Disclaimer: There are many ways of acheiving the goal stated above. This how I prefer to do it.
One thing we often hear about the Internet is that you can be anonymous. Well, this is only partly true. Sure, you can use a false name. But this is about the extent of your anonymity. If you do something to make the government, your employer, or someone that wants to sue you unhappy, then it is quite possible for them to find out who you are based on server logs. For instance, each time you go to a website, you essentially say, "Hello, here is my address. Could you give me a copy of that document over there?" This address can tell varying amounts of information about you. For instance, if I go to a website, it will show in server logs that 22.214.171.124 has requested files at a certain time. This set of 4 numbers xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx where xxx is between 0 and 255 is called an "IP address" (learn more here). You can find out what your IP address is on this site.
"So what?", you may ask. "What can someone find out about me based on one little address?" Well, let's use myself as an example. A system administrator that knows how to use basic tools will be able to do the following (this same command can be run on a Unix-based operating system):
C:\Documents and Settings\Stu>nslookup 126.96.36.199
OK, so this tells us that the name associated with my IP address is home.fourmajor.com. Going to this website will tell them nothing. But, if they go to fourmajor.com, they will quite easily have my name and address.
Granted, there is more information about me on the Internet than most people. But this just shows what is possible. Now the question is, how do we protect our anonymity? It is particularly important to protect your anonymity if you are planning on being a whistleblower or want to speak out against your government (especially in a country with less freedom than the United States, but I would still recommend it here). Thankfully, there is a program called Tor to come to the rescue. With Tor, "...communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers, called onion routers." Basically, this means that your traffic is routed through a series of routers on the Internet that will eventually forward your request to the destination, hiding the original source. Please note that you can use Tor with a variety of operating systems, but I am going to write what follows with respect to Windows.
First of all, download and install the following package: Tor 0.1.0.16, TorCP 0.0.4, and Privoxy 3.0.3. It is rather straightforward, and I have posted screenshots to guide you:
Tor does the anonymizing, TorCP is a Tor controller that lets you monitor and control Tor, and Privoxy lets you interface your web browser with Tor.
One disadvantage of Tor is that routing through these onion routers around the world seriously slows down your web browsing. So, I wouldn't recommend using it for your everyday surfing. So, what I have done is set it up on a seperate web browser. A good browser, based on Firefox, is Flock. Download Flock here. Install the .exe, and start the browser. Again, this is rather straightforward, but here are screenshots of this install as well.
Now that you have installed Flock, go ahead and start it up. Now we will configure Flock to use Tor and Privoxy. This is actually quite simple. Simply click on Tools->Options:
Then click on "Connection Settings...":
Now click on "Manual proxy configuration" and enter "localhost" in the "HTTP Proxy:" box. Enter "8118" in the "Port:" box next to it. Now, click "Use this proxy server for all protocols".
Click "OK", restart Flock, and you are now browsing anonymously! Well, when you are dealing with your anonymity, it is good to double-check to be sure. Browse to www.whatismyip.com again just to be sure...
The name associated with "188.8.131.52" is "asylum.afflictions.org". This IP is located in Waterloo, Canada. That is about 2500 miles from San Francisco! They'll never find me now...
But we're not done! Why? Because your browsing history is still saved on your computer. Well, that is rather easy to get rid of...
Click on Tools->Options again:
Then click on Privacy:
Set "remember visited pages for the last __ days." to "0":
Uncheck "Save information I enter in forms and the Search Bar.":
Uncheck "Remember Passwords":
For "Remove files from the Download Manager:", select "Upon successful download":
Uncheck "Allows sites to set Cookies":
Set "Use up to: __ MB of disk space for the cache" to "0":
Click "OK", restart Flock, and you are now not only browsing anonymously, but you are browsing without a trace on your computer, too! Just make sure you close that browser window when you walk away from the computer.
This document was written by Stuart Matthews on 2006-01-08 and is covered under the GNU Free Documentation License which can be read in full at http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html. Stuart Matthews can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org