Anonymous web browsing
Anonymous web browsing refers to utilization of the World Wide Web that hides a user's personally identifiable information from websites visited. Anonymous web browsing can be achieved via proxy servers, virtual private networks and other anonymity programs such as Tor. These programs work by sending information through a series of routers in order to hide the source and destination of information. However, there is never a guarantee of anonymity with these servers. These programs are still susceptible to traffic analysis. Proxy servers, which have a central point of knowledge, are also susceptible to collection of data by authorities. Moreover, cookies, browser plugins, and other information can be used to uniquely identify a user even if they have hidden their IP address.
When a user opens a web page, his or her IP address and other computer information (e.g. device fingerprint) become visible to the target web page's server. This information can be used to track the user. The user's IP address can be hidden via a proxy server or a VPN server, though this can be circumvented by just using the wrong browser. These types of servers work by sending a request to the target server from itself rather than from the user directly. For example, if a user requests to visit a link on a web page, the request will—instead of being sent directly to the web site server—be sent to the proxy server, which then relays the request to the targeted internet server. This hides the user's IP address from the target server, as only the proxy server's information is visible.
On the other hand, device fingerprints are relatively resistant to anonymization. While some data can be hidden or spoofed, this can actually make a particular user atypical and thereby less anonymous. Services NoScript and Tor, however, appear to be very effective for creating anonymity.
Anonymous web servers generally work by placing an anonymous proxy between a user and the website he/she is visiting. These servers can be used to bypass restrictions and visit sites that might be blocked in a specific country, office, or school. Some individuals take advantage of these servers solely to protect their personal online identity.
Anonymous web browsing is useful to Internet users who want to ensure that their sessions cannot be monitored. For instance, it is used to circumvent traffic monitoring by organisations who want to discover or control which websites employees visit.
If law enforcement officials suspect illegal activity, they can can request logs from the user's Internet provider. Internet providers that emphasize protection of personal data will typically only save their log files for a few days, at which time they are deleted/overwritten by rotation. Many providers, however, keep log files indefinitely.
Limitations to proxy servers
Proxy servers have a number of limitations. Primarily, web pages will sometimes load at a slow pace as user information must be rerouted. Further, if the server is attempting to bypass suspicious software, some elements of a page may not load. Since personal information, such as credit card numbers and passwords, has been passed through an external server that could be accessed by anyone, proxy servers are more of a security hazard than browsing the web without a proxy (if not on an encrypted channel (HTTPS)).
HTTP cookies are strings of text that are saved on a computer when a user browses different web pages. Cookies allow small bits of information to be stored, such as passwords and shopping lists. They are also used to track demographics and browsing habits. This information is sent to the user's computer and then uploaded to web databases without the user's approval. Cookies represent another avenue (besides transmission of the IP address) by which a user's anonymity can potentially be breached.
- Data privacy
- HTTP cookie
- HTTP tunnel
- Internet privacy
- Personally identifiable information
- Privacy software and Privacy-enhancing technologies
- Private P2P
- Confident Ltd. "Anonymous Surfing, AnonIC.org, 2004
- Eckersley, Peter. "How Unique Is Your Web Browser?" (PDF). Electronics Frontier Foundation. Springer. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- Roos, D. "How to Surf the Web Anonymously, HowStuffWorks.com, 11 June 2009
- Whalen, D. "The Unofficial Cookie FAQ", CookieCentral.com, June 2002