The question that many people ask is why would someone want to surf anonymously in the first place. Why would someone who does not do something illegal want to surf anonymously at all ?
I can think of lots of reasons, here are a few:
You come from a country where free speech is only a theory. Countries include china, north korea, most Islamic countries,
germany and france for instance.
You work in an environment that prohibits access to parts of the internet.
You write about a certain situation and want to make sure no one knows that it´s you, for instance you blog about your current job or the situation in your home town.
You dislike that the government tries to track everyone and everything on the internet.
You are paranoid
Hope that´s settled now. Let us start with the methods and technology to stay anonymous.
Before I start I would like to remind you to use common sense as well. It does not help you if you use a proxy to post on a message board but use your real identity there. The same principle is valid for all other means of communication. Don´t mention your real data if you want to remain anonymous.
I will discuss the following methods to stay anonymous on the internet:
c) tunneling software,
d) cookies, spyware and the like.
Webproxies are a great way to stay anonymous with almost no work required on your site. You open the url of the webproxy, enter the url you want to visit and visit the site you want to visit using the ip of the webproxy. Easy and fast method that has some problems as well. First, it might not support all scripts that the site you want to visit uses. This could be a problem, maybe it has only the effect that the design does not look as usual, maybe functions of the website do not work. If thats the case try different webproxy server.
The servers can easily be blocked by a firewall or other means of blocking scripts / urls. If that is the case you could try and setup your own webproxy. All you need is webspace that supports php / cgi. You then have the advantage that only you or a few people know about this proxy and it´s less likely that it will be banned.
A word of advice. Don´t pay for a webproxy service. Most payments can be tracked. Good lists of webproxies can be found at proxy.org
Unlike webproxies proxies are mere ip addresses that route your request to the destination. The important factor if a proxy can be used to hide your identity is if it spills your ip. It does not make sense to use a proxy to stay anonymous if the destination sees your ip and not the one from the proxy.
That means you will have to check proxies before you are using them. A program that does this is charon by my friend rhino. It checks the proxies for speed and anonymity. Now, all is left is to add the proxy to your browser and check a whatismyip.com site for your ip. If it shows the ip of the proxy you are surfing anonymously. Beware that certain languages like java are still able to reveal your real ip on a website even though you are using a proxy.
Firefox has some great proxy extensions like the switch proxy tool. You probably would like to know where you get the proxies that you check in charon ? You can perform searches for proxy lists, visit irc or scan for yourself for example.
Proxies have a big problem. If one monitors the proxy one does know what everyone who uses the proxy is doing. It´s a good idea to use a proxy server that is not located in your home country. The US government will have problems asking a north korean proxy server owner for their server log or access to it. It´s not likely that this is going to happen.
But, the possibility exists and it´s a good way to be on the safe site. Tunneling tools allow you to use software on your computer that does not support proxies in first place to be used with proxies. Some simply require you to enter a proxy in the tunneling software and you are free to go, others encrypt your data transfer and route if through several servers to make sure no one is able to find out about the source and destination and the data itself.
Cookies, spyware and the like
This should be common sense but I thought I add it anyway to the article. There are different methods that are able to track you that do not rely on your ip address. Those are cookies for instance, take a look at the excellent wikipedia article about cookies if you don´t know about cookies.
Spyware is another threat that is able to track your movement and action on the internet. Make sure you run a clean system by using tools like spybot. You should also be sure that no rootkits, virii, trojans, worms and the like are already installed on your computer.