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The internet commonly provides a false sense of anonymity, whereas there is only pseudo-anonymity for most users. Pretty much everyone is identifiable online by their IP address , a unique identifier assigned to you by your internet service provider (ISP).

However, there are tools which can help you mask your actual IP address and provide an additional layer of protection for your online identity. This can be achieved with the use of Tor Browser or Virtual Private Network (VPN)  services.

Tor Browser is a free and open source software customised to work with the Tor network, based upon Mozilla Firefox, which encrypts  your browsing traffic and gives you a new identity, i.e. a new IP address. It is also particularly useful for accessing blocked websites on your network. There are some drawbacks however, as the Tor network provides generally slow internet speeds and users’ identity can be exposed if they do not use Tor Browser properly.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service which enables users to connect to the public internet through a private network, providing an additional encrypted layer of privacy and masking the users’ actual IP address. There are many VPN providers, but users should still take note and be aware of possible security aspects such as:

  • Jurisdiction, i.e. in which country is the company providing VPN services based. Countries which are members of the “Five Eyes” mass surveillance alliance (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia) should generally be avoided;
  • No logs policy, meaning that the VPN provider doesn’t log your internet traffic made through their network;
  • Regularly performed independent security audits, which are usually documented on the VPN provider’s website;
  • Price - some VPN services are quite expensive, but you should be vary of “completely free” VPN apps , as their business model is almost certainly based on tracking users. However, some paid-service providers  offer free plans with limited possibilities, such as lower speeds and a smaller number of servers .
IP Address Digital hygiene Browser Apps Encryption Data leaks Safety

Disc encryption

Encryption is the process of protecting data with a complex cipher, scrambling it so that it can only be accessed (decrypted) with a password or key, sometimes requiring an additional authentication factor, e.g. a digital certificate  . Encrypting hard drives and removable devices, such as USB drives, is especially recommended for people working with confidential information, primarily journalists and human rights activists.

VeraCrypt is a multi-platform (Windows, Linux, MacOS X) free and open source  disk encryption software with advanced capabilities. It can be used to encrypt only specific files, whole hard disk partitions, removable drives, as well as a partition or drive where Windows is installed (pre-boot authentication).

Cryptomator enables you to encrypt your cloud storage files for services such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Files are encrypted within a secure vault which is then stored with cloud service providers, which cannot access the data. Cryptomator is open source and available for Windows, Linux, MacOS X and mobile platforms (iOS, Android).

Digital hygiene Apps Encryption Data leaks Cloud

Permanent data deletion

Conventional deletion of data from a device is not an effective solution for permanent deletion, because there are ways to recover deleted data with the help of special software. The solution to this are programs that use complex algorithms for decomposing data into a digital “mash” that can no longer be returned to its original form. Eraser is a free Windows application [APLICATION] that can completely remove data from hard drives by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns.

As for optical disks (CDs, DVDs), the most elegant way to permanently destroy them is to use a special shredder that can destroy disks in addition to paper. Methods for physically destroying hard drives that can be found online, where the drive is acidified or burned, are extremely dangerous. Hard drives contain various types of harmful chemicals, which can cause toxic and flammable fumes.

If old equipment is ready for sale or a hard drive is destined for disposal, it will require deep cleaning, even if it is broken. The software that does this very efficiently is Darik’s Boot and Nuke. Good practice suggests that when disposing of old equipment - after special software has performed deep cleaning of the disks - the equipment is disassembled to destroy the ports and break the pins on the connectors.

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