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SecretAgentMan: Anonymity
This page is quite dated, it is due for updating in mid-November 2009.

Online anonymity is the idea of hiding the source of your communications, even if the content is in plaintext. In other words, primarily hiding your IP. You can't hide your IP when requesting webpages, since the IP is how the internet knows where to send the webpages you request. The one way around it is to use a proxy which is a computer that will receive your request, go get the webpage for you, then forward it to you. It appears that the proxy, and not you, is requesting the page. Many of the larger BL forums, however, have the popular proxies blocked, to avoid malicious posting.

Anonymous proxies are generally not available for public use. And even then they have logs of who used the service. Usually as soon as a free anonymous proxy is discovered, it is overburdened and shut down. It was established by a company for their employees only, and was intended to be secret. Many proxies exist for reasons other than anonymity and do not hide your IP.

There are a few free anonymous surfing services, much like proxies, but they are slow and do not allow sending data (posting) to forums or webmail sites. Google "anonymous surfing" or try Anonymizer, Anonymouse, Proxify, or Guardster. If it's easy to trace your exact computer (school, work, library) then you may want to consider an anonymous surfing service when browsing BL sites.

There are paid anonymous surfing services. They have your credit card details, but they are serious about your privacy and can protect you against all except government snooping. I am very content with the pay service at the Cloak, where I buy web surfing for $10 (good for 500MB - about 10,000 simple webpages - or 1 year, whichever comes first). There are several others, but they're not so inexpensive. I only use it for the sites that I am concerned about, and it works for most all websites, including forum posting, sending webmail, filling out forms, even Java applets and cookies. It does not work for FTP, POP/STMP email, or other internet protocols however - only for the WWW. You can choose to use HTTPS (encryption) between you and them. Generally you don't get this kind of flexibility and reliability for free.

Perhaps the most serious danger is that your IP is included with every email you send. It can be more damaging than just viewing a website. Many times it identifies your approximate location to anyone who wishes to look. There are some web email systems that do not include your IP in with your email. The most complete is Hushmail (free) which also offers transparent (you don't do anything special) encryption between you and them. If both parties have Hushmail accounts, the contents of the email are always encrypted. A new feature even allows encryption to recipients that don't have Hushmail accounts. The software Hushmail needs to install on your computer is safe and trouble-free. A simpler email account (free) that hides your IP from recipients is FastMail. For paid email where they are committed specifically to your anonymity, I recommend MarmotMail.

In order to check if your outgoing email contains your IP (or to check the IP of someone else) use the following procedure:

  • Send yourself an email message (or use one sent to you by someone else).
  • In your email account, under options or preferences, choose to view full (complete) headers. Or opt to view the source message (complete with 10-20 headers you never knew existed). Every server on the internet that handles the message will add its IP to the headers (headers such as To: and From: and Subject: you already know about). These are added at the top of the list, so that the bottom-most IP number is the IP of the originating computer (the sender). Copy down this number.
  • Find a "reverse IP lookup" (use Google) such as remote.12dt.com/rns and enter the number. It most likely will return a name such as 178-033dsl-atlga-atlanticnexus.com. If you can't guess that this connection was made from Atlanta, Georgia, then go to their homepage at www.atlanticnexus.com and try to guess what locations they offer DSL service in. About 70% of the time you can tell about where the sender is located - certainly which ISP he is using.

    With Windows, you can discover your present IP by clicking on start... run... type "cmd"... type "ipconfig"...     Online you can check your IP here or here.

    There is one more technique for hiding both your email address and your IP from people you send email to. That is a series of anonymous remailers operated by privacy volunteers worldwide. In it's most effective mode, your email is broken into chunks, encrypted several times (one inside the other), sent off to a remailer which strips off one layer of encryption, discovers who to send it on to (probably another remailer), on and on to each remailer in the chain along the way, eventually revealing the original message and the intended recipient. It is then reassembled once all the pieces have made the journey, usually through different paths. This is truly untraceable, even using the government's best traffic-analysis techniques. No, what you see on TV is not reality.

    In their simplest form, some remailers allow you to send your message (and the intended recipient address) in plaintext to the remailer, and it will strip off your IP and forward it on where you want it to go. This takes no encryption, no special software. You can send it to any of these remailers:

    The first line of the message must contain only two colons, up against the left margin. In the second line, the words Anon-To: followed by a space and the email address of the intended recipient. The third line should be blank. The fourth line, and everything following, should be your message. A sample message might look like this:
    Anon-To: joe@isp.com
    Hey Joe, look at this!
    Now email this to one of the remailers. Send something to yourself to be assured that it works. There may be a delay of several hours. Anyone monitoring your internet connection, or monitoring the email arriving at the remailer (we can assume it is monitored) will see all, but your friend Joe won't see your email address or your IP at least. It is possible to determine the current status of any of these remailers by obtaining an rlist document.

    Questions? Email to secretagentman@hotpop.com or post on the discussion board here at AgeTaboo. Don't be afraid to ask.

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