When we surf the internet from the comfort and privacy of our own homes, we often feel quite anonymous. However, before you get too comfortable, it is important to know that this is only a false sense of security. Believe it or not, you can be easily identified and you even leave a trail of information wherever you go.
Your Information Trail
When you visit a website, certain pieces of information are collected and automatically sent to the site. This information typically includes:
- IP address – Every computer on the internet has a unique IP (internet protocol) address which is tied to a physical geographical location and internet service provider (ISP). The IP address may be dynamic (such as on a laptop where it changes every time that you connect) or static (where it never changes). To determine your IP addresss, you can use a free service such as…
- Software details – Websites can also determine details about your hardware and software configuration such as which browser you are using (including the version), your operating system, your screen resolution, and your connection speed.
- Domain name - The internet is divided into domains, and depending on how you connect to the internet, you are associated with a domain. For example, if you are on a school campus, you are attached to a .edu domain, or an educational institution. If you are at a government agency, then you are attached to a .gov domain. And finally, if you are like most users who are browsing from residential or office locations, then you are attached to a .com or commercial domain.
- Website usage statistics – Websites can also gather information relating to usage statistics such as which pages you visited, how you found the website (ie. via search engine, direct address, or referring website), and how long you viewed each page.
How to Browse Anonymously
There are things that you can do to browse the internet more safely and limit the information that websites collect. Some options include:
- Be Careful When Supplying Personal Information. Not all websites are creditable. As a rule of thumb, you should not supply information to any website that may be fraudulent. And when supplying details such as credit card numbers, be sure that the website is protected with a SSL certificate.
- Secure Your Browser. Another method of limiting the usage of private information is to secure your browser. You can easily do so by (1) selecting a high privacy setting within your browsers settings or (2) configuring internet browsing settings on your personal anti-virus/firewall software.
- Use an Anonymous Browser. If you want full protection, we suggest using an anonymous browser. An anonymous browser works by running on an external machine via the internet and protects you by supplying a different IP address and other anonymous credentials. Unfortunately, using this type of browser limits the kinds of things you can do on the web, such as shopping.
Knowing what information is out there and how websites can gain access to your sensitive information can be quite unsettling. But by taking a few precautions, such as those mentioned above, you can limit access to your personal information and browser more safely. Tags: browsers, cookies, security, SSL, website statistics