Every computer connects to the Internet through what is called an "Internet provider" and it is the provider that stands between your computer and the actual World Wide Web. Although there are federal laws regulating what Internet service providers (ISPs) can and cannot look at when you are browsing the web, some unscrupulous providers may choose to watch what websites you visit regardless of the law. The only way to conceal your Internet surfing from wandering eyes at your ISP's office is to encrypt as much of your data as possible.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Set up and use your computer on the TOR proxy network. By installing the Windows or Apple "TOR" bundle for your computer, and then by following TOR's instructions, the websites you visit will not only be concealed, but so will the data as it moves back and forth between your computer and the TOR proxy server. Your ISP will only see a proxy "middle-man" server and not your final destination, and will also see only encrypted data which will be meaningless to wandering eyes.
Install an e-mail encryption package onto your computer, such as the free Open-Source GnuPG (GPG) or the "Pretty Good Privacy" (PGP) e-mail encryption software. Both of these packages allow you and your friends and family to create two keys each, also called "public key cryptography": a "private key" and a "public key." Any e-mail text that is encrypted with either of these software packages will appear as unreadable data to anyone between your computer and the destination computer, and only the sender and the recipient will be able to unlock the email for reading.
Check the website address bar at the top of your browser to make sure you are using an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) connection when performing financial transactions or purchases online. Such encryption makes it impossible for anyone between your computer and the destination computer to see your credit card and purchase information as it travels via the web. If such a connection is secure, you will see an "https://" prefix in front of the Website address bar, in addition to a padlock emblem in the lower-right corner of all major browsers including Windows Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Apple Safari.
Tips and warnings
- If you suspect your Internet service provider isn't playing fair and might be watching what you do on the Internet, consider using a public Internet connection where your name isn't tied to the Internet account. Most Wi-Fi "hot spots" are unable to keep records of people who used the networks. If using this method, always be sure you see the "https://" (note the 's' at the end of http) and the padlock in your browser to be sure your connection is encrypted if performing any financial transactions.
- Never send your credit card information over the web unnecessarily; only do this when there are no other purchase options available. Use a wired telephone connection for financial transactions at every opportunity to reduce the risk of your financial data being stolen. Cell phones also are not a good alternative and in some cases may present even more of a security risk than using the web.
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