How to Surf Anonymously

by Jens Porup

In a previous article, I discussed how to use a Live CD to safely access your internet banking while travelling.

But what if you want to browse, email, and blog privately and anonymously? What if the government of the country you’re in tracks its citizens’ – and visitors’ – internet usage? Every website you look at, every chat room you post to, every blog entry, every email has your “fingerprints” all over it – your IP address.

You may be an aid worker in a repressive African nation, or a journalist working in China, or simply an American who doesn’t like the government knowing what you’re doing online. In all of these cases, using the Anonym.OS Live CD can go a long way toward achieving the holy grail: anonymity and privacy.

Anonym.OS uses three primary techniques to obfuscate your electronic fingerprints: tor, privoxy, and MAC address scrambling.

  • Tor (“The Onion Router”) anonymizes your web browsing by routing all your page requests as encrypted traffic through a series of randomly selected tor nodes. This means the IP address you leave behind in the web logs of sites you visit will be a random tor node, and nearly impossible to identify with the computer you’re currently using. Tor is also available as a separate desktop install.
  • Privoxy is a web proxy that protects your privacy by preventing your browser from “leaking” personal information that could identify you. It manages cookies, prevents http referrals and click-tracing scripts from tracking your browsing, and blocks malicious javascript. The other side of privoxy is that it also blocks all the usual obnoxious internet junk, including ads! No popups, no animated advertisements, no blinking banners…you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Like tor, privoxy is also available as a separate desktop install.
  • Anonym.OS also randomizes your MAC address, the unique number associated with your ethernet or wireless card, making it even harder to trace your connection.

Using the Anonym.OS Live CD is, on most computers, as easy as inserting the CD and rebooting, although you may have to manually tell the computer to boot from the CD. It will take several minutes to load, and your web browsing will likely be noticeably slower (this is because your web traffic is routing through several tor servers first). That said, on the ADSL connection I tested this on, the speed issue was entirely bearable. But if you’re on a slow dialup connection, you might want to consider switching your web mail to fastmail.fm, which is definitely the fastest web mail around.


Jens Porup is a computer programmer, freelance writer, playwright, and ex-pat Yank currently living in Melbourne, Australia.