In today's world of globalization and wide spread of computers, Internet has become increasingly popular way for communication, for expressing yourself, for sharing your mind with everybody. Popular types of resources include web blogs, instant messaging, chats, forums and many others. Just a few clicks and everybody in the world knows about your point of view on politics, culture, science, relationships, whatever, since quickly evolving technologies bring Internet to millions of people around the world.
But no good comes without bad. The worst thing to consider about many modern technologies such as Internet is a complete lack of privacy. Sitting at the front of your computer screen and surfing the net you are being watched constantly, by many people and organizations, interested or not. How is it possible? Let's see.
Internet is based on IP - Internet Protocol - special network protocol designed at the beginning of 70s for U.S. defense purposes, but has become widely used solution today (take a look at http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml for more information). Basically, most today's computers are connected by IP, and its extension, TCP/IP. We will not dive into details of TCP/IP here, but rather give a short explanation and point to major privacy concerns. Main idea of IP protocol is a set of independent nodes (computers) connected somehow between themselves, each node has unique identifier assigned to it, and special rules exists which help computers exchange data with each other through intermediate computers, called "IP routers". The unique identifier is called IP address, and every networked computer must have it in order communicate to others.
Remember, run your chosen proxy through an proxy
checker - and just because a proxy is anonymous today doesn't
mean it will be anonymous tomorrow!
Ok, but what's wrong with my IP address? Like a regular address (e.g. your postal address), IP address identifies your location, no matter how you are connected to the Internet. For example, DSL connection from your home is managed by ISP (remember, you have to sign agreement with ISP, and your actual and billing addresses are there). Wireless connections, such as GPRS or WiFi are being tracked as well (GPRS stations are able to determine your position with a mile precision, WiFi are even more location-bound), and service providers always register and identify you as a subscriber. Try web sites like www.ip2location.com to see this in practice (the information is not exactly precise in all cases, but remember, technology improves daily!).
Every time you surf the Internet, your IP address is publicly visible to everyone on target network resources, therefore, your actual location and even name and age can be tracked as well. Of course, this costs something (they need to contact web site owner or hosting provider, and ISP or WiFi access point owner), but interested parties can implement this fairly easy. This is very serious point to consider. For example, you submit blog article, and express your opinion about politics, criticize something or make really controversial statements. That's was just an opinion, relax, everybody. But someone, being, for example, a religious fanatic or simply paranoid, can find you and shoot you right at your home. What's the hell, why? That's true, simply because he knows EVERYTHING about you, your IP address, and thus your name and physical location, since all web sites keep logs of IP addresses accessing them (once you submit your post, web site records a number of entries in its log file, putting together your post and your IP address).
Just for demonstration, 4 simple steps to know everything about specific person:
1. Retrieve web site logs (not a problem for site owners, they already have them). How can these logs be retrieved by anyone? Simply by contacting web site owner, and many of them will give theirs logs away with easyness, don't worry. Just send e-mail using published contact information (click link like "Contact Us"), write words like: "Some guy who is using your site is suspected in credit card fraud, he has stolen my money already!", or "The person with nickname 'blackjack' from your site is promoting child porn, we need your web site logs for investigation, thank you." and 99% - you'll receive desired logs.
2. Analyze logs. For example, get timestamp of specific blog post and search for records matching this timestamp, then compare URLs of web site request and extract IP address from log entries.
3. Obtain IP address owner (the Internet Service Provider, ISP). Use www.ip2location.com, it displays ISP. For well-known ISPs like Verizon - you're almost done. Otherwise try looking it up in Google and find their web site. Half an hour and you'll surely find it.
4. Contact ISP, supply IP address, and say something like you did in step (1), and they'll easily reveal user of their IP address, because they don't want problems with that user. That's it.
Is there any way to protect you against this? Relax, really good solution exist and the rest of this article will point you right there.
Basic idea of all privacy solutions is faking of your real IP address. How is it accomplished? Solution is based on intermediary computers, which are placed between you (the person who wishes to hide himself from everyone) and target web sites (and other network resources - such as instant messaging, file sharing etc). Those computers are called 'Proxy Servers'. How does Proxy Server work? Very simple: it's just like a very simple tunnel between you and web site, all data sent by you to web site or received by you from web site are passed through proxy server as is, using special SOCKS protocol (don't mess with foot socks, it's just a coincidence :). What's the difference? Exactly, target web site sees Proxy Server IP address, but not your real IP. And web site logs keep Proxy Server IP but not your real one as well. Sound great, but how to use this?
Anonymous Proxy Server lists are published throughout the web on special web sites, for example http://www.cavency.com/proxy/. Actually, proxy server list looks like a simple sequence of IP address : port number pairs, for example:
126.96.36.199 : 1080
188.8.131.52 : 1080
184.108.40.206 : 1080
220.127.116.11 : 554
Choosing proper Proxy Server from such lists can be a tedious task, some of them may be valid, and some are not. You just test them one by one, select valid ones and save them for further usage. This work must be repeated each time you want to use proxy, since Proxy Servers get closed very often. After choosing proper Proxy Server, you have to connect your application (web browser, instant messenger, whatever) to it and work. Try configuring your application for use with proxy server. For example, MSN, Yahoo! and ICQ support SOCKS proxies, but some programs do not. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Firefox web browsers also support this, but you must select another kind of Proxy Server - HTTP proxy (in opposite to SOCKS proxy).
Special software was developed to address the issues listed above - NetConceal Anonymizer, it keeps you free from manual proxy server checking, SOCKS configuration and supports ALL applications. Actually, a few clicks to hide IP address and become anonymous.
We strongly suggest you don't do this as it may violate your work conditions, or rules of computer use at your school. It's a good idea to wait until you get home.