Besides protecting your privacy from snoops who can access your computer, you may want to shield your privacy from websites, government agencies, and corporations that may be curious about your Internet browsing habits. While it's unlikely that the National Security Agency or Central Intelligence Agency is spying on your computer, the thought of leaving your personal life exposed to others can be as disturbing as trying to disrobe in private while living in a glass house. To protect your privacy, consider browsing the Internet anonymously and encrypting every email you send. Here's how.

Anonymous browsing

Because purging your Internet usage history from your hard disk can be troublesome, most people won't bother doing it. But what if you could prevent your Internet usage information from being stored on your computer in the first place? Or, if you could browse in secret?

Anonymous browsing services, like (, (, and Rewebber (, block access to your computer so websites can't plant a cookie on your computer, detect which type of browser you're using, or identify your IP address. When you visit them, you simply type in the URL you want to visit, and the anonymous browsing service takes you there-in secret. Best of all, they provide their basic services for free. To find other anonymous web browsing services, visit the Anonymous Browsing Quick-Start Page (

One caveat though-anonymous browsing services aren't always reliable. You'll probably run into difficulty with many shopping sites (which rely on cookies), and other sites that want to detect your browser and such. Still, they're a free and simple way to browse discreetly.

Browsing as someone else-sort of

Bell Labs and AT&T Labs have a really interesting twist on anonymous browsing in their Crowds service ( The idea is similar to blending in with a crowd in a public place.

When you use Crowds, you're randomly thrown into a crowd of other randomly chosen users. Rather than accessing a web page yourself, the computer randomly selects another user in the crowd to access the web page and pass it along to you (which could have the unwanted side-effect of revealing what one individual in the crowd may be doing). By masking any individual's actions within the larger actions of a group, Crowds shields the privacy of everyone because no one can tell which actions any specific individual has taken at any given time.

Freedom WebSecure software from Zero-Knowledge Systems ( allows you to connect to the Zero-Knowledge Systems' server, which then redirects you to any website you want to see. If a website tries to track you, they can only trace you as far as the Zero-Knowledge Systems server.

While many people worry about giving away their web surfing information, you may just want to sell this information to others instead. Visit Lumeria's SuperProfile ( and you can do just that. Not only can you control who gets your personal information, but you can also (theoretically) make some money in the process.

Sending anonymous email

If you want to express your opinion, leak information in secret, or even simply participate in medical or other support groups in confidence, send your email anonymously and securely. One way to do so is to keep opening and closing free email accounts, but anonymous email services, like ( can protect your privacy for a fee. Then again, another way to keep your identity private is to use any free email service and simply fake your personal information. For more information about sending email anonymously, visit eMailman (

If these anonymous email services aren't enough, try a secure, encrypted, anonymous email service, like these:




Like other anonymous email services, encrypted anonymous email services don't require a name, address, phone number, or other method of tracing you, so your email can remain truly anonymous. ZipLip will even shred your email after it's been read.

Using a remailer

Still another way to mask your identity through email is to use an anonymous remailer, such as Anonymous. To ( An anonymous remailer sends your email from your computer to a remailer, which is another computer connected to the Internet. The remailer masks your identity by stripping away your real name and address and replacing it with a phony one before sending your email to its final destination.

You can even use multiple remailers to cover your tracks even further. Send your email to the first remailer (which strips out your address), then tell it to send your email to another remailer. Continue this process for two or more anonymous hops, and it will be nearly impossible for anyone to trace or monitor where your email came from.

Although each remailer may work differently, a typical one works as follows. The message you write starts out looking like this:

To: remailer@RemailerAddress
Subject: Anything
Anon-To: destination@address
This is my message.

Your real address appears only when you're sending email to the remailer. Once the remailer gets your message, it ships it off to the address defined by the Anon-To field. (The two colons let the remailer know a destination address will follow. That way, the remailer doesn't think the Anon-To field is part of your real message.)

To filter your email through multiple remailers, your message might look like this:

To: remailer@RemailerAddress
Subject: Anything
Anon-To: second@RemailerAddress
Anon-To: destination@address
This is my message.

In this example, you're sending your email to the first remailer located at the remailer@RemailerAddress. This first remailer then sends your message to a second remailer located at second@RemailerAddress. The second remailer then sends your email to its final destination at destination@address. For the truly paranoid, you can keep adding remailer addresses indefinitely.

To further protect your privacy, ask an anonymous remailer to hold your email for a random period before forwarding it to its final destination. This delay can prevent snoops from tracing the origin of your email by noting that it arrives at the remailer at 4:00 and then leaves exactly one minute later.

But don't think that anonymous remailers allow you to conduct criminal activities. If you harass others through email, send out death threats, or plot bomb attacks, remailer administrators will likely help the police find and prosecute you. Don't abuse the privilege.

The biggest problem with remailers is that they appear and disappear as quickly as democracies in Third World countries. Running an anonymous remailer costs time and money, and most remailers don't charge for their services because asking someone to pay by check or credit card destroys their anonymity. And some anonymous remailers aren't really anonymous. Some require that you open an account with them, which means that whoever runs the remailer has a record of your real email address.

Although anonymous remailers and encryption can help protect your privacy, nothing can guarantee absolute privacy. Anonymous remailers are only as secure as the people running them. Anyone can set up a phony anonymous remailer and read every message that passes through it. Although encryption can protect your email to some extent, the real danger lies in exposing your real email address. For this reason you should use a remailer in another country.

For example, someone living in communist China should view a Chinese remailer with suspicion. But that same person would probably be safer using an anonymous remailer located in Finland, Canada, or Mexico, because its administrators probably won't care about Chinese citizens, and the Chinese authorities are less likely to be able to access the remailer's records.

To learn from people who are using anonymous remailers, browse the Usenet group alt.privacy.anon-server to read the latest developments.

Your own Private Idaho

If the idea of trying to combine anonymous email with encryption seems cumbersome, you might want to try a program designed to simplify this process. Private Idaho ( works with the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) program to encrypt your email. PGP is a highly regarded encryption program that is considered to offer encryption tough enough to resist cracking even by well-funded intelligence organizations, such as the CIA and NSA.

Best of all, Private Idaho is free and comes with complete Visual Basic source code so you can modify it or just study the source code to make sure it doesn't contain any back doors that government authorities can use to spy on your email. For a 32-bit version of Private Idaho, visit the Private Idaho email website (

Chatting anonymously

Besides sending emails anonymously, you may also want to chat with people in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms anonymously. Normally when you visit an IRC chat room, someone can use the whois command to identify your IP address. If you download the Invisible IRC Project software (, though, you can mask your true IP address from strangers.