliminating any hope of anonymity.
~Shawn K. Hall
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