Tag Archives: Tor

Best Chrome Extensions that Protect Your Privacy

From ad and tracker blocking, HTTPS, advanced proxy to interfacing with the Tor network, the right extensions can turn Chrome into a dream machine.

It’s time to stop passively allowing corporations, shifty sites and shady third parties to feast on any private data they can manage to grab. Now that you’re on to them, arm yourself with some of the following top privacy-enhancing extensions for your browser.

AdBlock

Browsing history, cookies and other various data is exploited aggressively by Advertisers. So that gas barbeque you showed a fleeting interest in will definitely be showing up again in cube ads – haunting you for days. Changing your privacy settings on the most common offender’s sites makes a difference, but who has the time?

Adblockers are the most popular extensions out there and AdBlock continues to be the dominant force in this arena. Big boys in tech have devised methods to force their ads to display even when AdBlock is enabled. However, it’s still a great way to generally declutter your Web experience.

Ghostery

Almost every major site out there uses cookies and tracking technology, and it builds a profile of you based on your activity. Worse, there are suspicious third parties with malicious agendas far worse then just attempting to sell you the latest widget.

Ghostery finds every instance of trackers embedded on the sites you visit. It then gives you the ability to tailor how you handle these trackers depending on the level of trust you have for the site in question.

HTTPS Everywhere

Major sites have made the switch to beefed-up HTTPS security but many smaller operations haven’t caught up. This means ISPs can easily access your browsing on these sites if laws allow in your country.

Big names in anonymity software EFF and the Tor Project have joined forces to give web users a secure experience on every site. Insecure HTTP sites are automatically converted to secure HTTPS thus preventing surveillance, account hijacking, as well as some varieties of censorship.

Proxy SwitchyOmega

SwitchyOmega provides an alternative to digging though the advanced setting section in Chrome, and the chore of filling and clearing proxies in the config dialog of your OS. This is a powerful, timesaving idea for power users, because just one proxy server will often not get you very far, especially the free variety. Enter all your proxy servers IPs, plus port, protocol, then switch between them quickly with a mere click.

Kronymous

Formerly called KroTor, this extension allows you to access the Tor network. It’s a more advanced alternative to the easy-to-use Tor Browser that requires no configuration and works out of the box. Tinkerers will love the extensive options Kronymous provides, plus the ability to continue using your preferred browser, Chrome.

Cupcake

Cupcake aims to make Tor “the onion router” tastier by giving it a pathway into your web browser. A plain, happy or sad cupcake is displayed depending on the status of the proxy, signifying not in use, in use, or disabled respectively. Chrome users that don’t need the extensive options found in Kronymous may prefer this.

Open in Tor Browser

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, not to mention the least likely to break. Open in Tor Browser is perfect for Chrome users that occasionally want to switch to true incognito mode with Tor Browser when viewing sensitive content. The only catch is you’ll need to install a minimal native client for it to open links correctly in Tor Browser.

Graphic: Sean MacEntee

Tor, VPN or Proxy – Which is Right for You?

Records of an average person’s browsing history may not be worth much, but when you add every citizen of the U.S. to the equation, the value becomes millions of dollars.

ISPs want your personal data so they can sell it to the highest bidder (if law allows). Advertisers and titans of Web search want it so they can display products they know you’re interested in. Finally, the government wants access to your activities, incase they find a reason to spy on you.

These players are becoming a bigger threat to your online privacy by the day, and it’s about time you stood up to this menace. It starts by protecting yourself, namely with Tor, a VPN or proxy. There’s no perfect solution, however it should be said they’re not all in the same league either. So let’s look at the pros and cons of each of these technologies.

Tor

What is it?

Known as “the onion router,” Tor is free software that allows you to join their anonymity service. Tor directs traffic though a network of thousands of relays run by volunteers around the world. It makes it very difficult if not impossible for someone to monitor your online usage, and also prevents site owners from seeing your true location.

Tor Browser requires no setup, however it wont hide activities in other apps such as email, FTP, torrent client, etc. Only accomplished tech aficionados should tackle their Expert Bundle which is the standalone flavor of Tor. It allows you to manually configure programs to work with it.

Pros

  • Not only is this free software, but also a free service which is pretty amazing.
  • Tor Browser is really easy to use.

Cons

  • In terms of speed, expect varying degrees of slow. Considering all your browsing data is bouncing around various relays worldwide, it’s understandable why. The other reason is advancements in the network and software are dependent on altruistic contributions, which are short in supply.
  • Since launching in 2002 it has created a reputation for being a favored tool of cyber criminals, spammers and dissidents. Attempts to hide yourself with it can backfire as Tor users are viewed with suspicion; it may be a red flag for someone with power or savvy to monitor what you’re up to.

View Tor Project site.

VPN

What is it?

A VPN extends a private network across a public network. It acts as a fast, secure bridge between your computer and the internet, encrypting your data as you browse the web.

Sites you visit and other prying eyes won’t be able to see your real IP address; instead they’ll see the IP associated with the VPN service. VPNs also allow you to bypass geographic restrictions by allowing you to assume an IP associated with a different country.

VPN access is a service, and just like internet access you’ll be billed monthly to use it.

Pros

  • Paid service so servers are robust, reliable and fast.
  • Quality VPN services have huge networks of servers located around the world.
  • Used for professional applications by IT professionals, so VPN users are generally granted far more trust than Tor or proxy users.
  • Services offer extensive software for use with any OS (desktop or mobile), and with any application.

Cons

  • Need to subscribe to a service with associated monthly fee.

View a comparison of top VPNs.

Proxy

What is it?

Before VPNs exploded in popularity, proxy servers and web proxies were the go-to method for hiding your identity. Similar to a VPN a proxy is a gateway between your home network and a public network such as the internet.

When viewing lists of proxy servers published online you’ll come across three types: anonymous, elite and transparent. Basically the slower the proxy type, the more secure the connection. So transparent is the fastest, least secure, anonymous is in the middle, and elite is every secure, plus even tries to hide the fact you’re using a proxy, but is the slowest type.

Unlike VPNs which allow you to setup one centralized app that will anonymize all your activity no matter which application you’re using; proxies require extensive configuration. You’ll need to learn the the proxy options well in each app as you’ll likely need to change servers often in search of a solution with decent speeds.

Pros

  • Both free and paid proxies are available although most will want a VPN if they choose to pay.
  • Free proxy lists are plentiful, many of which are checked continuously to ensure the list is fresh and that the proxies are indeed online.

Cons

  • Free proxy servers are run by individuals not companies that operate with at least some ethical standards.
  • Free proxies are used and abused by spammers and malicious users so you may find the proxy server IP is banned by the site you wish to use.
  • Each app is configured separately, which can get time consuming and frustrating due to the probable need to change proxy server often.

View a free proxy list.

The Final Verdict

Free proxies and Tor are fine for dabblers. However, if you wish to hide your identity on an ongoing basis you’ll almost certainly lose patience with the unreliability, slow speeds, or hoop-jumping (in the case of proxies) associated with these methods.

The top VPN services recommended here on LetMeBy are fast, trustworthy and generally a better option for nearly everyone. The only downside is you’ll need to pay for it, but since VPNs have come down in the price and are now available for just $5 per month, this isn’t much of a drawback anymore.

Photo: Ed Ivanushkin