Editor’s Choice: Browsers, ISPs, Apps and Tips for Anonymous Web Use

Our Max Cherney provides his Editor’s Choice list for browsers, ISPs, apps and add-ons for anonymous web use. Or as close as the NSA lets you come to it.

aNewDomain.net — With the NSA watching — and collecting all communications online — privacy is largely an illusion. But it’s still possible to keep some common tasks you perform relatively secure and anonymous, provided the government doesn’t put its collective effort toward breaking into your stuff. Anonymous web use is harder than ever, but these editor’s choice picks help you go a long way toward that goal.

How to Use Tor to Browse the Web Anonymously

An excellent way to browse the web anonymously is via the Tor project. Find the browser bundle at the Tor project’s website. The free, downloadable program is built on the Mozilla code base, so the web browser makes it more difficult for data snoops to track your browsing activities.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the beginning, Tor was a U.S. Navy bound project. It was designed from the get-go to protect government communications.

And to this day, at least one branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor software for its so-called “open source” intelligence gathering.

Internet Service Providers: a Brief Comment

Internet Service Providers together form a major role in helping you keep your data anonymous. That’s because most major ISPs track IP address assignments. Some of them may even log additional activity.

That’s why you should consider the length of time ISPs store user data before settling on any given ISP. Bottom line: The longer the ISP maintains its logs, the less likely it is that you’ll get truly private Internet usage out of them.

That’s why ISPs with short data retention policies are the way to go. As for me, I use Sonic.net, which serves the San Francisco Bay Area. It keeps logs no longer than two weeks. According to an Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2013 report, Sonic.net ranks high as one of the strongest privacy ISPs out there.

Not every provider is as discreet as Sonic, though. Such national providers as Comcast and AT&T are among the worst at the measure of privacy. They hold onto user logs — that’s your data — for a year or more.

Use Dropbox and Digital Quick to Store Files in the Cloud

Dropbox itself isn’t all that secure. It doesn’t even encrypt files automatically. But there is a free and simple add-on we recommend that works for Dropbox in Windows and on mobile devices.

Digital Quick, which is free, builds file encryption and decryption right into Dropbox. Its featureset also allows secure file sharing, that includes assigning different privilege levels to different users.

And, should someone — such as a hacker — obtain access to a Dropbox account, Digital Quick’s encryption ensures an additional layer of security.

Don’t Use Email — Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

As recently reported by the media, Lavabit, the company reported to have stored many of Edward Snowden’s emails, has closed its doors.

Many other secure email services, such as Silent Circle, are following suit.

The writing is on the wall — at least for Silent Circle. “There are far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the email protocols themselves,” the company wrote, “Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3 and IMAP cannot be secure.”

Never fear. For short communications, there are many alternatives.

Silent Circle offers several. Burn Note also offers an app-based, Mission Impossible-style system for the self-destruction of your messages. So, too, does Cryptocat — an encrypted chat service.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m Max Cherney.