How to browse securely

With notes on VPNs

Most users tend to treat their computer and smartphone as an extension of their private space, and put personal information and interests on them. This can be considered analogous to a wallet, diary or desk drawer - A place that is inherently private, even if it contains no incriminating or embarrassing content.

Those people who loudly state "I have nothing to hide", should consider the all too frequent press stories about documents or statements being mis-interpreted by others.

Users often web-surf in areas that would not like to be made public.

This may not be pornography, it can be personal matters such as treatment for depression, help with alcohol or drug problems, suicide prevention, contraception, or information on prescribed drugs, legal help, quieries about domestic violence and even financial transactions. Don't forget that in many parts of the world, news outlets are restricted in some countries and a safe way to access these sites without oversight is needed.

Companies now buy and sell information about web users, such as sites visited, items bought, time spent on a site, how the user landed on a site etc. Using a secure browser will limit the amount of data gathered. Because of this, some sites such as aggressively block users of certain secure anonamising browsers.

Not just advertisers can obtain this information, but employers and government entities can buy this information as well.

Bear in mind that some of the worst offenders of selling a user's information are the large suppliers of web applications such as facebook and google. They also use a profile they build of a user to decide what to feed the user when they connect.

Finally, consider that large government agencies, both foreign and domestic invest large sums and much talent in invading the privacy of users.

First off, The easiest and simplest way to protect your privacy is to download the Opera browser, and start using it.

Download page for the Opera Browser

Opera can be set up to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) natively. A VPN encrypts your web data between the source and the end-point, so your ISP will not be able to see what you're browsing for. Only the end node can see where you're going.

How to set up the VPN feature in Opera

You can run Opera via a VPN on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Click on Opera in a Opera menu, pick preferences. In the menu on the left of the preferences page pick Pivacy & Security. In the section marked VPN check the box Enable VPN

Once enabled, there will be a grey button in the browser's address field. Click it to select a virtual location. You can select to come out in various countries.

Opera also has a VPN app that runs on Android and iPhone smart phones, it is very easy to set up. Look for Opera VPN in the Apple app store or Google Play on an Android.

For an alternative and significantly more secure browser you can use the tor browser. It is designed for security and is a modified Firefox browser.

You can get the tor browser here:

Download page for the Tor Browser

The TOR system was designed with security in mind. It's far from truly safe, but for the purposes of protecting privacy, it's a good step.

The TOR browser is actually a modification of Firefox. Most of Firefox's addons will work on this browser.

Here's is a list of add-ons for Firefox, that work well on tor.

Manage add add-ons to your tor browser by selecting the three parallel lines on the far right of the screen, and then select the icon shaped like a puzzle piece labeled "Add-ons". It will bring up a search bar for all of the approved add-ons.

uBlock Origin     This one doesn't add to your privacy, but it does make surfing web pages a lot faster, and cleaner, by blocking a good number of ads.

Disconnect     This blocks websites that track your browsing history

Google Disconnect     Blocks tracking for any web site that uses a google widget, about 25% of all web pages.

NoScript     Prevents script execution on most web sites. Scripts can be used to show your personal information to the web host.

Random Agent Spoofer     Prevents some malware by changing the "User Agent" randomly to other browsers.

Privacy Badger     Detects and prevents trackers on web sites.

     Privacy Badger is a product of the Electronic Freedom Foundation. See About the EFF for more information.

     EFF is a volunteer organisation with some high powered talent. Donating to them is in your best interests, whether it's copyright law, civil rights, or net neutrality.

Decentraleyes     Prevents third-party ads by telling your browser that the source is on your computer. This can also be done with Privoxy.

Adnauseam     Blocks ads, but also pollutes the data of the advertisers by clicking on them.

After you have added these, you can do a simple check of your browser at It's not perfect, but for a quick look at how your browser is set up, it's okay.

You can run TOR in a VPN, but it does tend to be sluggish

Remember, there are people who depend on TOR for sending information under oppressive regimes, so don't burden the network with filesharing. Use it, make it common and popular, but please don't misuse it.

One thing that the Tor browser is used for is the onion network, often referred to as the Dark Net. The onion network is beyond the scope of this article, but because it is not normally visible to regular browsers, search engines etc, has a large amount of scare attached to it. It is used by people and organisations that wish to remain secure. Darknet sites have the .onion suffix.

There is more about the onion dark net here

Although you may use tor and .onion for your own use, consider that there are users who depend on the tor router to communicate and stay hidden from oppressive regimes.

Failing that, or if you want more protection, you can set up your own VPN (Virtual Private Network) to route your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to an end node. There are paid services for this, but most everyone wants a free VPN. I have one, suggested by a friend, but try to remember to be a good neighbor; again, don't bittorrent, or use P2P filesharing apps when you connect up.

Download page for the VPNGate free vpn

For Windows users, there is a link on that page to download SoftEther VPN client manager. Easily installed, and set up. Simply select the second option, "VPN Gate Public VPN Relay Servers", and select a server from the list, and select "Connect to the VPN server". I normally chose a Japanese server, and check my connection by bringing up Google; if there's kanji on the screen, I know that Time Warner isn't getting my data.

For MAC users, there is this link: VPNGate for Mac

For Linux users, there is this link. VPNGate for Linux

Personally, I like the Japanese nodes. They seem to be a little faster.

For more information on the purpose, setting up and use of VPNs here are some URLs:

Choosing a VPN - EFF

comparitech - a commercial site with lots of info on VPNs and security

Specific VPN info for US based users Best VPN for US citizens to avoid the NSA and FBI

VPN Comparison and ratings

Searching Securely

Google is not your friend. If you would like to use a search engine that does not track your every search, try They don't log who is searching for what. Or, if you prefer to use Google's search results, but not actually use their engine, there is

You can do TOR on an Android smartphone. Go to the Play Store, and look for OrFox, and OrBot. OrBot sets up the TOR system, and Orfox uses it.

You can also load tor on your iPhone or iPad, look for tor in the app store.

Finally, tor will let you surf to sites blocked by the routers of free wifi and corporations, so there's another use for it.