Have you ever wanted to watch a video and been stymied by a "this video is not available in your region" warning? Or maybe you’ve tried to leave an anonymous comment without a telltale IP address footprint? How about dropping a news agency an anonymous tip or blowing the whistle on wrongdoing? One of the ways around this problem is by using an anonymous Internet browser. One of the most popular types of this software is the Tor Project. This open source software, originally developed for the U.S. Navy, allows users to browse anonymously by using a global bank of Tor networks. Here we’ll take a look at this and a few other anonymous browsing options that every geek should know.
About Anonymous Browsing
Anonymous browsing works by encrypting traffic before it is sent out over the Internet. The IP address of the originating traffic and the destination IP are both encrypted inside the anonymous browsing packets. This prevents anyone from discovering the origin or ultimate destination of the traffic, preventing tracing of the user. The packets are encrypted, so if they happen to become misrouted, they still cannot be read. Once on the network, the packets are passed through a random series of servers on the anonymous browsing network until they reach the destination.
Although it may sound like a tool for hackers or software pirates, anonymous browsing has many uses. Businesses, for example, can use anonymous browsing to keep notes on competitors. Journalists and whistleblowers can also use this method to report news stories or dangerous behavior. Even regular Internet users who are concerned about their privacy can benefit from using an anonymous browser. (Read more about Internet privacy in What You Should Know About Your Privacy Online.)
The Onion Router
One of the most popular anonymous browsing platforms is the Tor browser. Tor, short for The Onion Router, uses a worldwide network of anonymous servers to move traffic from location to location. Each packet passed through the network is wrapped in several layers of encryption. As the packet moves from server to server, a layer of encryption is removed. The wrapping of packets in several layers is akin to the skin on an onion, which is how Tor gets its name.
Tor is free to download and use and can be obtained from the Tor Project site, located at http://www.torproject.org. Tor comes in a number of different distributions and packages, but the easiest to download and use for anonymous browsing is known as the Tor Browser bundle. The package comes complete and ready to use. No installation is necessary. Once the package is downloaded, all that’s required is to connect to the Internet and open the Tor browser. The Tor software handles all of the connections needed with no configuration by the user end. Within minutes you can be up and browsing anonymously.
Other Anonymous Browsing Methods
Although it is a popular solution, Tor isn’t the only anonymous browser on the Internet. A number of different sites allow you to browse to different websites through use of their proxy servers. This solution is quick and easy and requires no additional software. Simply navigate to the website and type in the address that you wish to visit through the anonymous proxy. These websites are generally free services that allow you to keep your privacy when viewing pages on the Web, but they can be unreliable and may include advertising and pop-ups.
Paid Browsing Solutions
In addition to free solutions such as Tor and on-demand proxy browsers, software companies have rushed to fill the need for helping to protect privacy online. These solutions are typically solution-based, with the option to pay for your privacy by the month or by the year. Depending on the company, they may use hosted proxies, virtual private networks or a combination of methods to keep your information hidden from prying eyes. (Read more about VPNs in Virtual Private Network: The Branch Office Solution.)
Which Anonymous Browsing Solution To Use?
What anonymous browsing solution you choose – or whether you choose one at all – will depend entirely on your browsing needs. First, you might want to start with the free and open source solutions to see if they address your privacy issues and concerns. If anonymous browsing is something that you want to do every day, or keep as a permanent solution, you’ll probably want to investigate some of the paid platforms. These services will also have dedicated sales and tech support staff on hand to help address any issues or concerns you may have about anonymous browsing.