Anonymous online: Impossible?

In times of the NSA scandal, it is not only network-savvy users who are wondering whether and how one can navigate the network anonymously in order to escape the data collection frenzy of the authorities and secret services. However, this often leads to errors and incorrect assumptions. A central misconception is the reduction of anonymity to the obfuscation of the IP address.

There are various other parameters that play an important role not only for the advertising industry in recognizing users: In addition to cookies, browser fingerprinting is playing an increasingly central role. Each user often leaves behind a unique combination of many factors such as browser, screen resolution and even more to the installed fonts. Panopticlick shows this impressively. In the following, I will limit myself to the concealment of IP addresses and show four methods of hiding this personal data from the remote stations:

  • Proxy server: Proxies act as substitutes and forward their own data traffic to the actual destination. In addition to public proxy servers, various services such as CheapPrivateProxies offer private proxies. In all cases you have to put a lot of trust in the providers, who are mostly based abroad. Man-in-the-middle attacks and honey pots are just two dangers that can be mentioned at this point.
  • VPN services: With an additional virtual network card, the entire (usually fully encrypted) data traffic is passed on to a VPN gateway - this means significantly more protection and speed than a proxy server, but again places trust in the VPN provider such as HIDE .IO ahead. In numerous cases, contrary to their full-bodied promises, providers have released user data to authorities, which is why the entire right to exist collapses like a house of cards.
  • Onion routing: In times of crypto parties, the number of users of the Tor project has skyrocketed. Here, data packets are routed through many intermediate stations (nodes), which in turn never know the entire route from the source to the destination. Disadvantage: All data that go over the line (if possible unencrypted) must pass the last node, the so-called exit node - and this can read everything without further action. Criminal prosecutors have discovered Tor for themselves - and are targeting users.
  • Mix-Kaskaden: The only well-known company that takes this approach is JonDonym . Mix cascades are chained servers that are located in different countries and have been checked and certified by the operator. To penetrate the mix cascade would have to mean that all parts of the cascade are under the control of the authorities, which is very unlikely due to the geographical discrepancy of the servers. The disadvantage is the high price that private users have to pay for the commercial service.

To put it in a nutshell: absolute anonymity is impossible. Even if you act sensitively with services on the Internet such as social networks, you still move on the Internet and automatically leave traces that can be evaluated after a finite amount of time, even if they are encrypted. Although the above measures (and in particular their combination) can make tracking much more difficult, the completely anonymous Internet user is a myth.