The Types Of Anonymous Surfing And Their Differences

Different types of anonymous surfing applications vary in their ability to hide our IP address and to secure, or encrypt, our data transfers.

By being aware of these anonymizer types, you'll be able to guard privacy and avoid using a protocol that may still display your IP address -- unknown to you -- or that still allows your connection to be intercepted and the contents logged and read.

And for your information, your IP address is...

When you have installed your anonymizer, just come back here and ensure your IP address has changed. If not, your anonymizer is not protecting you.

There are four general categories of anonymizing technologies...

  1. Web-Based Anonymizers
  2. Proxy Anonymizers
  3. SSL And SSH Tunnels
  4. VPN Tunneling

Unfortunately, the explanations of each type can be pretty technical, so I've tried to keep it simple...

1. Anonymous Surfing... Web-Based Anonymizers

Web-based anonymizers, also known as redirectors, protect web browsing only... they don't support other Web-based activities, such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and ICQ (I Seek You) and email.

To use this protocol, you go to the anonymizer's web page and enter the site URL you wish to browse anonymously. The redirecting software uses its own server IP address, so keeping your computer IP anonymous.

Web-based anonymizers usually will not work with SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or SSH (Secure SHell) encrypted sites (https). So, this type of anonymizer is not reliable for banking, shopping and other secure sites.

For more information on SSL and SSH, have a read of The Role Of SSL And SSH.

Generally, web-based anonymizers are for the occasional surfer, not too concerned about security of their data.

2. Anonymous Surfing... Proxy Anonymizers

Using a proxy anonymizer is the most common method of anonymous surfing.

When using an http proxy anonymizer-- http is a standard, unsecured connection -- your IP will not be visible. However, when you are visiting a secure, https link, your real IP address will appear in that Website server's logs.

So, to anonymize ALL connections, you will need to use an https proxy anonymizer -- one that uses SSH or SSL encryption.

Different types of proxies are used for different activities or protocols. For instance, a web proxy for browsing, a remailer proxy for emailing, an IRC proxy for Internet Relay Chat. Some proxy types, like a Socks proxy, will work with several Web applications.

Let's look at and discuss the two main types of proxy anonymizers available...

I. Anonymous Surfing... Web Proxies

Web proxy anonymizers allow you to surf websites anonymously, but not other web-based applications, such as email and IRC.

Web proxy anonymizers are available as free or buy versions. They can also be chosen from lists that are easily found by a web search.

Unfortunately, some of these listed proxies may not guard privacy and security to the degree we would wish. For more information on these risks, see the discussion in The Pros and Cons Of Commercial And Free Proxy Anonymizers.

A number of free proxy services often use the open proxy lists, rather than their own proxy servers. This means there is no control over the proxy... so no guarantee there is no user activity logging.

Also, beware of commercial proxy anonymizers that don't use their own proxy servers... they could be routing your connection through the open lists of proxies.

Because using a proxy from a free list can expose you to some serious risks, use either a commercial or a reputable free anonymizer service that operates its own servers.

Towards the end of this article, I'll direct you to the sections that provide the most secure anonymous surfing.

II. Anonymous Surfing... Socks Proxy

There are two types of socks proxy...

A Socks 4 proxy will allow TCP protocols only, such as HTTP, or standard browsing, newsgroup access and Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

A Socks 5 proxy allows both TCP and UDP protocols, such as ICQ (I Seek You), IRC, etc.

To use Socks, your browser needs to support Socks protocol. Internet Explorer supports Socks 4, while Firefox supports Socks 4 and 5.

Most Socks proxy anonymizers are commercial and will only mask your IP address. To ensure your connection can't be seen and recorded by anyone-else, look for a socks proxy that integrates SSL or SSH to encrypt your connection.

A word of caution... many commercial and free anonymous surfing tools are light on information about what type of proxy they use. If the anonymizer you're considering doesn't state what type of proxy is being used, e-mail the provider and ask. If they don't bother to reply, don't use them!

However, there are both commercial and free anonymous surfing programs that I've tested and recommend. Check these out first, before spending more time looking for your program... the links to the reviews are in Section 5, 'What Next?'.

3. Anonymous Surfing... SSL And SSH Tunnels

Many commercial and free proxy anonymizers provide security for your data transmissions, by using SSH or SSL encryption, so they cannot be intercepted and read. Such anonymizers often go under the name of 'encrypted tunnel proxy', 'secure anonymous surfing', 'SSL proxy anonymizer', etc.

Both web proxy and Socks proxy connections can be passed through the encrypted tunnel. However, SSL cannot anonymize without a proxy.

Anonymous surfing with SSL/SSH encryption offers more secure privacy and security protection than an anonymous proxy server alone.

An SSL or SSH proxy anonymizer provides optimum anonymity and security for home and home office users.

4. Anonymous Surfing... VPN Tunnels

VPNs are frequently used by corporations and government bodies, particularly for remote workers making a connection to the office network.

The main difference between an SSL or SSH encrypted tunnel proxy and VPN (Virtual Private Network) tunneling, is that VPN doesn't use a proxy and anonymizes and encrypts all activities.

As mentioned earlier, SSL or SSH proxy anonymizers will only anonymize and encrypt the applications for that particular type of proxy. Both SSL and SSH encryption can be used with VPN as well as proxy servers.

The VPN program sets up an encrypted connection to and through the ISP and then to the final destination... known as a tunnel. A new IP address is allocated to this tunnel, so all Internet traffic and applications to and from your computer are anonymous and encrypted.

VPN is currently the most advanced form of anonymity and data security for use on the Internet. Because there is no proxy server involved, transmission speeds are generally not slowed from the actual connection speed and there is greater security of your data and browsing habits...

Security Of Data And Privacy

A commercial or free encrypted tunnel proxy and VPN will use either SSL or SSH for encryption.

However, a commercial or free encrypted tunnel proxy has all connections and data routed through a proxy server. This proxy server retains logs of...

  • The real IP addresses of the computers connecting to it
  • Which connections the computer makes
  • What data is transferred through the encrypted tunnel
All commercial and free encrypted tunnel proxy programs that I've looked at or used will have a privacy clause stating that the information collected will remain private... but that they will cooperate with any law enforcement investigation.

Now, although we would be supportive of criminal investigations, if we're not the subject of that investigation, we still may not want our records to be handed over to the authorities, just because we've used that, or those, particular proxy server(s).

The point is, if we are accessing or transferring highly confidential information -- whether it be of a personal or commercial nature -- then we may wish to avoid this potential security or privacy risk.

This is why a VPN is more secure.... there is no proxy server involved in the secure tunneling of a VPN. Our PC acts as the anonymous, encrypted server, making a direct connection with the web-based application of our choice.

With VPN, then, there is no risk of our data and browsing data being handed over to any third party.

This aspect of securing your privacy -- such as sending details of a client's finances -- is the only reason I would suggest that the home or small office would consider using a VPN to guard privacy.

VPNs are available for the home at a reasonable cost and a couple of services are discussed in A Commercial Or Free Encrypted Tunnel Proxy Or VPN For Your Home/Office.

If you are not accessing or transferring highly confidential information over the Internet, then most home/office users will be satisfied with an SSL or SSH proxy anonymizer to guard privacy.

5. Anonymous Surfing... What Next?

You've seen and heard that the four types of anonymizer systems -- web-based, proxy, SSL/SSH Tunnels and VPN -- can give you different capabilities of anonymity and data security.

So, which anonymizer do you go for?

Your first decision is whether to go for free or commercial anonymizers. If you haven't read The Pros and Cons Of Commercial And Free Proxy Anonymizers, you should read this now and decide what type will suit your circumstances best.

Then, depending on your decision, either go to Free Anonymous Surfing Reviewed, or A Review Of The Best Commercial Anonymizers.

Here, you'll find my experiences and recommendations of specific free and commercial products, all of which use SSL proxies.

There's even more information to aid the right decision on anonymous surfing for you, so grab a cup of coffee, relax and also take a look at these articles...

  1. What Are Proxy Anonymizers?
    How proxy anonymizers work and protect us.
  2. Who Is Monitoring Us When We're Online?
    Unless we use commercial or free anonymous web surfing, organizations, authorities and individuals are after our identity and other personal information.
  3. What Information Is Recorded When We're Online?
    Unless we use commercial or free anonymous web surfing, this identifying information is easily collected.
  4. Commercial and Free Encrypted Tunnel Proxy... The Role Of SSL And SSH
    For complete security, we need to encrypt our connection so no third party can intercept or view what we are doing. SSL and SSH are the key, so find out what they do.
  5. A Review Of Commercial And Free Encrypted Tunnel Proxy And VPN Programs
    How a tunnel proxy and VPN provides more security than a standard proxy anonymizer.
  6. Anonymous Email Service Free And Commercial
    How to anonymize and encrypt your confidential emails.


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