What your neighbourhood cyber café owner didn't tell you:
You're being watched. Your IP address is accessible. What you surfed for last night can be tracked. Your credit card information is not secure. Your favourite sites are open to the world. What you had for breakfast is no secret.
The last one may be a bit of an exaggeration, but only just.
All the information you thought was for your eyes alone is easily accessible to those with the right commands. There are web sites that can track your every move online, without you having the slightest clue.
The good news - yes, there is some of it - is that there are a lot of tools that can still ensure your anonymity. A good place for basic info is the Electronic Privacy Information Centre which tells you about the kind of stuff companies can find out, and how to prevent them from doing so.
Established in 1994, EPIC focuses public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and works towards protecting privacy. What you get at the site is an online guide to practical privacy tools, information on encryption programs, and anonymous remailers.
Try the section titled EPIC's Online Guide to Privacy Resources for a list of top sites, newsletters and organisations, both online and offline. Then, before logging off to practice what they preach, read the A to Z's of privacy for explanations on everything from airline passenger profiling and caller IDs to wiretapping.
Before you get down to beating corporate techies at their own game, however, it's important to understand the jargon that goes with the territory. Privacy.net shows you how to analyse your own connection, bake your own Internet cookies demo, figure out ways of being traced while using the Net, prevent junk mail, and obtain encrypted email. It also recommends privacy software, third party proxies, and info on IP address privacy.
"Don't judge a man unless you walk two weeks in his moccasins."
-- Old American Indian saying.
Irrespective of what gurus at Silicon Valley spout, via press releases, I strongly believe that it's hackers who really rule cyberspace. There is nothing sacred as far as they're concerned -- a fact that makes them good allies in your battle for anonymity. ElfQrin's Hacking Lab lists a number of useful resources, along with a library of essays, guides, references, and interviews.
The best part here is a section on online tools. BrowsInfo has information about your navigation collected by the server and from your browser. Then, the WebBug Locator identifies Web Bugs that help corporations and marketing companies track your movements online, while locating sites that use these bugs.
There's also software that keeps your identity secret by coming between your computer and sites you visit. Aixs.NET tells you about such programs and offers free encrypted web based e-mail. It also gives you Aixs.ZFee, a free privacy browsing program.
"I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year."
-- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
Now for cookies. Not the ones your mom prepares, but electronic tags on your computer that create a profile of your visiting habits. They are used extensively by online advertisers, which may explain the kind of banner ads your browser throws up from time to time. So, what do you do about this little problem? You could try getting a Cookie Crusher at The Limit Software, Inc.
The site lets you download the Cookie Crusher or purchase it at its online store. It also runs a page called thelimit.org which helps you learn more about protecting your privacy, answers fundamental questions like 'what are cookies?', dispels myths about these tags, and offers solutions too.
"The female of the species is not deadier than the email."
-- A geek I used to know.
Say the words 'e-mail encryption' and people instinctively mumble a prayer hoping their mail is read by none but themselves. Which is why there are companies like ZipLip and HushMail offering services that block people other than the sender and receiver of an e-mail from reading messages.
ZipLip delivers enterprise applications, tools and interfaces that enable secure communications between users and applications, both within and outside firewalls. HushMail, on the other hand, claims to eliminate the risk of leaving unencrypted files on Web servers, while promising you free encrypted email, managed PKI solutions, digital signing and technical support. Sounds good? You bet.
One last issue: Remailers. Don't know what they are? In a nutshell, they help you evade corporate spam by giving you a generic e-mail address. Potato Software is a very good example. You get anonymous email and newsgroup clients and servers for Windows and DOS, all promising anonymity through the use of PGP and Mixmaster encryption.
Utilities like Jack B. Nymble v2.1 provide support for multiple SMTP, POP3, and NNTP servers for anonymous email and news posting. Or, Reliable v1.0, remailer server software for Win95/98/NT that turns a standard PC and mail account into a full Cypherpunk and Mixmaster remailer.
So, now you know. What to do, what not to do, and how to beat techies at their own game. Send me a 'thank you' note later, which I can then use to hack into your PC.
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