The paranoid's survival guide: How to protect your personal data

Security experts offer tips about how to retain your privacy -- as much as possible, anyway -- and how to surf the Web silently, among other things


Or use a proxy search service such as Disconnect Search, which sits between your browser and the popular search engines so that your search history can't be tracked. (Ixquick, located in the Netherlands, works in the same way and also has the advantage of being out of reach of the U.S. Patriot Act and the FISA court.)

If you prefer to use a commercial search engine, you may be able to turn off search and browsing history. For example, in Google you can turn off search history from the Google Dashboard, while the Chrome browser offers Incognito mode.

Use HTTPS whenever possible

All data that passes between your browser and the Internet is unencrypted and open to snooping, unless you've entered an encrypted session with the service you're communicating with on the other end. Some sites, such as your bank, will encrypt your communications using the HTTPS protocol by default, while others, such as your webmail, may not. For example, Gmail enabled HTTPS by default three years ago, but Yahoo Mail only began supporting HTTPS one year ago, and it's not turned on by default. If you're not sure, check first before you use the service.

You can use the Electronic Frontier Foundation's HTTPS Everywhere browser extension to make sure you're using HTTPS when it's available, but some sites don't offer HTTPS, says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. In that case, he says, you may want to consider using a virtual private network (VPN) service.

Sign up for a VPN service

Your IP address gives Web publishers and e-commerce sites an identifier that provides clues to your location. It allows Web publishers to deliver geo-targeted content, such as your local weather, but they can also target you in less pleasant ways. For example, some online retailers have moved to geotargeted pricing, which determines the price you see for an item based on your location and how many brick-and-mortar competitors are nearby. Depending on your location, this could be a good thing or a bad thing.

And if you're browsing the Web using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, it's not just your IP address you need to worry about. If your browsing session is unencrypted, all of that data -- including user account names and passwords -- could be snatched literally from the airwaves.

The solution in both cases is to use a virtual private network (VPN) service such as Astrill, Anonymizer, IPVanish or AnchorFree. These tools not only protect your IP address, but encrypt your communications, which are routed through the VPN service's servers before going on to the intended destination. "People can't eavesdrop on what you're doing, or steal your login credentials and impersonate you," Hall says.

This story, "The paranoid's survival guide: How to protect your personal data" was originally published by Computerworld.

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