Anonymous on the net: Impossible?

In times of the NSA scandal, not only net-savvy users are asking themselves the question of whether and how they can move anonymously on the net to escape the data collection mania of the authorities and secret services. However, this often leads to mistakes and false assumptions. A central misconception is the reduction of anonymity to the concealment 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 obfuscation of the IP address and show four methods of hiding this personal data from the remote stations:

  • proxy servers: proxies act as substitutes and forward your 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 have a great deal of trust in the providers, most of whom are based abroad. man-in-the-middle attacks and honeypots are just two dangers that can be mentioned at this point.
  • VPN services: An additional virtual network card is used to forward all (usually fully encrypted) data traffic to a VPN gateway - this means considerably more protection and speed than proxy servers, but again requires trust in the VPN provider such as HIDE.IO. In many cases, providers have, contrary to their full-bodied promises, handed over 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. 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 cascades: the only known company that follows this approach is JonDonym. mix cascades are chained servers located in different countries and tested and certified by the operator. to penetrate the mix cascade would have to mean that all parts of the cascade are under the access of the authorities, which is considered very unlikely, not only because of the geographical disparity of the servers. the disadvantage is the high price the private user has to pay for the commercial service.

To put it in a nutshell: absolute anonymity is impossible. even if you are sensitive to services on the internet such as social networks, you move around the internet and automatically leave traces that can be evaluated after finite time, even if they are encrypted. although the above measures (and especially their combination) can make tracking much more difficult, the completely anonymous internet user is a myth.