Cases of identity theft are common throughout the world. One of the ways criminals can access your credentials is if you access your bank account or social media accounts using free and open public Wi-Fi. Therefore, it is advisable to use tools that enable you to browse the internet anonymously in order to protect yourself and your data against snooping eyes. These include proxy servers and virtual private networks.
Why is Internet Anonymity Necessary?
An experiment conducted by an antivirus software development company to show the risks of public Wi-Fi highlights the need for anonymity. The company set up free Wi-Fi networks at a convention’s registration booth at the Barcelona Airport. The catch: the networks bore names (SSIDs) that the convention attendees would automatically assume were set up for them and that they were safe. Over 2,000 people joined. From the analysis of the data generated by the users, the company was able to determine the device they were using, the websites they visited, and the applications installed.
The conclusion was that criminals could take advantage because internet users often throw caution in the wind when they assume they can trust a particular free Wi-Fi. This has often led to cases of identity theft. In 2020, consumers in the United States lost approximately $56 billion to identity fraud. In the UK, identity theft costs the population about £4 billion (about $4.48 billion at current exchange rates) every year.
The rampant cases of identity theft call for caution on the part of consumers. Internet users can protect themselves by using tools that anonymize or encrypt traffic.
How to Increase Internet Anonymity
There are two popular methods of increasing online anonymity: proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs).
A proxy or proxy server is an intermediary that routes web requests through itself, hides their real IP address, assigns a new address, and, finally, forwards them to the target web server. The proxy server anonymizes the browsing by hiding the real IP address, which stores information such as the exact location (including coordinates, city, state, and area code). It is this anonymity that makes proxy servers ideal for use cases such as web scraping, brand monitoring, and accessing geo-blocked content from other countries.
There are several types of proxies, which differ in the level of anonymity and reliability. For instance, residential proxies assign real IP addresses supplied by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Such proxies route traffic through real users’ devices, preventing IP blocking. On the other hand, datacenter proxies assign datacenter IP addresses, which are generated by powerful servers. Such IP addresses are, therefore, virtual as they are not tied to real devices. Compared to residential proxies, therefore, these datacenter proxies are unreliable as they can be easily detected and flagged.
Other types of proxy servers include:
- Static Proxies
- Dynamic/rotating proxies
- Private or dedicated proxies
- Public proxies
- Forward proxies
- Reverse proxies
- HTTP/HTTPS proxies
- SOCKS proxies
- Transparent proxies
- Anonymous proxies
- High anonymity proxies
Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
A virtual private network establishes a secure and encrypted connection between your computer and a server in your chosen country. This connection, known as a tunnel, safeguards all the data packets, preventing any party from eavesdropping or getting ahold of the data, allowing you to browse the internet anonymously in that way.
In addition, once the data exits the tunnel at the exit node, it acquires this server’s IP address. This way, VPNs hide your real IP address from external parties, including governments, hackers, and corporations. Generally, VPNs are used to:
- Bypass geo-restrictions
- Get around government-instituted blocks on websites
- Protect your data as you browse when connected via free, untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots
- Hide your location
- Secure data transfer
Proxies vs. VPNs
When it comes to instances where you require security, for instance, when using public Wi-Fi, VPNs are a better option than proxy servers. This is because they encrypt the data preventing snooping eyes from understanding what is being sent to the web server. However, this encryption slows down the connection speeds. This means proxy servers are faster than VPNs. But this is only a small price to pay, considering the risks that are associated with using free Wi-Fi.
Nonetheless, if you are using a secure internet hotspot but still want to anonymize your browsing, proxy servers are better than VPNs. Not only do they hide your location, enabling you to access geo-blocked content, but they also assign you a new IP address or new identifiers at intervals, allowing you to browse the internet without worrying about IP bans. For this reason, proxies are suitable for web scraping, ad verification, social media management, and more.
There are two tools that enable you to browse the internet anonymously. These include proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs). Proxies are suitable for situations that do not require a heightened level of security. On the other hand, VPNs are ideal when you are connected to the internet via free, untrustworthy Wi-Fi hotspots. This is because VPNs offer encryption while proxy servers do not.
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