ShareThis Page

Programs help defeat Web's spies

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

When you surf the Internet, everyone is watching.

Tracking companies, search engines and social networks try to learn your habits for advertising purposes. Your Internet service provider monitors you to make sure you're not doing anything illegal.

A government analyst somewhere might think you're “interesting.”

Scammers and hackers are waiting to seize any opportunity to steal your identity and your money.

Many people believe there's nothing they can do to prevent such snooping.

Well, it's not as hard as you may think. All you need are a few tools and coaching in covert ops.

Just call me Komando...Kim Komando.

• Spy trainee. Hackers use viruses to exploit your computer and steal personal information. Your first line of defense is to keep a clean machine and make sure your security software is up to date.

When you surf, your browser keeps a record of where you go, what you search for, and what you download. It also stores cookies, which can track you. Wipe out this information with a program like CCleaner.

Or make sure it isn't recorded in the first place. Toggle to private or incognito browsing mode. All major browsers have it listed in the main menu.

Private browsing prevents history and cookies from being saved, but it does nothing to mask your Internet identity.

For that, you need to advance to the next level.

• Field agent. When you go online, your ISP gives your computer a unique Internet protocol address.

An IP address doesn't identify you personally, but it reveals which ISP you use and your general geographic location.

Of course, your ISP records your IP address and the IP addresses of the sites you visit.

There are ways you can disguise your IP address.

A Web-based proxy server allows you to enter the address of a site you want to visit. The proxy service requests the website and displays it for you.

The site you visit can't see or track you. And your ISP doesn't know where you've gone either.

Web-based proxies work entirely through your browser. There's little, if any, security in the connection, however.

If you want to take the next step, you can download a proxy system like Tor. This routes all your Internet traffic through volunteer servers around the world.

If you're authorized to use your home computer to access your company or school network, you're using a virtual private network. Many VPN providers offer subscriptions to individuals. A VPN will cost you, but you gain a high level of encryption and more reliability

• Bond, James Bond. Master spies need a way to anonymously use any computer that's handy.

That's possible with a bootable USB stick or DVD loaded with Tails (The Amnesiac Incognito Live System). The free, open-source package bypasses a computer's internal operating system and hard drive.

The live-boot Linux operating system works on Macs and PCs. A built-in, customized browser takes advantage of the Tor network. Other tools in the package encrypt your email and instant messages. There's even free productivity software.

As 007 would say: Brilliant!

Email her at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.