Consider these facts: In 2017, 16.7 million people in the USA alone were the victims of online identity theft attacks. Mobile ransomware attacks increased by 250% in 2017-2018, while British shoppers lost £500 million to fraudsters in the first half of 2018.
What do these snippets have in common? Simple. All of them depend on web users employing outdated, or non-existent security strategies. By making ourselves anonymous as we use the web, we can minimise the risks posed by such threats (not to mention outsmarting government spooks and corporations). But how can you do this?
Actually, hiding your identity isn’t that hard. With a Virtual Private Network (VPN) you’ll be able to surf the web safely, and anonymously, whatever you need to do online. So how do these tools work, and how do they shield your identity? Let’s dig deeper to find out.
What are VPNs, and how can they help protect your online identity?
VPNs are the premier tool for privacy-conscious web users. We don’t know exactly how many people use them worldwide, but the best guesses put takeup rate around 25% – and that number is rising.
Here’s how they work: When you connect to a VPN, tools called “clients” encode everything you send across the web using sophisticated encryption ciphers. These ciphers are almost impossible for criminals or surveillance agencies to crack, but they aren’t the only anonymisation tool available for VPN users.
Alongside encryption, Virtual Private Networks also scramble user IP addresses. Your IP address is like a digital postbox, which tells websites (and anyone else) your basic location and information about your system. Combined with other data, an IP address can easily identify who you are, and linking this to browsing activity isn’t hard.
VPNs solve this privacy problem by routing your traffic through servers located in other parts of the world. When they do so, you’ll be assigned a totally new IP address which has nothing to do with your original address. So as far as the rest of the world is concerned, you’ll assume a completely new persona.
If this sounds a bit abstract, you can find out how these apps work in practice and the various features to look out for in a VPN when you read VPNPro’s Windscribe VPN review. Windscribe is typical of elite VPNs, so the review provides useful background on what to expect, whichever provider you choose.
Using VPNs to make yourself as anonymous as possible
If you want to strengthen your anonymity to ghost level, here’s what you need to do:
- Choose a Virtual Private Network which delivers real protection
Most importantly, you’ll need a privacy tool which delivers on its promises regarding anonymisation. It’s important to note that many VPNs make big claims about their abilities, but don’t measure up in reality.
Poorly coded clients are vulnerable to what are known as IP leaks, where your address remains visible to outsiders, despite logging onto virtual servers. In these cases, the problem often lies with the protocols employed by your provider, or apps that haven’t been optimised for your platform.
In other cases, your browsing activity may be leaked to outsiders. This is called a “DNS leak”, and generally arises due to poorly configured DNS servers.
Good VPNs will maintain their own DNS servers to a high technical standard, ensuring a minimal risk of leaks. And they take care to ensure that they use the most up to date protocols, and apps that are tailored specifically to Android phones or Linux desktops.
So when you come to choose a provider, make sure your choice privileges DNS and IP leak protection. If not, stay well clear.
- Test your connection to make sure you have been anonymized
However, even the best providers sometimes make mistakes, and local hardware issues can also lead to IP leaks. Because of this, we always recommend checking whether your IP address has been scrambled properly. Fortunately, doing so is pretty simple.
There are plenty of online tools which let you check your current IP address. CheckMyIP is a reliable option, and it’s well worth bookmarking.
- Think about adding extra protection
While using an elite VPN is the best way to anonymize your IP address, it doesn’t have to work alone. In fact, these tools are more effective when used in conjunction with other services.
For example, if you want total privacy, you’ll want to route your traffic through TOR (The Onion Router) as well as a Virtual Private Network. TOR wraps your traffic in multiple layers of protection, rendering whatever you do totally invisible.
Additionally, when you make payments online, it’s worth considering using cryptocurrency. That way, you can often sign up for sites or buy real world products without handing over credit card or address data.
Finally, update your antivirus and antimalware tools. That way, you can minimize the dangers of contracting malware infections which monitor your online activity.
When these tools come together, they represent a formidable shield, keeping your identity safe. So why not strengthen your anonymity this year? With online threats growing ever more worrying, it’s the sensible move to make.