Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Free (and low cost) Privacy Toolkit (Updated)

In my previous article I talked about some basic tools and services that you can use to protect your privacy when you're online and in the real world. Now I am going to explain how to protect the data on your local computer, and your privacy when you surf the web.

File/Disk Encryption
What privacy toolkit would be complete if I didn't talk about encryption. There are several tools available that allows you to encrypt your data. One of the best tools for encrypting your data is GnuPG, it uses strong encryption to protect your data. (Note: This tool is difficult to use so make sure that you download one of the the GUI interfaces for it.)

If you own Windows XP Professional, it includes a built-in file encryption function called EFS that is part of the OS. EFS will automatically encrypt and decrypt your files for you.

If file encryption is not enough, and you want to encrypt the contents of your whole hard drive use a program called TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt works by creating a virtual encrypted disk within a file and then allows you to mount it like a real hard drive.

Other privacy tools and resources:
  • SDelete: Completely erases a file on the hard drive by writing data over it several times.
  • DBAN: Completely erases a whole hard drive by writing data over it several times.
  • CCLeaner: Windows privacy and optimization utility, read this page for a list of features.
  • Firefox: Clearing The Cache: Explains how to clear the private information from the Firefox browser.
  • Internet Explorer: Clearing The Cache: Explains how to clear the private information from the Internet Explorer browser.

Find Out What Web Sites Know About You
Check out the following sites if you want to see the data someone can learn about you, just by querying your IP address or your browser's information.
  • GeoBytes: Once someone has your IP address, then they can use it isolate where your ISP is located. So if you live in a close proximity to your ISP then someone can roughly narrow down where you live.
  • CGI Environment Variable Viewer: The information shown on this page, displays what just about any web server can learn about you based on HTTP header information your browser sends every time you visit a web site. Things to notice are the REFERRER and USER AGENT information. The referrer can display the web site you were previously at before visiting the site. The user agent shows the site the type of browser you're using.
    • HTTP Header Viewer: See the HTTP headers supplied by your browser to every web site that you visit.
  • BrowserSpy: This web site will show you just about everything that a web site can query about your browser.
Surfing the Semi-Anonymously
If you would like to browse the web semi-anonymously, check out EFF's Tor tool. This tool protects your privacy by, using a technology called 'Onion-Routing' which basically means that it adds several 'layers' of extra network routing to obfuscate the origin of the traffic.

If Tor is too complicated to use a good alternative to browse anonymously is a service called Anonymizer (Note: this is a fee-based service). This service works by performing your HTTP requests for you, then sending you back the results. The only thing that the visiting web site sees is the Anonymizer servers.

If you want to test if these services are really working, go to a site called WhatsMyIPAddress.com before turning on the service. Then visit the web site again after you enable the service. Your IP address should be different, if not then the service is not working for you.

Other privacy tools and services:
Privacy Tools for Firefox
  • TrackMeNot: Help protects against data profiling popular search-engines by issuing randomized queries with fake data.
  • PrivacyBar: Provides a set of privacy and security tools for Firefox.
Other articles and resources on Privacy:
"Ultimately, as technology increases, privacy decreases." -- Jason Savitt

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