Get a VPN connection. No, seriously, just get one. VPN is an acronym that stands for virtual-private-network. A VPN is a service that acts as intermediary between you and the Internet, encrypting all of your sensitive communications and masking your Internet Protocol (IP) Address.
When you interact with a website over the Internet directly, that website keeps a log of your computer’s IP Address. Your IP Address not only allows people (ie anyone who knows it) to directly access your computer, it can also tell them where you live. There are even some services that will tell you the name of the person who’s paying for the Internet connection that that IP address is being utilized by. That’s a lot of information!
If someone knows your IP address, they can snoop in on all the data you send/receive over the Internet. It’s like having your own personal KGB agent, except there’s no heavy breathing on the other end to tell you you’re being watched.
But slightly less nefarious, though just as annoying, if you visit a skeevy website from time to time (we all do), the owner of said website can look through their logs to see a list of all the IP addresses that’ve accessed their website. If they use Google Analytics, then Google has a list of all the IP Addresses that’ve accessed this person’s website. In fact, Google is very, very good at building up track records of monitoring what a person does in a single Internet session (from the time you log onto the Internet to the time you log off the Internet is a session). Now Google uses this data for advertising purposes mostly, that’s why if you’ve ever used their adwords platform to advertise your business or website you know you can really get some targeted results (male/female, interests, nationality…etc.) Facebook offers a similarly highly powerful advertising platform, except in that case you give Facebook you details willingly (likes, shares, profile info…etc).
Then of course, there was that whole NSA scandal that happened a while back. Basically what the NSA has Facebook, Google, Yahoo…etc. do is set up a mailbox account for them to access, and in that account said companies willingly place user data and information in the mailbox for the NSA to access. That’s how they can say the NSA doesn’t have access to their servers, because they don’t. However they voluntarily (or not so voluntarily) place user meta-data in the NSA’s mailbox account for them to peruse, so they don’t need access to these companies’ servers.
Why get a VPN connection as opposed to a Proxy?
A Proxy usually only reroutes traffic from programs that manually call it. So for instance, if you put the Proxy’s server settings in your browser, then your web browser will use the proxy server, but all your other programs (email client, p2p, etc.) will use the Internet as normal and that data will not have its IP masked. Another downside to Proxies is that the person running the proxy server has access to all of your most sensitive information; so make sure you trust them, or better yet don’t trust them. In some cases, a Proxy doesn’t even encrypt your traffic, so anyone who hacks into the Proxy network can just peruse all the data that was sent through like they’re reading a newspaper.
Last but not least, speed. Proxies, usually reroute traffic by sending your request for information through a network chain of volunteer’s computers to the Internet. The longer the chain, the more secure your connection, but also the slower. The most secure connection you can have with a proxy will be slow enough that it’s unlikely you’d be able to do anything more than view a couple sites within a half-hour.
There are some Proxies out there that can prove useful. One is TOR which is run by a university, the other is i2p. For a proxy, i2p is one of the best in terms of just hiding your IP from different websites. Often websites that block by proxy can be accessed using i2p on a high security setting. TOR OTOH, is promoted as being useful for hiding whistle-blowers from 3rd world governments, assuming those governments don’t have very sophisticated packet sniffing equipment.
That being said, never use any kind of proxy to send sensitive information. It is usually not encrypted, in which case anyone along the chain can look at it. (It’s more useful for looking at websites blocked in your country). However, even in the case of web-browsing to blocked websites, if you get a VPN you’ll likely have better bandwidth.
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• The traffic that comes from you to your subscriber through a proxy server is totally enciphered which means all the data is open for sniffing, that any third party can read it in real time. Usually things like that happen on account of your internet service provider (ISP), your subscriber’s provider, or the administrator of your home or corporal network and finally, a trespasser. These factors must be considered.
• The request issued by your browser to any domain name of the network is initially processed by DNS that retrieve the IP address of this domain name for you. Often such requests go through your proxy server which makes it very easy to locate your physical address.
• The majority of proxy servers are transparent, which means that they do not conceal your IP address. The headings usually look like these:
o REMOTE_ADDR = IP proxy you are currently using.
o HTTP_VIA = IP or the name of the proxy server (the proxy server in use)
o HTTP_X_FORWARDED_FOR = Your IP address.
• Proxy servers like these are usually available in open access, so watch out!
• Not all of programs that are compatible with Windows and other OS can work correctly with proxy servers and some are simply incompatible with them.
• And the last but not the least drawback of proxy servers is that the uptime of public proxy servers is seldom higher than 25% and often the user gets disconnected at the wrong moment.
Some reasons you should get a VPN connection
In the case of a VPN, rather than sending/receiving data through a long daisy chain of random people and then finally to the web, you have a direct connection to a specific company’s network.
When using a VPN, look at it this way; imagine your Internet connection is a very long ethernet cable that plugs your computer into the VPN providers own local network. When you access the internet, you are accessing it through the VPN’s Internet connection rather than your own. Your own Internet connection functions solely to send/receive data from the VPN.
All your traffic to/from the VPN is encrypted against any 3rd party access using either 128-bit or 2048-bit level encryption.
VPN’s are far superior at masking your IP Address, because when you are using the VPN your requests are being sent to the internet via the VPN server as if it were the server’s own requests.
VPN’s also tend to be a lot faster than proxies. So if you care about speed as well as security, you get more of both with a VPN than you would with a proxy.
Some VPN’s, like PPTP VPN’s, don’t require client software, and whether you need client software or not, if you get a VPN it’ll be compatible with all your software. With Proxies that’s not as much of a guarantee.
VPN often comes in two flavors, PPTP, or OpenVPN.
Without getting into the specifics, PPTP requires no extra software and offers faster web-browsing, for less encryption. Whereas with OpenVPN you must have the OpenVPN software client installed on your device and in return you receive better encryption and better p2p. The difference in speed isn’t usually that big though.
This comparison I’ve provided is by no means fully comprehensive. There are proxies like privoxy that work as a filter to block advertisments from the web (in exchange for a massive reduction in speed), and they work very efficiently.
While in other cases, you might find VPN providers that offer little to no encryption at all.
It all depends on what proxy/vpn you use.
See if you can get a vpn from these providers
The following VPN providers are recommended by TorrentFreak as being among the more privacy conscious:
I know there are plenty of other VPN providers out there, so leave your preferred VPN service in the comments section below.
* EFB does not condone the usage of online privacy services, or any other services, for the purpose of illegal/unlawful activity.
** Updated 12-8-2013: Changed recommended VPN providers list. Also changed article title & slug.