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Unknowncountry Weekender: How to Go Private Online in a Data-Hungry World

Big Data—it means that everyone from the government to the average website can follow your every movement on the internet. Go to a website to look at a possible new car and the next thing you know, when you go to Facebook, car dealer ads are appearing on your page. Make an internet phone call, send an email—somebody’s watching, and profiting, from your activities. Send a G-Mail, and reader algorithms detect the content in order to send you ads. And then there's the NSA, which seems to have its eyes everywhere.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You CAN regain your privacy. This weekend we detail some of the things you can do to regain what, just a few years ago, we regarded as an inalienable right—our privacy.

First, you need to know just how secure your computer is right now. How much are you telling the websites you visit? To find out, go to and run their Shields Up Plug’n Play exposure test. If you get an ‘exposed’ result, your router is making your computer visible to hackers. Fix this by disabling universal plug ‘n play on your router.

Next, download Gibson’s free LeakTest and run it. If it detects your computer, you have open ports on your system and you are not running a good firewall. Symantec, Norton and Zone Alarm are among the firewalls that offer protection of this kind.

Even if your computer is invisible online and has passed leak test, that doesn’t mean that websites can’t track you. They can, and in great detail. You can prevent any record of your online activities from being stored on your computer by running your browser in private mode, but this will not prevent sites from detecting your presence and storing information about your activities in their own databases.

The best form of protection is to create a virtual private network on your computer. This will create an encrypted ‘tunnel’ between your computer and the internet. Not even your service provider will know where you’re going, and websites won’t be able to track you back and identify you. Your passwords will still work, and when you log in to a site, it will place a cookie, but not on your computer, on the visible end of you VPN. You won’t be able to save logins. Every time you return, you’ll need to log in again.

One free VPN is Tor, which offers up to 1 GB of data transfer a month for no cost.(NOTE: TOR RECOMMENDATION WITHDRAWN 8/6/13) Anonymizer costs $80.00 per year. For this you get a secure VPN and, unlike some, its terms of use specifically state that it does not retain any of your browsing history. It does not allow you to choose a preferred country for your VPN gateway, which Privacy Internet Access, $3.33 a Month) does allow. Like Anonymizer, it doesn't retain browsing history. Privacy io and iPredator are among many other secure VPNs. Neither keeps logs. But read the Terms of Use of any others carefully to be certain that they do not retain your history. Accessing the internet through a VPN somewhat lowers your convenience level, but it also returns you to a state of genuine personal privacy.
Cloud storage is another area which is highly insecure. You have only a company’s word that they will keep your data secure. One service that offers significant security is DataOak. Customer files are encrypted and it doesn’t have access to passwords, meaning that all it can offer a third party is the encryption itself, not access to the unencrypted data. Some will offer you a choice of OpenVPN or PPTP protocols. Choose OpenVPN. It is the most secure.

Password protection is an essential feature that most of us overlook. We use the same password on site after site which is, to say the least, extremely insecure. Dashlane is an extremely convenient and secure system, and its basic service is free. RoboForm, 1Password and LastPass will also offer you the ability to generate different passwords for every website while keeping a single master password safely on your computer.

A search engine that doesn’t retain any of your search history is DuckDuckGo. It can be installed as a browser addon to most browsers, and used when you don’t want your searches to be remembered by programs like Google. Use it with browser privacy and your history won’t be remembered on your computer or in the search engine’s records.

On the DuckDuckGo website, you will also find free addons like Do Not Track Me which prevents tracking engines from working, and MaskMe that creates a virtual email address when a website asks for your email. If later you start to get spam from that address, you can simply turn it off. It also offers phone number and credit card masking for $5.00 a month.

Notice: None of the services discussed here have any financial affiliation with or Whitley Strieber. They have been chosen as representative samples in a very large field, and there are others that may offer similar services.

This article is free for retransmission and reposting as long is nothing in it is changed and it's origin on is acknowledged.

The actual link is this instead of GibsonResearch(dot)com

Very good information that I can actually use!

Thanks for this!

Yes, especially relevant thesedays, and particularly worthy of note if one is even slightly politically active.

Disabling unnecessary Windows services is one area worth second look. I was absolutely astonished, I repeat, astonished (one more time, ast... ok, you get it...) at just how many network connectable services run on Windows systems that are not needed and just sit there like a roosting parasite, using up system resources and hungering for someone cruising past using an IP scanner, or a recent recipient of an email you sent ( never, ever opt for a fixed IP from your ISP) to connect to.

Black Viper's website is a well known and trusted online resource to assist your choice of Windows services to disable (disable through SERVICES.exe using the GENERAL tab and LOGON tab... use both). Good old Black Viper.... (sighs...) what a guy!

Meet Black Viper here (sighs...):

Anyway, all this aside, your ISP auto selects a DNS server for you too. You do NOT have to stick with that choice. Some DNS servers offer more choice, others offer more control over content blocking.

If you prefer to prevent your kids from browsing unsavoury 'things', use one of the DNS servers that blocks such monstrous, calamitous and severally outrageous affronts to civility and the normalized practice of family centrism. If you want choice then opt for something like OpenDNS servers. Look here for a choice of DNS servers:

One other thing... the DNS server that your ISP automatically chooses for you isn't always the fastest available. Now, I was very happy with my internet speed before I changed but changing DNS server increased my speed by.. (are you ready? Eh, ready... get ready....g..ok, you are..) 52%...!!! Oh yeah.....

I used a free application called namebench to find the fastest available DNS server for me:

Here are some FAQ's about Google DNS Servers for example and provide interesting reading with regard to any assumptions one may have had regarding DNS server privacy:

Thesedays, I enjoy, in the fullest sense of the verb, the fastest and freest choice in online cruising ever. Now, if you will all excuse me, I really must go out and buy a leather jacket and shades just like my her.... ahem... what I mean is, I'm chilly and the sun is hurting my eyes so I must dash.


The article mentions a secure cloud storage service named DataOak. The correct name is SpiderOak-- - Free Software Foundation have some info up too

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