Anonymizing yourself

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The internet is a cruel and horrible place. You might want to drop out of the matrix and join an anonymous network. Alternatively, you can take steps to minimize data-minining by reducing your online fingerprint.

A broad approach on how to start evading global data surveillance and improving your overall online privacy can be found here, and here.

Anonymous networks

Torbrowser.png Tor

Main article: Tor

Let's get something clear: Tor is NOT illegal to use (unless you live in one of those crazy whackjob countries run by a militant dictator such as Iran or China). Tor traffic was NOT significantly reduced by the removal of Silk Road, and as far as is known, new compromises for the underlying Tor framework did not come about from the removal of Silk Road. If you are interested, concerned or sceptical, check out this video here and read the FAQ.

Tor sets up a SOCKS proxy to the normal internet, allowing you to send any application’s connection anonymously through the Tor network. Any connections made through Tor will be anonymised but not confidential unless you use end to end encryption in the application, like SSL/TLS for web browsing, or an SSH tunnel. Torrenting is discouraged as it uses up too much bandwidth, and torrenting on Tor is near-impossible due to latency issues.

I2p.png I2P

I2P is end to end encrypted and separate from the normal internet; this means that connections through I2P are confidential and anonymous. No-one can know who you are talking to, or what you are saying to them, because there are no exit nodes. Tor hidden services (.onions) work in a similar way. All internet applications can be forwarded through I2P including ed2k, Gnutella, and torrents. Unlike Tor, I2P encourages torrenting on the network, although you cannot connect to non-I2P torrent swarms. Also unlike tor, I2P is not an outproxy for the clearweb and uses Tor as an outproxy to non-I2P domains. Hidden services that would be called onions on the TOR network are called eepsites on the I2P network and end in the '.i2p' domain.

Freenet.png Freenet

Freenet is a distributed filesystem, where you can store files ‘in the cloud’ and download them anonymously from the Freenet network. Many of the files are HTML pages which can be viewed as static websites using a browser, and many are standalone files which can be searched and downloaded anonymously. Freenet content is undeletable as there is no way of knowing which node is holding each file. An example of a freenet link is like this:

http://127.0.0.1:8888/USK@Ls9yplmu~tAb7XDGZBdstFdt~aaDagL1xknrN~fvRLo,c-XpJ5njAmwz~iWJm11lifb6Q54Xj6mGBoG6cuiSA1U,AQACAAE/NSAspycenter/1/

This follows this scheme

http://[LOCALHOST]:[FREENET PORT]/[TYPE OF KEY IDENTIFIER]@[HASHED IDENTIFIER]/[HUMAN-READABLE ADDRESS (OF SPECIFIC PAGE ON HASH)]/[VERSION OF PAGE]

When using freenet, it is recommended to have your connection settings to "normal" (which is the highest it can be set when connecting to strangers), and your encryption settings to Maximum (which uses temporary keys and wipes the cache when you shutdown the server). Once you get more experienced with Freenet, you can switch to darknet mode, which prohibits stranger connections but requires you to connect to at least 5 friends you personally know. They also need to connect to you. NOTE: These friends you connect to can see your plain-text IP address, and as such only add people you truly trust.

Freenet has existed since 2000, and because of this, there are a large number of web 1.0 abandoned sites made by early adopters of the service. Also, because of being so old, it is programmed in Java, which was commonplace at the time.

Please note that the Freenet network (much like Tor) attracts pedophiles and a large amount of sites contain child pornography. Some sites jokingly add a disclaimer saying This site does not contain child pornography. click here to continue.

Browsers

See privacytools.io.

  • Always use an open-source browser. This ensures it can be freely audited. Google Chrome is not open-source, and while Chromium is, it hasn't been fully audited yet.
  • Use a search engine that respects your privacy such as StartPage(encrypted google searches) or [ixquick.com ixquick](non-Google searches, owned by StartPage) instead of Google. Note that while DuckDuckGo is a better alternative than Google or Bing, it's based in the US and has known issues that raise the possibility of privacy concerns.

Software Chromium.png Chromium

Using Chromium is generally not recommended because even though you can disable its known tracking features (the RLZ identifier is in Chrome, not Chromium), Chromium's code isn't as audited as Firefox's and Chromium's security addons don't provide the same fine-grained control over web requests as Firefox's, due to its extension API being slightly less broad (no control over WebSockets, for instance). If you absolutely refuse to use anything else, follow these instructions:

  • If you seriously sync Chromium to your Google account, you're a fucking dumbass. De-sync the two immediately.
  • Go to your settings menu, click advanced settings scroll down to privacy, and turn everything off.
  • Go to Content Settings above that and check "Block 3rd party cookies and site data"
  • Unless you want to use a script blocker, also turn off Javascript.
  • Now scroll down to "Continue running background apps while Chromium is closed" and disable that as well unless you trust your addons.

Despite all of this, there are a few forks that offer parity with the stable release, which are also open-source and have taken invasive Google crap out of the browser, as well as implemented some extra security measures. Alternatively, you can compile the browser yourself and apply one of these many patches.

Setting Startpage as a search engine

What is given to you by Startpage's website won't work, so use this link in the third box when adding it as a search engine: https://startpage.com/do/search?query=%s&cat=web&pl=chrome&language=english Alternatively, you would be better off using a locally hosted page.

Security extensions

See them here.

Firefox.png Mozilla Firefox

It is recommended that you compile Firefox from scratch/source, as it allows you to make use of security oriented USE flags such as hardened and forcing it to use more up to date system-wide libraries (eg: systemsqlite). To ensure maximum security while browsing the internet, always turn off third party cookies, unless you're using a proper firewall like uMatrix, for finer-grained control, in which case you should still put the appropriate measures into place. Mozilla describes them as: For example, cnn.com might have a Facebook like button on their site. That like button will set a cookie that can be read by Facebook. That would be considered a third-party cookie.

Change your search engine. There are ways to get around Google’s insane profiling. See Search engines.

Use freshplayer [GNU/Linux only]. Freshplayer is a NPAPI wrapper for PPAPI Flash that works on Firefox. It is inherently safer and more performant, if you must use flash.

If you can, use a fork of Firefox, such as GNU IceCat or Debian Iceweasel.

Security extensions

There are many extensions available for Firefox to make you less trackable. Refer to the Firefox article for a comprehensive list of addons.

Fingerprinting

Fingerprinting is the process of using otherwise non-identifying information to identify you. When enough non-identifying information is collected, you will usually be unique amongst others.

Threat Countermeasure
  • Plugins such as Flash or Java leak information.
Recommended: Disable and uninstall browser Plugins (note: Plugins are different than Extensions) such as Flash and Java.

Alternative: Set the plugin to "Ask to activate". You will still be vulnerable whenever you activate that plugin.

  • Javascript leaks information
Recommended: Disable Javascript

Alternative: Use uMatrix or NoScript to whitelist Javascript on a per-site basis. You will still be vulnerable on those sites.

  • HTTP Header information can be identifying
Recommended: Use an extension such as Secret Agent to randomize header information. Alternatively, you can change your HTTP_ACCEPT headers by modifying your about:config/prefs.js file.
  • Cookies can be used to track you
Disable 3rd Party Cookies and use an extension such as Self-Destructing Cookies to automatically purge cookies.
  • IP Addresses can be personally identifiable
Recommended: Use an anonymous network, a non-logging VPN service, or a non-logging proxy service. Check out our very comprehensive article on VPNs for ways to further foil this mechanism.
  • Cross-site Requests may expose you to tracking.
Recommended: Use an extension such as uMatrix or RequestPolicyContinued to selectively whitelist such requests.
  • The HTTP referrer header may leak information
Recommended: Turn off sending HTTP referer information.

Alternative: Install an extension such as Smart Referer to keep referer information limited to a single domain, or uMatrix to spoof it on a per-hostname basis.

See also: EFF Panopticlick and evercookie. For a more comprehensive guide on how to foil most fingerprinting mechanisms, see https://github.com/CrisBRM/user.js

Web cache

Web caches mirror web requests locally for t time, thus ensuring a decrease in the number of servers hit, thereby somewhat reducing your privacy exposure and decreasing page load speeds.

Squid.png Squid

Whilst modern browsers have their own cache implementations, they are often outdated, slow, and not very secure. Squid is a modern, high performance web cache and proxy server that supports a plethora of protocols. It can be used in combination with any browser that supports proxies. Best used in conjunction with a DNS caching server like Unbound.

DNS

DNS is what allows your computer to convert a domain name (such as wiki.installgentoo.com) into an IP address to connect to. That process is called resolving.

When your computer attempts to resolve a domain name it queries a DNS server. Usually this will belong to your ISP if you have not configured it manually. Not all DNS servers are created equal—some block queries to certain websites, others hijack queries and redirect them elsewhere, and some log your queries. You should look for a DNS server that is close by (for minimum latency) that doesn't log your IP address. In addition, you may want to use DNSCrypt for added protection, and a caching DNS server for reduced privacy exposure and higher performance.

Warning: Google DNS and OpenDNS log queries. Google "anonymizes" query information after a period of time, but keeps associated ISP information permanently.[1] OpenDNS logs your IP address and may also correlate it with other information that is normally non-personally identifying.[2] Avoid those two services.

Dnscrypt.png DNSCrypt

Main article: DNSCrypt

End-to-end encryption for your DNS requests. This prevents any intermediaries (such as advertising or the FBI) from monitoring your DNS request. Ideally, it should be used with a caching DNS server like Unbound.

Unbound.png Unbound

Main article: Unbound

Unbound is a high performance validating, recursive, and caching DNS server with a multitude of privacy oriented features. The simple fact it acts as a DNS cache ensures less frequent connections to your DNS server. On top of that, it is able to enforce DNSSEC and use clever algorithms to harden your DNS queries.

Opennic.png OpenNIC

The OpenNIC Project is a privacy-minded collection of volunteer-run servers that also allow you to use extra TLDs such as .geek etc. Also features DNSCrypt support.

Operating systems

While unfortunately, government organizations around the world have a variety of back doors into a variety of operating systems, one can still attempt to be anonymous through a variety of methods. Free software alternatives to Windows or OS X appear to be more secure than their counterparts, since their code is almost always individually reviewed.

Tails

Tails is an OS specifically designed to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It forwards all your packets through the Tor network and leaves no trace on the computer you are using it on. Your files and emails are also encrypted using top of the line cryptographic tools.

Whonix

Whonix is an OS based on Debian GNU/Linux and Tor which focuses on anonymity, privacy and security. It is designed to be used inside a host OS.

Sandboxes

Firejail2.png Firejail

Firejail is a Linux-only sandbox that uses Linux namespaces, seccomp-bpf and all the latest Linux security features to create a new, fully secure filesystem. It allows a process and all its descendants to have their own private view of the globally shared kernel resources, such as the network stack, process table, mount table. It comes with a myriad of profiles by default, which are then used on a per-software basis.

Ignoring the security factor and focusing more on the anonymisation potential, it is important to use sandboxes in order to minimise certain exploits in the software that could otherwise be used to identify you. For instance, in Firefox, Firejail limits its data leaks by replacing the standard temporary file directory with a more secure version, which is completely erased when the Firefox session ends.

Tools

MAT or Metadata Anonymisation Toolkit, is a toolbox composed of a GUI application, a CLI application and a library, to anonymize/remove metadata.

Anonymouth is a tool designed to take your documents and change the wording so you can't be found through word choice, grammar, theme, tone, and etc. Here is an article on anti-stylometry (the scientific study of literary style) discusing it, and here is another article. While Anonymouth is audited and considered safe, there are ways that a non-free program that is like Anonymouth can harm you.

Privoxy Privoxy is a non-caching web proxy with advanced filtering capabilities for enhancing privacy, modifying web page data and HTTP headers, controlling access, and removing ads and other obnoxious Internet junk. Privoxy has a flexible configuration and can be customized to suit individual needs and tastes. It has application for both stand-alone systems and multi-user networks.

Anonymization Tools Taxonomy A list of anonymization tools. Hasn't been updated since 2004.

Routers

A router that supports free and open source firmware is recommended over one provided by your ISP. ISP routers often come preloaded with software that can compromise your privacy and security. There are many GNU/Linux based firmwares available for common routers:

  • OpenWrt: An open source Linux distribution for embedded devices. It is optimized for minimal storage and RAM usage to fit on home routers;
  • LibreCmc: The FSF's fork of OpenWrt with all non-free software removed;
  • DD-WRT: A firmware focusing on the Linksys WRT54G series routers;
  • Tomato: Partially FOSS firmware released in 2008. It is still actively updated by community mods;
  • PORTAL: An acronym for Personal Onion Router To Assure Liberty. It forces all internet traffic through the Tor network to limit the possibility of user mistakes.

For more detailed information see: Routers. You can also use a computer as a router.

Android and cell phones

By their nature cellphones cannot be completely anonymous, but there are some steps that can be taken to at least limit your footprint. Using an Android-based phone is a plus over iPhones or Windows Phone (if you can even call it that), but it is highly recommended that you avoid using cell phones all together. Even better, use a dumb phone with no camera. If you absolutely think you need (not want) a cell phone, follow these tips:

Android replacements

  • Replicant: A project to completely replace all proprietary components of Android;
  • Custom ROMs;
  • CopperheadOS: a hardened fork of Android with PaX kernel patches and more.
  • Firefox OS: An alternative operating system by Mozilla that runs on some Android devices.

Alternative GApps

Removing ads

  • AdAway (Requires root): Hosts file based ad-blocking;
  • Adblock Plus;
  • Lucky Patcher (Requires root): Patches APKs to remove ads and allows you to disable the ads' activity itself.

Enforcing permissions

  • XPrivacy;
  • App Ops: Available since Android 4.3. Removed in 4.4.2, but still retained in custom ROMs. Allows you to tweak individual permissions on a per-app basis;
  • Available by default on Android 6 (M).

Browsers

OPSEC/Operational Security

All the software in the world won't help you if ignore the human element. Obvious no-nos:

  • Using the same username everywhere;
  • Using the same email address everywhere;
  • Logging into the same accounts through your real IP and a proxy/VPN/tor;
  • Posting photos or images which can be traced back to you via a reverse image search.

Dread Pirate Roberts was brought down by many of the above points.

More subtle no-nos:

  • Forensic Linguistics is the science of figuring out someone's identity by the words, phrases and grammar they use. Recommendation to counter this: Anonymouth;
  • Using the same browser with your real IP as your proxy/VPN/Tor IP (see fingerprinting above);
  • Discussing personal preferences, or knowledge of specific locations such as a school, shop or town;
  • Being unprepared for a proxy/VPN/Tor to drop out.

Steve Rambam gave an excellent talk at the HOPE hacker conference which summarizes many of the techniques that you/private investigators/LEA can use to determine someone's identity.

To err is human. As clever as you think you are, all it takes is one connection from your real IP address to deanonymize you. One day when you're distracted/tried/stressed/drunk/high/panicked/surprised or when something out of the ordinary is happening, you will mess up. Putting up many automated layers of anonymity/security will help protect you from yourself.

External links

See also