Protecting your integrity by being anonymous is your first step towards safety online. A VPN service such as Hidden24 is the most important part. But there are additional things you should do, to complement and further increase your online protection. This is a guide with some best practices that we recommend.
1) Stop unwanted network traffic altogether
You may be surprised to know that your computer, or rather, background applications in your computer, is constantly sending network traffic out on the internet on behalf of you. Many services that run in the background will frequently (as often as every minute) send network traffic that you have no control over. Some straight forward examples are time server requests, a calendar agent communicating with your calendar in the cloud, or applications automatically checking for updates. But there are many more. Importantly, you have no control over what information from your computer these applications share. It is reasonable to assume that you can trust many of these applications with “behaving well”, but there will also be services running on your computer that you have no idea what they do, communicating with other computers and servers on the internet. You would be surprised.
Because of this, whenever you go online anonymously by connecting to Hidden24, you may also want to block unwanted outgoing network traffic. Fortunately there are applications that can do this for both Mac and Windows.
For Mac OSX users we can recommend an application called “Little Snitch” (funny name). It’s free to use for up to 3 hours at the time in “demo mode”. This means full functionality, but you cannot save any settings, so you will need to configure the application each time. That’s ok though – it’s very easy. If you prefer not to have to do this every time, you can buy a license for a low one time cost of around 30 EUR = 25 GBP. The website of the app is here www.obdev.at/products/littlesnitch
For Windows users we can recommend “Net Limiter”, another network filtering and firewall application, that can block both incoming and outgoing traffic, and that will allow you full control. This application has a free limited version, as well as more advanced version for a one time cost of around 30 USD = 25 GBP. The application can be found for download and purchase here www.netlimiter.com
2) Turn off some functionality in your web browser
Your web browser is essentially both a way of navigating around the internet, as well as a place to run (powerful) applications that are not located on your computer. Think of a website like Netflix. Does it feel like a “simple HTML site” to you? No, because Netflix is essentially an advanced application that you allow to run in your web browser, on your computer, as you visit the site.
Applications that run on your computer, even when accessed through a web browser, can sometimes do more than you probably would like them to, including finding and sending information that gives away who you are. That means if you browse to a website with an application, that executes on your computer, you could be giving away your identity without even knowing it.
You may not always want to be anonymous online, and frequently you need to visit websites where you do need Java activated. One tip from us is to install two different web browsers on your computer, for example Chrome and Firefox. You can use Chrome for normal surfing, and Firefox for anonymous surfing, and keep different settings for the two different broswers.
3) Start “Private browsing” in your browser
Most web broswers have a mode called “Private Browsing” or similar. In Firefox for example, you activate this mode by selecting “New Private Window” from the “File” menu. First of all, Private Browsing is NOT to be confused with the VPN-functionality of Hidden24. Thy are two completely different things. Hidden24 encrypts your traffic on the internet, and replaces your IP-address. With Hidden24, no one can eavesdrop on you, and you can’t be traced.
What the “Private Browsing” mode does is protect you locally, on your own computer as well. In Private Browsing, no pages visited are saved in your browsing history, so no one else using your computer can see what pages you have visited. No searches you make are saved, and no cookies stored. All of this helps to protect you locally. The “Private Browsing” mode typically also turns on something called “Tracking Protection” which essentially prevents the websites you visit to see which website you came from (prior to visiting), and which website you are leaving to (when you leave the website).
4) Encrypt your hard drive
Even with all the protection above in place, you may some day lose your computer by accident. If you do, a knowledgeable person will be able to access all – yes all – information on your hard drive, even if they do not have your username and password for the computer. What?, do you perhaps think, how is that possible? Well, by just taking the hard drive out from your computer, and attaching it to another computer, all information is accessible to read for anyone. Unless you have encrypted your hard drive of course – if you have, it will be impossible for anyone else to read anything at all.
Both Mac OSX and Windows have built in encryption, but you need to turn it on. In Mac OSX the function is called “FileVault” and you will find it under a tab in the “System Preferences -> Security & Privacy”. In Windows the function is called “BitLocker”, and you can find it under “Control Panel -> System and Security -> BitLocker Drive Encryption”. Unlike Mac, only certain versions of Windows have BitLocker functionality enabled, so you may need to upgrade Windows.
One word of caution here. If you do encrypt your hard drive (which you should), you can NEVER ever forget your password. If you do, the information on the hard drive is lost forever. The best passwords are made by selecting the first letter of each word of a sentance you can easily remember, and then replace one or two letters with numbers, and one or two with capital letters. For example the easy to remember sentance: “My daughter goes to a school in London this year”, make the letters “mdgtasilty”, and with a couple of switches for numbers and capitals could for example become this password: “Mdgtas1LtY”. It should be at least 10 characters long. (No, this is not one of my passwords – it’s just an example).
5) Tor or no Tor
Finally the big question of using Tor or not using Tor. For those not familiar with Tor, Tor is a web browser made specifically to access what is sometimes called the Dark Web, with the domain ending “.onion”. First of all an important distinction between Tor and Hidden24 – it is NOT the same thing, even though there is a part overlap in functionality.
Hidden24 will protect you in everyday situations, such as accessing the Internet from a public wifi at a cafe. With Hidden24 you can communicate over the Internet knowing that no one can eavesdrop on you, and steal your identity. You can send emails safely and anonymously for example – no other person connected to the same network as you in that café, can listen to your traffic. That is not possible with Tor. Tor only tries to shield you web browsing, not your entire computer and all your network traffic. Also, the vast majority of us have no need or wish to visit the Dark Web. Any normal and intelligent person will want to protect their integrity online when accessing the normal internet (which is dangerous enough). So you probably don’t really need Tor.
We would also like to point out two main disadvantages with Tor.
- Tor is very slow due to the nature of it’s design. Tor traffic passes through many nodes that are set up by people in a community. These nodes vary in speed – anyone can make their own computer part of the Tor network. Your 10 year old PC can become part of Tor, and have traffic pass through it. This is very noticeable, both in terms of browsing and downloading.
- Tor is not safe. Yes, you heard us, we claim that Tor is not safe. Definitely not as safe as Hidden24 anyway. The reason is exactly the same as above. Because anyone can add a node to the Tor network, there is a risk that someone sets up a honey trap – a node that pretends to be part of the network, but that in fact spies on the traffic that runs through it. You can read more about this here for example www.quora.com/How-do-we-know-TOR-isnt-a-gigantic-honey-trap. For a similar reason, any free VPN service is likely not safe either. Any free VPN service is at risk of being run by a government or organisation with the intent of spying on it’s users.
We hope you have enjoyed this guide on protecting your anonymity online. We at Hidden24 take pride in knowing that we are completely independent, and was founded by journalists back in 2006. We host our own servers, in a system where we control every part. We want to provide you with the best and most trusted VPN service in the world, simply because we know this is important for freedom of speech and democracy. In the process, we will help protect you against Internet threats such as identity theft or eavesdropping. If you are curious, you can read about how we started here: www.hidden24.co.uk/learn-more/ourstory/