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​Can you ever be truly anonymous online?

By Shannon Williams
Tue 17 Jan 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Online security is a bigger issue than ever, especially when it comes to staying secure and private online.

That’s the word of NordVPN, who is offering some advice on how to enhance anonymity online.

When it comes to using public Wi-Fi, and especially managing financial transactions, NordVPN says it’s known that it’s not safe to use one’s credit card or to disclose any other personal information.

“For example, it has been shown that a Visa credit card can be hacked online in six seconds,” the VPPN service provider says.

However, NordVPN says using cryptocurrency can help users stay anonymous to some extent. But what are the other ways to remain completely invisible online?

NordVPN identifies five key services that could significantly enhance online anonymity and security.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a decentralised currency that does not belong to any country – just its user. 

When it comes to security, it’s hard to beat it, NordVPN says.

Bitcoin online transactions are conducted without disclosing any personal financial information.

“When it comes to privacy, it’s certainly reassuring that no one can trace who is the owner of a certain Bitcoin account,” the company says.

However, not all merchants accept bitcoin.

“In those cases when using a credit/debit card is the only option - extra security steps should be taken,” NordVPN advises.

“ Using strong passwords and updating them often, ensuring the websites are trusted (double check for https), being wary of any suspicious redirects and using trusted encryption services (i.e. VPN service) to protect one’s internet traffic are bare minimum,” it explains.

Encrypted Email

While Bitcoin is great for financial transactions online, it’s advisable to stay private while conducting any other activities – such as emailing, NordVPN says.

“Emails might also contain some private and sensitive information, which could be easily intercepted by hackers or any unwanted snoopers,” it explains.

The solution is to use one of the encrypted email services.

“There are a few good examples, including Tutanota, or the Gmail-like ProtonMail that offer an automatic end-to-end encryption, and no personal information is required to create a secure email account.”

Encrypted Messaging

“Everybody uses their mobile devices for instant messaging - but how safe are regular communication apps?,” NordVPN questions.

“For example, WhatsApp has received some harsh criticism for tracing user chats even after their deletion. Signal, on the other hand, is an encrypted messaging and voice calling app that provides end-to-end encryption by default to secure all communications,” the company says.

“The app can also verify the identity of people one is messaging with and the integrity of the channel they are using,” it adds.

When texting with non-Signal users, one has an option to invite them to an encrypted conversation via Signal.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)

“If a user is  looking for an advanced option to secure their communication and personal files, it might be wise to turn to PGP, which is actually one of the most popular encryption softwares used worldwide,” suggest NordVPN.

“OpenPGP is used to encrypt data and create digital signatures and could be used to encrypt your personal files or to exchange encrypted communication,” it explains.

“It protects all communication with a digital signature and is available for all operating platforms.”

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

Anyone who is taking their online security and privacy seriously, will use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network.

“A VPN encrypts all user’s internet data into a secure tunnel and creates a secure connection between one’s device and a VPN server,” NordVPN explains.

“All the information travelling between the user’s internet-enabled device and the secure server remains invisible to any third party,” the company says.

Those who want a guaranteed protection, will be disappointed that not all VPNs accept Bitcoin as method of payment – but there are a few that do.

“NordVPN, for example, allows to pay by Bitcoin and, most importantly, does not store any logs,” the company advises.

“It also offers an option to encrypt all the data twice for extra safety, which is a rare feature for a VPN,” it adds.

“A helpful kill-switch feature allows a user to select internet programs that would be terminated if the internet connection dropped for any reason, to make sure that no unprotected internet activity was exposed,” NordVPN continues.

Privacy issues have taken another shape completely over the past year. 31% of internet users used a VPN in 2016, and VPNs will be increasingly popular in 2017 as online security issues grow to monumental proportions.

“In addition to these super tough security measures, anonymity-minded internet users should be more vigilant, use extra caution when sharing information or opening messages from unknown recipients, while making sure that their device’s Firewall is turned on and a reliable anti-virus program is installed and kept up to date,” NordVPN says.

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