Restoring Online Privacy

Thursday Nov 16th 2006 by Lyne Bourque

Feel stalked at every turn while surfing online? Anonymizer offers tools that keeps snoopy sites at bay.

Privacy, it seems, is something that has been sacrificed in favor of thwarting criminals and stamping out injustice. While it's important to keep vigilant, we shouldn't be sacrificing our freedoms and right to privacy in the process. Along with this sacrifice, I have found we have opened ourselves to even more spam. We trawl the web in search of information and we're asked to for information every step of the way, whether we’re asked for it or not. Inevitably, other parties know who we are and where we've been better then we do.

While there have been many attempts to deal with spam one of the best I've seen recently is a product from Anonymizer called Nyms.

The best way to describe Nyms is a closed relay of many paths. This means I can create email addresses (Nyms) that would be used for single instances or for anonymous email purposes. Messages are then sent back to me without the original source known. For the average user, this means that one doesn't need to give out a specific email address to sites and you can track which sites are actually selling your email address elsewhere. You can easily, and within a single step, create an email address unique for each site you visit.

Now this isn't to say that you can go anywhere willy-nilly with this product or spam the world with it.

When I first pondered what this product would do, it occurred to me that spammers might be able to use this for their own illicit purposes. As such, there are limits to the accounts and what can be done with them.

Unlike the regular Anonymizer Proxy service, this does map Nyms to a specific paid account. So, ultimately, the owner of the account can be held accountable if any unpleasantness ensues. That also means that the account holder is made responsible for protecting access to the Nyms.

Additionally, Nyms uses a web and specific application interface rather than a standard email application, so this helps eliminate some of the issues that follow those applications. What it also means is that one can use a Blackberry or other platforms besides Windows to take advantage of the system. And the actual server that this runs on is extremely restrictive in regard to what it can and cannot do. While this is a better way of surfing and keeping yourself private when trying to avoid stalkers, spammers, and others, a subpoena will still open the doors to law enforcement.

Nyms comes as part of Anonymizer's Security Suite and they were kind enough to let me experiment with it recently. This suite of programs includes the Nyms package as well as Anonymizer's popular proxy service, anti-spyware program and a digital shredder program. By combining these into one program, the software allows users to become more proactive at staying safe online.

Specifically, it means that spyware is caught right when an attempt to connect is made, not after an infection has occurred. What I was most pleased about this module is that I could choose to block the questionable sites entirely, block questionable scripts or allow it interact as is. This particular feature did make me feel more comfortable about using Internet Explorer as a browser again.

The digital shredder is good for deleting cookies and avoid being tracked when you go from site to site. It will also eliminate extra files that are sometimes downloaded into the cache and hinder system performance. Disks may be cheap and space plentiful but that doesn't mean you need digital minutiae pouring in without your knowledge. Digital shredder can remove all of these and keep your system free of potential malware before it has a chance to interfere.

The more well-known part of the suite is the Anonymizer proxy. It allowed me to easily navigate sites without worry of being traced from work or home. Because it works in the background, my overall experience at using it was relatively easy. I did find one issue when attempting to connect to my work webmail and this may be due to settings on their end (preventing anonymous access to webmail).

There is one shortcoming, however. I suggested to Anonymizer the ability to select which sites would be accessible by proxy and which ones shouldn't be. That kind of choice would give savvy internet users the ability to pick and choose how they surf the Internet.

Now, the one thing about the suite is that it is largely designed for individual use. Corporations, however, could use the suite for research, data scraping or industrial espionage. I could easily see the benefit to a company where they would have a few select employees using this technology to get publicly available material without having to give out the corporate email. Additionally, this means that surfing will remain anonymous and companies won't know who is visiting them.

Average users, on the other hand, would most benefit the most from this product, allowing them to reclaim their online privacy. There’s nothing wrong in desiring privacy online and being able to maintain one's sense of identity. Nor should someone be afraid of surfing again.

Anonymizer's Security Suite brings that back in a nice simple package for a decent price. You can get the Nyms separate from the Security Suite but I would highly recommend the whole package as the Nyms is only one aspect of ensuring your online privacy.

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