Anonymity online is more important that you think. Aside from the conspiracy-theory-government-is-watching-me type stuff, the truth is that surfing the internet with your real IP address is a huge security risk. Most of the time, it’s not a problem. Then again, most of the time, you wear your seatbelt just in case you have an accident, right?
And browsing with your real IP is an accident waiting to happen. Which is why I use an anonymous VPN service when I connect to the internet. I’ve got some info about packet sniffing and identity theft if you want to check it out, or you can just skip to the bottom to see what I have to say about a couple of VPN services.
One of the main reasons to use an anonymous VPN service is to avoid having your data spied on, monitored, or stolen. “Packet sniffing” is basically what this is. A program is used to monitor all traffic over a network, and can be set to collect everything, or it can be customized to collect data that fits certain criteria.
In the right hands, a packet sniffer can be used to monitor and troubleshoot networks. It can find and stop malware, locate errors, and help you improve overall network functionality. But in the wrong hands, it can be used to do just the opposite.
When you connect to a public network, you are giving permission to other users to monitor your online activity. Even from a remote location (somewhere outside of your home network), it’s possible with various types of malware and spyware to gain access to you home network and operate in the same way.
The can see
- Who you send e-mail to
- The contents of your e-mail
- Which websites you visit
- What you look at on the site
- Audio/video streams you view
- VOIP calls
- What you download
And it’s difficult to stop this kind of malicious activity. Packet sniffers are “passive”, simply watching for the goods. This mean no telltale activity to look for that would warn you that you’re being spied on.
Ok, so these stats are a bit old (from 2008/2009), but you can bet that it’s not getting any better. In the US alone, in 2008, there were 10 million cases of identity fraud. 38-48% of these people find out someone has stolen their identity within three months, while 9-18% of victims don’t learn that their identity has been stolen for four or more years. On average, per household, a victim will lose over $1,000 dollars, and many will experience a wake of negative effects like difficulty getting loans and fees related to recovering the money or finding the perpetrator.
Ok, so now that you’re good an paranoid, you can check out some of my favorite anonymous VPN services.
Hide My Ass
You’ll see this on the top of pretty much any list of virtual private networks. They offer way more IPs, in way more countries, for a cheaper price than anyone else. Multiple VPN protocols, unlimited bandwidth, free server switching, and a 30 day money back guarantee is pretty hard to beat. It’s really no competition. As far as anonymity goes, they’ve also got that covered. Actually, it’s an interesting story that you can check out HERE (http://www.streetarticles.com/cyber-law/vpn-services-will-mask-your-ip-address-but-will-they-sell-you-out). If you don’t read the article, to make a long story short, HMA was involved in catching hacker and everyone got upset because HMA is supposed to keep you anonymous online.
HMA made it very clear that anonymous surfing does not include illegal activity (as far as UK law is concerned), but there is NO WAY that they can spy on you. If you’re trying to hack government organizations and sell children on the internet however, they will be able to find you. Any VPN service who tells you otherwise is BS-ing you.
One of the leading VPN providers in the business since the 90′s, StrongVPN is a service worth mentioning. There are tons of options, including lite plans, Deluxe plans, packages based on your home country, a wide variety of VPN protocols, and even the choice of dedicated or static IPs (if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it). Live support is great, and of course there’s a money back guarantee. They’ve got a wide variety of country locations (19), and have SSTP/OpenVPN/PPTP/L2TP options for all you standard(and not so standard) operating systems.
I am actually using this VPN service right now (Dec 14 2011). Though a newbie can walk in and out and start browsing/downloading anonymously in a matter a minutes, there’s plenty of customizable options for the geeky-user. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really understand all of it – stuff like port forwarding, DD-WRT and Tomato support, advanced routing options, and other stuff. But they do offer a free Viscosity license (worth $9) for Windows and Mac users, have simultaneous login for your mobile devices, and options to upgrade to military grade encryption (4096-bit). Now that’s some serious anonymity!
Alternate Domain for users in China, Oman, and other blocked countries
SpendOnLife.com (Identity Theft Statistics)