After reading the recent 'IP Address' articles at XBiz, I thought that I would share some information with you on ways to surf the Web 'anonymously.' Part 1 of this series focused on the use of two very popular 'anonymous surfing services' that perform similar functions, with their most useful features available on a monthly subscription basis. But are these premium, third party services the only choice? Apparently not:
For those whose security concerns are a little less vital, the option of obscuring their virtual trail through the use of what is known as a 'proxy server' might provide a basic, 'high enough' level of anonymity. Serving as the foundation for most commercial services, proxy servers receive your requests, then forward them for you, which is a departure from the traditional 'direct request' model which exposes your IP address to the server that you ultimately wish to connect to.
Simple proxy servers, while capable of obscuring your IP address (and therefore, your physical location), lack the value-added sophistication of the commercial services, which will also usually shield you from any 3d party cookies, malicious code and unruly applets that could harm your computer system, reveal sensitive or personal information, or let your computer be exploited for network attacks (making it a basic war proxy for hackers and crackers).
Using Proxy Servers
The first step you need to undertake when setting your computer up to use a proxy server is to find one that will allow you to connect to it. Generally, most ISPs that provide proxy servers limit their use to their own customers as a bandwidth control and fraud mitigating policy. This will be your best bet, however, since you will be able to have a certain level of service and support; helping you with any basic configuration problems which may inevitably arise.
Some proxy servers are available to just about anyone who wishes to make use of them, however, and they come in two basic flavors: ones which publicly announce their availability, and ones which are simply 'open.' You can find a list of "free anonymous public proxy servers" here.
You could also go to Google or AltaVista and search for "proxy + server + configuration ," or some such, for a listing of relevant browser setup instructions for the particular proxy server that you wish to use, and work your way down the list, trying one server after another until you find one that consistently works.
Once you find an available proxy server, such as http://126.96.36.199:8080, you will then need to consult your browser software's documentation for the proper setup procedure to make use of it. A few clicks of the mouse, and you should be surfing the web with a greater degree of anonymity, security, and safety. You should also be aware that using a proxy server can dramatically slow down your surfing experience, since there are additional steps that your data must take...
But is Your Proxy Truly Anonymous
Many proxy servers allow the system administrators of the sites that you visit using a basic proxy server to see your real IP address, rather than the IP address used by the proxy server. Once again, a quick visit to Network-Tools.com or similar 'scanning' sites will let you know how effective your approach was.
You should also be aware that using a proxy server can dramatically slow down your surfing experience, since there are additional steps that your data must take, both when making your original request, and when waiting for the reply (the page or file you are seeking) to arrive. This places additional burdens on the server and Internet as a whole. And if you are thinking about using proxy servers to mask your activities from the government or law enforcement, then you are naive, and on the fast track to prison. Heck, you probably won't even fool your employer about all those hot porn sites that your surfing at work!
While there's no such thing as truly anonymous Web surfing, the basic techniques and services described in this series can help protect your privacy while sailing the often uncertain seas of Cyberspace. Take care! ~ Stephen