Protecting yourself online is becoming increasingly important. It seems like every week, there is more news of another corporation having been hacked, relieving personal information of current and former customers, including social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and more. This information tends to end up for sale on the dark web, allowing buyers to essentially be “you”.
So how then, if huge corporations can’t protect my information, am I supposed to? While there isn’t much you can to do protect your information being leaked by others, there are safeguards you can put in place to prevent spillage on your own end. Believe it or not, incognito mode in browsers do not actually keep your information private or secure. Throughout the rest of this article, you will learn the do’s and don’ts, as well as some recommended software/apps to use, which will help keep your identity protected while online.
The Onion Router AKA TOR – Free
The Onion Router, or TOR for short, was created in the mid 1990’s by the United States Naval Research Laboratory to protect US intelligence communications online. It was released to the public as free, open source software to anyone interested in concealing their location and usage online. TOR works by routing your internet traffic through a series of volunteers running nodes. Since your internet traffic isn’t sent directly to the website you are browsing through TOR, it is almost impossible for anyone to trace the traffic back to you. There have however been a few instances where attackers have been able to trace traffic back to an individual, but TOR is much more secure than using a standard browser. One of the drawbacks however is that since TOR is run by volunteers, the connection speeds are subpar, making it not ideal for streaming.
Lokinet – Free
Lokinet is a newer onion routing platform that builds off of TOR. It is similar in a lot of ways, but is not susceptible to Sybil attacks. Since TOR is run by volunteers, and can easily setup as many nodes as they’d like, if any one user/organization were to control 50% of the network or more, they could in theory trace internet traffic back to an individual. Lokinet solves this threat by having anyone wishing to host a node pay for the right to host the node (~15,000 USD at the time of this article). As the number of nodes increase, the price per node increases as well. Lokinet uses a reward system to pay node owners for optimal servers. In theroy, because the node owners are being paid, you can expect better speeds while connected to Lokinet vs. TOR, meaning that you should be able to stream videos while connected, with peace of mind knowing that your internet traffic, and identity online is safe. Lokinet is fairly new and is not yet supported on all operation systems.
Virtual Private Networks AKA VPNs – Subscription Based
VPNs have become increasingly popular, but are not always as secure as onion routing. There are many VPNs out there but as they say, you get what you pay for. Just like other companies, if a VPN provider were to get hacked, your data could potentially get leaked as well. When you use a VPN, you are essentially connecting to someone else’s server and using that server to route your traffic. Unlike onion routing, where your traffic is routed through multiple servers, with a VPN, there is only one person in the middle. That means every request you make online, the VPN provider can potentially see, which is why it’s important you find a VPN provider you can trust, if that’s the route you go.
Private Messaging Apps
There sure are a lot of them out there nowadays, and you may have heard of a few of them (Signal, WhatsApp, Telegram). While these apps claim to be private, a lot of them still require metadata, like your personal phone number and / or email address, or aren’t even end to end encrypted by default. In fact, WhatsApp is owned by FaceBook, a company who’s made their living by selling your personal information. If you really want your chats to be private, throughout my research in private messaging apps, Session (by the creators of Lokinet) comes out on top. They do not require a phone number or email address to use the app. In fact, they do not require any information from you whatsoever to use the app. When launching the app, a Session ID is created, which you share with others to start chatting with them. Your messages are routed through lokinet, a decentralized network, meaning that the messages are never stored on a server owned by the organization, nor can anyone tell who the message was sent to, or sent from. If you are a user of Signal, you may recall that the messaging app went down for a few hours recently, leaving users unable to communicate with one another. With Session being decentralized, this would be virtually impossible, as 1/5th of Lokinet would have to go down before users start experiencing issues. Seeing that Lokinet is run by dedicated users, instead of an organization, is it near impossible that a 1/5th of the network would go down at the same time.