In martial arts, there are levels (belts) of competence in fending off attacks. The same applies to browsing the Internet: there are levels in fending off attacks on your privacy. There are different “moves” you make depending on if a potential attacker has access to the computer you’re using, the Internet connection you’re using or if they’re just a company on the Internet trying to track your browsing habits.
Defenses against the snoop using your computer
If your family shares a computer, they might have access to your web browsing history. Typically, to get around this, you clear your cookies and history after you’re done browsing, but there is another way. You can put web browsers into a mode where they don’t put any of the web sites you visit into the history and don’t save any cookies.
You can get to this mode in Chrome by clicking on its menu and selecting “New incognito window.” In Firefox, you can do the same by clicking on its menu and selecting “New Private Window.” In Internet Explorer, you can do this by clicking on Settings, Safety and selecting “InPrivate Browsing.”
Even after clearing those files, there are still traces of different websites you’ve visited. You can clear those out by running Ccleaner and configuring it to clean files from Adobe Flash Player and then clearing the DNS cache on your computer by opening a “Command” window and typing in: ipconfig /flushdns
Defenses against the snoop sharing your Internet connection
Sometimes you’re at a location where the people you’re sharing the Internet with can’t be trusted. With a little skill and a few “computer security” tools, it’s possible for them to spy on your online activity.
At a location like that, you can use a plugin for your web browser like HTTPS Everywhere, available for Firefox & Chrome. This plugin forces the web browser to use HTTPS, which is an encrypted connection between your computer and the website. If someone on your network were to spy on you, they would only see the encrypted gibberish.
Not all websites use HTTPS so if you want to protect all of your web browsing activity, you’ll need to use a VPN service such as Cocoon. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network” and allows your computer to have a private (encrypted) connection to a remote network, protecting you from spies on your own network.
Defenses against the snoop corporation
When you visit websites, they usually use a “cookie” to help them know you’ve visited before so they can perform functions like letting you back in to the website without you having to log in. Sometimes websites put cookies for other websites on your computer, known as “third-party” cookies, making for an effective (and creepy) way for them to track websites you’ve been to. You can use a plugin like Disconnect to block this kind of tracking cookie.
Another feature of a VPN service is that it makes you anonymous to the websites you visit. The website sees the traffic as if it were coming from the VPN service provider and not the location your surfing the Internet from. TOR is another good VPN service to use especially since their network is anonymous and distributed, making it resistant to “litigious attacks.”
To not leave a history of your usage on your computer: use your browsers private mode; when you’re done, use ccleaner and clear your DNS cache
To encrypt your web surfing activity: use a browser plugin for encryption or a VPN service
To keep websites from tracking you: use a browser plugin to manage cookies or a VPN service