Security through obscurity: How to cover your tracks online

From Tor to steganography, these six techniques will help obscure the data and traces you leave online

By Peter Wayner, InfoWorld |  Security, privacy, steganography

One well-known tool for avoiding this type of tracking is called Tor, an acronym for "The Onion Router." The project, developed by the Office of Naval Research, creates a self-healing, encrypted supernetwork on top of the Internet. When your machine starts up a connection, the Tor network plots a path through N different intermediate nodes in the Tor subnet. Your requests for Web pages follow this path through the N nodes. The requests are encrypted N times, and each node along the path strips off a layer of encryption like an onion with each hop through the network.

The last machine in the path then submits your request as if it were its own. When the answer comes back, the last machine acting as a proxy encrypts the Web page N times and sends it back through the same path to you. Each machine in the chain only knows the node before it and the node after it. Everything else is an encrypted mystery. This mystery protects you and the machine at the other end. You don't know the machine and the machine doesn't know you, but everyone along the chain just trusts the Tor network.

While the machine acting as your proxy at the other end of the path may not know you, it could still track the actions of the user. It may not know who you are, but it will know what data you're sending out onto the Web. Your requests for Web pages are completely decrypted by the time they get to the other end of the path because the final machine in the chain must be able to act as your proxy. Each of the N layers was stripped away until they're all gone. Your requests and the answers they bring are easy to read as they come by. For this reason, you might consider adding more encryption if you're using Tor to access personal information like email.

There are a number of ways to use Tor that range in complexity from compiling the code yourself to downloading a tool. One popular option is downloading the Torbutton Bundle, a modified version of Firefox with a plug-in that makes it possible to turn Tor on or off while using the browser; with it, using Tor is as simple as browsing the Web. If you need to access the Internet independently from Firefox, you may be able to get the proxy to work on its own.

Online privacy technique No. 3: SSL One of the easiest mechanisms for protecting your content is the encrypted SSL connection. If you're interacting with a website with the prefix "https," the information you're exchanging is probably being encrypted with sophisticated algorithms. Many of the better email providers like Gmail will now encourage you to use an HTTPS connection for your privacy by switching your browser over to the more secure level if at all possible.


Originally published on InfoWorld |  Click here to read the original story.
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