Anonymous Browsing

All this talk of Phorm and Webwise set me thinking - is it possible to browse anonymously?

Actually, yes it is. It's remarkably simple to browse fairly anonymously.

I say fairly because there are always ways around these things, and your ISP can still 'see' you - or at least they can see you're connected, and they can still (if they decide they need to) intercept the zeros and ones which make up computer data transmissions passing back and forth through your internet connection.

What I don't think they can see (and I stand corrected if I'm wrong here!) is WHERE you browse, nor can where you browse see where you actually are - where you're information request originates from.

What is this wondrous thing? It's a free proxy server system called TOR (for The Onion Router).

It works by sending the data out from your computer hidden in three layers of encryption.

TOR has a network of proxy servers out there in cyberland, and your data request is passed to one of them at random. That server strips off a layer of encryption, then sends your package out to another randomly chosen server.

This layer removal and onward forwarding happens three times, until your package pops out the third and last server anywhere in the world.

The site you visit only sees the IP address (and therefore location) of the last server in the chain. That server only knows where to pass the response back to. In that way the information you requested finally gets back to you.

The only server that knows your real IP address is the first one in the chain. That one has no idea where your request went after it forwarded it.

Under Linux simply visit your distributions repositories and download/install TOR and Privoxy. This action should automatically load and run both packages, and start them each time you reboot.

Windows may be different, but Googling TOR and Privoxy should throw up some instructions to make them work - they certainly do work under Windows.

Next you need to remove a REM statement from the Privoxy configuration file. This is a line that tells Privoxy to use the TOR network.

In Linux look for the folder /etc/privoxy/ and edit (as root) the config file.

Look for the line '# forward-socks4a / .' and remove the # from the start of the line. This is the REM symbol, and removing it makes the Privoxy and TOR combination active.

Make sure you leave the full stop at the end of the line - this is important, it's not a typo.

Next you need to automatically switch the TOR/Privoxy setup on and off at will. This is dead easy if you download and install the TorButton for Mozilla Firefox.

Clicking on the red Tor Disabled taxt in the bottom right corner will now activate your proxy server usage. Go to to 'see' your IP address and location.

It SHOULD be anywhere but where you actually are. If it is then TOR/Privoxy are working OK.

Clicking the Tor Enabled text will now switch off your proxy server usage..

One word of warning - bouncing your internet traffic around 3 random servers somewhere in the world will slow down your connection. Switching off Tor will return your traffic speed to normal.

The above was edited whilst using an earlier version of Ubuntu. I'm now on version 9 .04 (Jaunty Jackalope) and Tor isn't in the repositories - so an update deletes the Tor installation!

Go to the following link for a full and complete description of how to get your privacy back with Tor.

It's excellent - I just tried it :-)


See also The Onion Router

It's now possible to get a single package from the Tor Project which allows you to run an anonymous browser session without having to install anythings

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