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

Privacy-Respecting Search Engines That Don’t Track Your Activity

Chrome calls it Incognito Mode. In Firefox and Safari it’s Private Browsing, while IE labels it InPrivate. It’s easy to be fooled that your activity is fully hidden when such options are enabled in your browser, but in reality the security changes occur on your end (regarding cookies, history, etc.), while data is still collected by the sites you visit.

The most reliable way to stop search engines such as Google, Bing, Facebook and Yahoo from tracking your usage is to stop using their service altogether.

Undoubtedly private search engines that promise better security have other shortcomings. Say goodbye to a personalized experience based on past activity, plus the ability to login and customize settings for future visits. Of course Google will always be ten steps ahead in terms of their search algorithms. But if beefed-up privacy is what you need it’s a small price to pay, and by sticking with a major search engine for usage you don’t mind being public, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Likely many of these names will be new to you. Maybe it’s about time more users open their minds about search engines and give the small guys a chance.

1. DuckDuckGo

Not tracking their customers’ usage in any way is DuckDuckGo’s calling card. The emerging search engine doesn’t collect your data, store it, or share it. As advertisers are notorious for using data collected from searches, this also means you won’t have to look at annoying ads for the electric lawnmower you just researched two minutes ago.

2. WolframAlpha

It’s a “computational knowledge engine,” and if that means nothing to you, it pulls from a massive database of knowledge and does its best to tailor that data based on your search. So rather than asking Web pages for the answers, WolframAlpha is a solution in itself. No, it won’t replace a traditional search engine for everything, but it sure beats Encyclopedia Britannica.

3. Startpage (by Ixquick)

Startpage trumpets itself as “the world’s most private search engine.” It takes advantage of Google search technology while tossing out the company’s privacy rulebook. There is also a proxy feature to increase anonymity even more; by enabling it none of the sites you visit can see your IP.

4. Yippy

With Yippy you can filter out results that aren’t relevant to your interests by selecting categories, using tag clouds, and sources. This may be a breath of fresh air for users that are tired of sites attempting to guess what you want all the time rather than just asking.

Yippy doesn’t track searches and doesn’t display customized ads either.

5. Hulbee

Grossbay A. G., the Swiss-based software company behind Hulbee, utilizes a data cloud for a more intuitive connection to information and for quicker load times. It manages to provide intelligent, relevant results without probing its users.

By encrypting searches Hulbee protects you against third party attacks and data leaks. It doesn’t leave any tracks when you search on the site: topics, IP addresses and personal information are not stored. And for those put off by the gutter of the Web that can sometimes show its face at inappropriate times, it’s family friendly too.

6. Disconnect Search

With a little help from DuckDuckGo, plus the giants at Bing and Yahoo, Disconnect Search piggybacks on great existing search technology but doesn’t record your IP or your history.

For higher levels of security Pro (blocks trackers and malware) and Premium (masks location, IP with a VPN) services are also offered.

7. Lukol

This one is simple: it’s Google, but with a proxy server added to the chain to hide your identity. Lukol keeps tabs on fraudsters and shady sites, safeguarding you from attacks you might not see coming.

Visual learners will appreciate that results have images pulled from corresponding Web pages next to links.

8. MetaGer

Privacy comes naturally to this German outfit; every search is completed with respect for your privacy. They don’t save your IP, and the fingerprint of your browser. Cookies aren’t used nor are tracking pixels. Data is encrypted though the HTTPS protocol so your ISP can’t see your searches either.

Options to browse with a proxy or through the anonymous TOR network are available to those willing to put in the effort.

Photo: jpbr

Protect Browsing History After Congress Internet Privacy Bill: Time to VPN?

security-breach

The US House of Representatives have passed privacy rules that give your ISP the right to access and even sell the data generated when you use the internet.

This has created a shockwave among Web users, with searches about VPN services that allow you to hide your IP and protect online privacy spiking up as a result.

In the past it was sufficient for ISPs and corporations to know just the basics about you: name, address, phone number, possibly your age. Now they want to peer inside your head and get to know what makes to tick. By studying your opinions, interests, and shopping habits they’ll know exactly what products and services to entice you with, just when you want it most.

And that’s a frightening breach of trust for most of us.

For most the internet is a sanctuary of anonymous inquiry, where we can ask Google questions we wouldn’t dare ask even to our closest friends.

It’s disturbing to imagine world in which our every embarrassing concern, politically incorrect query, and questionable download is being monitored by a tireless sales bot, looking its next hit on our credit card balance.

Unfortunately, it’s likely a minority that will take the steps to protect themselves. Anyone too preoccupied, uniformed or too cheap will be separated from an asset of great value to marketers. Keep in mind this isn’t just an invasion of your privacy, it’s a way of taking more from the consumer without directly raising the cost of internet access.

VPN to the Rescue

To understand how a VPN (virtual private network) can protect your online privacy, we need to examine how it works. A VPN connects users together through a private network so these individuals can access a public network (usually the internet) through it. By making this “virtual” connection routed through the internet from the VPN provider’s private network, the data is encrypted. Any parties intercepting this data won’t be able to read it.

Another advantage is a VPN will hide your IP address: the code used to identify your personal machine and where you are in the world. An ISP of course has all your contact information associated with your computer’s IP. Rather than seeing your true IP the ISP will see the IP of the VPN server so they won’t be able to associate that with your identity.

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Is Your Search Engine Trustworthy?

The ever-improving search technologies offered by Google, Bing and others are nothing short of amazing. However with these new policy changes in effect now is a good time to ask yourself if you trust the company behind your favorite search engine.

If not, you may want to use a search engine that doesn’t track user data like DuckDuckGo or Yippy for your incognito searches.

HTTPS: A Partial Solution

Sites that use HTTPS have a security certificate that encrypts the user’s data directly on their server. Web-based companies that value the privacy of their users have made strides to protect it from malicious entities and now to an extent from ISPs.

When you visit a HTTPS enabled site like Twitter for example, your ISP will be able to see you accessed that site, plus the time and duration of the visit. However, the exact pages you accessed while on Twitter will be hidden to the ISP.

That’s not bad but the issue here is that many sites don’t utilize HTTPS, especially small, independently run sites with limited resources.

Although imperfect, you may opt to use a browser plugin like HTTPS Everywhere to beef up security on such sites with no security certificate.

Hit ISPs Back

Some may see the value in voicing their privacy concerns with their ISP directly. Tell them your concerns about privacy issues. Ask about their policies about selling customer data. Then inquire if you can opt out of it.

If the backlash is great enough there will be market pressure for ISPs to rethink how they handle privacy. Congress may have given them the right to sell your data, but that doesn’t mean they can’t opt out too. Better privacy practices may become a selling feature for ISPs that decide to differentiate themselves from other ISPs unwilling to put their customers needs first.

Photo: Blogtrepreneur

How to Hide your IP on Xbox One or 360

xbox-one-settingsThere are plenty of reasons why it’s better to protect your real IP by using a VPN with Xbox Live. First, there are unscrupulous players that use DDOS attacks in games such as Call of Duty to retaliate and get their rivals temporarily disconnected from online play. Second, you’ll be able to take advantage of services available outside your country, such as the U.S. version of Netflix if you live in Canada, for example. Lastly, since games are released in different time zones or on different dates in other countries, you may be able to access new games sooner than your neighbors.

Unlike the PS4 you cannot setup use a VPN server directly in Xbox One system software. Instead you’ll need to share your computer’s VPN with your Xbox One or centralize your VPN tunnel with a router so your home computer, devices, and Xbox all pass through it.

That being said, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of hiding your IP address on Xbox One or 360.

First Method: Connecting To A VPN Through A Router

Step 1

You’ll need to use an Ethernet cable to connect your modem to your router using the WAN port.

Step 2

Next, open the router’s control panel. This is usually accessible via a Web browser. Enter the IP address associated with your router in the address bar of the browser. If you don’t know how to find the right IP, follow this tutorial for Windows.

The next steps will vary depending on the manufacturer/model of your router and the VPN company.

Step 3

Click on the ‘Basic Setup’ / ‘Network’ / ‘Basic’ tab in your router control panel or wherever you can find the options relating to WAN configuration or Internet connection.

Step 4

Enter the information provided by the VPN provider (username, password, gateway, subnet mask, etc.).

Step 5

Choose the protocol recommended by the VPN provider to work with their services (ex. PPTP w/ DD-WRT, OpenVPN w/ DD-WRT).

Step 6

Adjust the DCHP settings depending on the requirements of the VPN service.

Step 7

Click ‘Save’ / ‘Apply Settings’ / ‘Connect’ and you’re finished!

Second Method: Using a PC for VPN Setup

Another option is to use your Windows-based PC to share the VPN connection with your Xbox One or 360. This is divided into two parts: 1) Windows settings and 2) Xbox settings.

Windows Settings: Setting up the VPN

Step 1

In Windows, go to Control Panel > ‘Network and Sharing Center’

Step 2

After you click on ‘Setup a New Connection or Network,’ a wizard will appear in a new window.

Step 3

Select ‘Connect to a Workplace’ then click ‘Next.’

Step 4

When the wizard asks you how you’d like to connect, choose ‘Use my Internet Connection (VPN).’

Step 5

Enter the Internet Address and Destination Name given to you by the VPN provider. After you’ve finished filling in the details, click on ‘Next.’

Step 6

Finally, enter the Username and Password provided by the VPN service and click ‘Connect’.

Now that you’ve completed the settings on the PC side, you’re ready to fire up your Xbox One or 360 and proceed with the next part.

Xbox Settings: Connecting to the VPN

Step 1

Press the ‘LIVE’ button on your Xbox One or 360 controller.

Step 2

Go to the ‘Settings’ tab and choose ‘System Settings.’

Step 3

Now that you’re in the ‘System Settings’ menu, you can select ‘Network Settings.’

Step 4

Xbox One or 360 will now automatically detect the Wi-Fi connections that are available. Choose the appropriate network from the list.

Step 5

Now, enter the WPA key. It can be found printed on sticker on the underside of your router.

Step 6

Finally, the Xbox system software will prompt you to ‘Test Connection.’ Do this to ensure you’re ready to use the VPN with your favorite games!

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