July 02, 2013, 6:13 PM — As we are all now painfully aware, Big Brother is watching. But while we may not be able to fully escape His gaze, we can put throw some sand in his eyes from time to time.
Yes, Virginia, it is possible to hide your online activities from the eyes of spies. And thanks to the $60 NinjaStik, it just got a lot easier.
NinjaStik is a privacy-enhanced Linux OS on a thumb drive. Plug it into your computer and you can surf the Web in near total anonymity. It will also let you encrypt files so that only you can see them and scramble your email so that the NSA can’t read it. It even comes with a Bitcoin purse so you can make digital payments anonymously, right under the noses of the banking Stasi.
NinjaStik uses a browser that automatically plugs into The Onion Router (Tor) network, which re-routes your Internet connection through an assortment of machines all over the world to mask your actual IP address. For example, when I logged into Facebook using Tor, it thought I was logging on from computers in England, Amsterdam, and Prague instead of my actual location. (Of course, logging into Facebook negates most of the privacy I might gain from Tor – duh.)
This is important, because your IP address is the key to unlocking a lot of other information about you. Every Web site you visit (including this one) can record your IP, as can any analytics or tracking software that gets downloaded along with it. Google and other search services can keep a record of everything you’ve searched for attached to your IP and retain it for anywhere from 9 months to two years. Your IP address can reveal your location in the world and the identity of your ISP. Law enforcement can then order your ISP to hand over the billing records for any IP addresses suspected in a criminal matter, and so can private organizations like the RIAA. And of course, we know that the FBI, NSA, and other three-letter spy orgs love IP address data more than they love their own mothers.
That’s why in many European countries IP addresses are considered personally identifiable information and given greater privacy protections (but not on this side of the Atlantic, sadly).
Use the NinjaStik to surf the Web, though, and all of that goes away.