People 'n' Issues

How to stay anon online

January 16th, 2017
Online security was a huge issue in 2016, and by the looks of things, this year looks to be much worse. NordVPN offers some tips on staying anonymous this year.
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Online security is becoming a bigger issue than ever, as 2016 seemingly brought one of the worst years ever when it comes to staying secure and private online. 2017 is not promising to be any better, considering increasingly restrictive surveillance laws are being passed around the world and authoritarian regimes are increasingly censoring the Internet.

When it comes to using public Wi-Fi, and especially managing financial transactions,  it’s known that it’s not safe to use one’s credit card or to disclose any other personal information. For example, it has been shown that a Visa credit card can be hacked online in 6 seconds. Using cryptocurrency helps users stay anonymous to some extent– but what are the other ways to remain completely invisible online?

NordVPN, a Virtual Private Network service provider, identifies five key services that could significantly enhance your online anonymity and security.

Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a decentralized currency that does not belong to any country – just its user.  And when it comes to security, it’s hard to beat it. Bitcoin online transactions are conducted without disclosing any personal financial information. When it comes to privacy, it’s certainly reassuring that no one can trace who is the owner of a certain bitcoin account. However, not all merchants accept bitcoin. In those cases when using a credit/debit card is the only option – extra security steps should be taken.  Using strong passwords and updating them often, ensuring the websites are trusted (double check for https), being wary of any suspicious redirects and using trusted encryption services (i.e. VPN service) to protect one’s Internet traffic are bare minimum.

Encrypted Email. While bitcoin is great for financial transactions online, it’s advisable to stay private while conducting any other activities – such as emailing. Emails might also contain some private and sensitive information, which could be easily intercepted by hackers or any unwanted snoopers. The solution is to use one of the encrypted email services. There are a few good examples, including Tutanota, or the Gmail-like ProtonMail that offer an automatic end-to-end encryption, and no personal information is required to create a secure email account.

Encrypted Messaging. Everybody uses their mobile devices for instant messaging – but how safe are regular communication apps? For example, WhatsApp has received some harsh criticism for tracing user chats even after their deletion. Signal, on the other hand, is an encrypted messaging and voice calling app that provides end-to-end encryption by default to secure all communications. The app can also verify the identity of people one is messaging with and the integrity of the channel they are using. When texting with non-Signal users, one has an option to invite them to an encrypted conversation via Signal.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). If a user is  looking for an advanced option to secure their communication and personal files, it might be wise to turn to PGP, which is actually one of the most popular encryption softwares used worldwide. OpenPGP is used to encrypt data and create digital signatures and could be used to encrypt your personal files or to exchange encrypted communication. It protects all communication with a digital signature and is available for all operating platforms.

VPN (Virtual Private Network). Anyone who is taking their online security and privacy seriously, will use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts all user’s Internet data into a secure tunnel and creates a secure connection between one’s device and a VPN server. All the information traveling between the  user’s Internet-enabled device and the secure server remains invisible to any third party. Those who want a guaranteed protection, will be disappointed that not all VPNs accept bitcoin as method of payment – but there are a few that do. NordVPN, for example, allows to pay by bitcoin and, most importantly, does not store any logs. It also offers an option to encrypt all the data twice for extra safety, which is a rare feature for a VPN. A helpful kill-switch feature allows a user to select Internet programs that would be terminated if the Internet connection dropped for any reason, to make sure that no unprotected Internet activity was exposed. Privacy issues have taken another shape completely over the past year. 31% of Internet users used a VPN in 2016, and VPNs will be increasingly popular in 2017 as online security issues grow to monumental proportions.

In addition to these super tough security measures, anonymity-minded Internet users should be more vigilant, use extra caution when sharing information or opening messages from unknown recipients, while making sure that their device’s Firewall is turned on and a reliable anti-virus program is installed and kept up to date.

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