While surfing the web you are under constant observation. But there are ways and means to make snooping and spying difficult for third parties. We show which possibilities are open to you. Every time you visit the web, you reveal a lot of personal information without knowing it. In addition to the current IP address, the Windows version and the web browser used, including plug-ins, are also transmitted. This information could be used by malicious attackers to exploit known security holes (exploits) and break into a foreign system. But the advertising industry is also interested in your surfing behavior. We’ll show you how to prevent snooping and be halfway anonymous on the web.
Cookies log the surfing behaviour in the browser
As soon as you open a web page in the browser, information is saved on your computer. These are usually cookies, i.e. small text files in which, among other things, your IP address and the date and time of your visit are recorded. The more such cookies there are, the easier it is to create an exact usage profile. You experience the effects daily in practice: If, for example, you search for air travel with Google, personalized banners will be displayed with a high degree of certainty on all websites you visit afterwards, advertising low-cost flights. To prevent this type of espionage, you must instruct your browser to automatically remove cookies and other elements stored by websites.
Before you configure your browser accordingly, you should delete all cookies already stored on your PC.
If you are using Microsoft Edge, click on the button with the three dots at the top right and select “Settings”. In the following dialog, click on the button “Select item to delete” under “Delete browser data”, check whether the check mark for “Cookies and stored website data” is set and confirm with “Delete”.
Surf with Firefox, click on the symbol with the three lines, select “Settings” and choose “Privacy” in the left column. In the main window, under “History”, click on the hyperlink “Individual cookies” and then select “Remove all cookies”.
Opera users click on “Menu -> Other tools -> Delete browser data”, select “since installation” as the time period and confirm with “Delete browser data”.
If you are also using Windows 10 with Internet Explorer 11 on the web, proceed as follows: Click on the gearwheel symbol in the upper right corner and select “Internet options”. In the “General” tab, click on “Delete” under “Browsing history” and confirm with “Delete”. There is an informative article on hackread.com about it.
Cleaning cookies automatically from the hard disk
All common browsers offer you the possibility to automatically delete the cookies stored on your computer during a surfing session of websites.
Users of Microsoft Edge proceed as described in the previous section, but under “Delete browser data” they do not choose “Delete”, but set the slider under “Delete this data after each session” to “On”. You determine which elements should be automatically removed when Microsoft Edge is closed by selecting the desired entries. The range includes “Browser History,” “Cookies and Stored Web Site Data,” and “Passwords.
Firefox users switch to “Privacy Settings”, open the drop-down menu under “Chronicle”, and choose “Create by Custom Settings”. Then activate the option “Delete the chronicle if Firefox is closed”.
In Opera, click in the “Settings” on “Basic settings” and mark under “Cookies” the option “Delete local data when closing the browser”. And in Internet Explorer 11 it is sufficient to activate the option “Delete browser history when closing” in the “Internet Options” under “General” and to save the change with “OK”.
Surfing without leaving treacherous traces
No matter whether “InPrivate” (Microsoft Edge and IE11), “Private Mode” (Firefox) or “Private Window” (Opera) – current surfing aids offer special incognito operating modes. The great similarity of these functions: No information is stored on the computer. This is particularly interesting if you are on the go on a foreign computer on the Web.
- To open a new InPrivate window in Microsoft Edge, click on the button with the three dots and select the command of the same name (shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-P).
- Firefox users click on the “Menu” button and choose “Private Window” (Ctrl-Shift-P).
- In Opera, select “Menu” and “New Private Window” (Ctrl-Shift-N), and in Internet Explorer 11, click the gear icon and select “Security” and “InPrivate Browsing” (Ctrl-Shift-P).
- Very good: In all four browsers, the incognito tabs are graphically highlighted so that you can see at a glance that the corresponding mode is enabled.
Disguise Identity by Using a Proxy Server
As soon as you open a website in your browser, your IP address is stored in the server’s log file. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with that, as the website operator wants to know how many visitors come every day. However, there are situations in which the surfer wants to prevent his IP address from becoming known. If, for example, an employee of a company visits the homepage of a competitor, he certainly wants to prevent the IP address – and thus also the domain – from appearing in the log files of the server. This is where proxy servers come into play.
Put simply, proxy servers act as a kind of switching point between your computer and the web server. Your browser sends the request to the proxy server, which processes it and then transmits it to the web server. The web server’s response takes the opposite path. In the log of the web server the IP address of the proxy server is recorded instead of your IP address, so that the operator does not know that you were there. So much for the theory. In practice, however, there are some pitfalls lurking.
First and foremost is the fact that the data is transmitted unencrypted and can not only be spyed out on the proxy server, but can also be manipulated. This makes it possible for the NSA, for example, to provide free proxy servers to access user data. The use of free proxy servers is not only not recommended for security reasons. Because such offers are used by thousands of surfers, the data transfer rate goes to the knees. Paid services are usually faster – but the security situation cannot be determined. For this reason, web services that require passwords should not be used via proxy servers. The same applies, of course, to online shopping and home banking.
If, on the other hand, you attach importance to a plus in anonymity when surfing “normally”, you will find numerous proxy server lists on the web, for example www.proxy-listen.de/Proxy/Proxyliste.html . To see for yourself how surfing via a proxy server works, look for a fast server in the list and note the IP address and port. You then have to enter these two information in Firefox (“Settings -> Advanced -> Network -> Settings -> Manual proxy configuration”).
Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer 11 and Opera do not allow you to configure a proxy server. If you click on “Show advanced settings” and “Open proxy settings” in the “Settings” of Edge, you will land in the Windows settings. The proxy server configured here is system-wide. Set the “Use proxy server” control to “On” and enter the IP address and port number. Important: To prevent internal requests from being routed through the proxy server, activate the option “Do not use proxy server for local addresses (intranet)”. Save the changes with “Save”.
To check which IP address you are currently using on the web, visit www.hirnbrauser.de, click “Next” on the home page, and then choose “Check your IP address” in the left column.