Important Update: I’ve kept digging since I wrote this post originally and found a heap of reviews talking down Super VPN as a provider. Based on that avoid them. The post below has been edited so that its not misleading.
A good place to start reading about how to use the internet anonymously is TOR, a special browser and apps for hiding your activity.
I’ve been getting oddly paranoid about behaviour tracking and internet tracing recently. The SOPA movement ping’ed my brain into a higher gear, so the niggling feeling over the last few years has changed into a serious consideration. My online privacy is a concern – especially if I choose to participate in movements or causes which are controversial*.
In my last post I mentioned using a VPN provider to avoid tracing, that is – changing where it appears you are surfing from so that your actions are more anonymous. It is not a perfect solution, but I don’t think that a real “perfect solution” exists. Somebody will always have your credentials, or a login name, an external IP, or whatever. To be totally free online you have to have no permanent presence, and that is not practical to me. Not practical for anyone.
What is practical, straight forward, and works a treat is a VPN service which you tunnel your online activity through. This way all the tracing goes back to their public IP, and your actual destination is impossible to determine from the outside.
With that in mind I went looking for a cost effective and reputable VPN service. It took a few hours of grinding through the web
to find a good one, and I have yet to find one which is not reviewed poorly in some manner.
With a primary goal of online anonymity –
one service stood out as the place to start without question: SuperVPN. They offer either a basic level of secure VPNs (using the PPTP&L2TP protocols), or a fully secure VPN service. I’m starting with the basic, and utilising a free option they offer (see below).
Before using them I trolled through the web digging for reviews and information. Most online services are written about these days, and its often easy to find a poor review.
Thankfully these guys had no such reviews that I could find in 30 minutes or so of digging. I found mention of bad service, poor billing and all sorts of worries. Plenty of forum posts, plenty of geeky opinions; all of which served to help expand my knowledge of how this type of service can work or can fail.**
I did find a number of negative reviews about some other providers, particularly the folks at Hide My Ass who (apparently) recently gave private information about their user-base to US authorities for the purposes of tracking down a member on the hacking group Anonymous. I have no idea if that information is correct, but it is concerning. A VPN service who give out person details is exactly what we do not want.
It brings the point back to the fact that nobody is actually trustworthy on the net. We’re not quite yet at the “trust nobody” paranoia stages, but I think for every step that we take which increases our dependency on being online (think about all your daily activity) there is a corresponding risk. You’d be well advised to do some digging, read around, and if you’re really lost as a geek friend. We love this stuff, and might have pragmatic advice for your situation.
SuperVPN also have a pricing model for the paid services which is competitive, they state openly how the plans work, and have an easy to read website. I was staggered by the number of other VPN services which presented an unprofessional website – totally the wrong approach to take. Most VPN providers offer some sort of service for hidden torrents and downloading, and as you’d expect this will make those companies of particular interest to the media companies. Super VPN also have a free option which covers only a few of the lesser VPN protocols – perhaps do what I am doing and start there.
As the market in VPNs expands I’m expecting a lot more players to enter the market, but even now it is not cost prohibitive as a test case.
I’ll re-post when I’ve tinkered with the service enough to know how well it flies.
* For the record I’ve yet to do anything online even slightly suspect, but as the legislation changes being prepared will be handy. I’d love to know more about the inside of the ultra-cool hackers, but I’m a bit chicken and time poor to do it well.
** There is no real substitute for doing the research yourself. Please start reading about online privacy, so you know when you are making an informed choice.