How I Became Nearly Untraceable on the Web.
This story isn’t about how I went on the darknet, nor any other shady stuff. This story is about my journey of getting out of the radars of the internet.
Before beginning, I would like to clarify why your privacy matters. There is always that excuse which people keep using in regards with their privacy: “I haven’t anything to hide”. It’s certainly one of the worst arguments that ever existed. Why? It’s simple: If you have nothing to hide, would you accept to show all your conversations with your family and friends? Would you accept to show all your e-mails? Would you accept to show all your personal data? I don’t think so, that’s why your privacy matters.
Please be aware that you will never be entirely untraceable, you can become very difficult to track, but whatever you do, there will always be a way to find you. Please keep that in mind.
The first decision I took was to choose a new, privacy focused, operating system. So I looked for it on the web, and there were several operating systems which people kept talking about. The first one was Tails. Tails is an OS which aims to make privacy available for anyone anywhere. It’s simple to use and it has a good level of privacy. But I needed more privacy, remember: my goal was to get entirely out of the radars of the internet.
Another OS which people were talking about on forums was Whonix. Like it’s mentioned on their website: Whonix mitigates the threat of common attack vectors while maintaining usability. Online anonymity is realized via fail-safe, automatic, and desktop-wide use of the Tor network. But again, while Whonix is very cool because it can be installed on literally every existing OS, it wasn’t secure enough in my opinion, I needed something on top of that, or actually… below that.
That’s the moment when I discovered Qubes. Qubes is certainly one of the most secure operating systems in the world, the reason why is because Qubes takes an approach called security by compartmentalization. Basically, every part of your digital life on Qubes is isolated into separeted compartiments. Guess what? That’s why it’s called Qubes! The result? Imagine a hacker inserts a USB stick in your computer with a virus in it, well, it will not affect, nor damage your computer. Only the USB “qube” will be affected. This makes your computer incredibly more secure.
The advantage of Qubes is that you can install Whonix on it. So you have 2 secure and privacy focused operating systems in one OS.
The next step, before selecting my browser, was to choose a VPN provider. In simple terms, a VPN or Virtual Private Network will hide your IP by making the website you are visiting think you are elsewhere in the world. How does it work? It’s pretty simple: If John selects France on his VPN service, all his data will first go through one of the servers of his VPN provider in France and then “reach” the website. The result is that the website will think that John is in France, while he actually is in Mexico for example.
A VPN is very useful, but there is one point of failure: Your VPN provider controls your data. If your VPN provider wants to sell your data to the NSA for example, they can do it. So it’s very important to choose a VPN that you really trust. Something important that I learned while browsing the web to find the best VPN service is that you shouldn’t use a free VPN because these “free” services will sell your data to third parties to remain profitable. Another thing which I learned is that you shouldn’t use a VPN service which is part of the fourteen eyes. The fourteen eyes are basically countries which are working together to collect and share mass surveillance data. You don’t want to have your VPN provider based in these countries, because if it’s case, I can assure you that your data will be compromised.
Which VPN service did I chose? NordVPN. NordVPN is a Panama-based company, which is good because it’s not part of the fourteen eyes. Besides that, they offer a lot of features and they have overall a good speed. However, I discovered later another VPN provider called ProtonVPN. They are based in Switzerland and I currently use their E-mail system called ProtonMail, which is really good by the way. Once my subscription at NordVPN ends, I will normally switch to ProtonVPN.
Choosing the browser wasn’t very difficult, one of the only browsers which is privacy focused is Tor. With Tor, your traffic is relayed and encrypted three times as it passes over the Tor network. The network is comprised of thousands of volunteer-run servers known as Tor relays. Simply put: It protects your privacy. I was honestly surprised by the user experience and interface. Before using it, I thought it would be difficult to use, with a lot of stuff to set up, but it wasn’t difficult at all, in just a few clicks I was browsing the web. It’s based on Firefox, so it has literally the same interface as Firefox. If you are currently using Firefox, you will not feel any difference when using Tor.
In the past, I had heard a lot of people talking about a search engine called DuckDuckGo. I used it for a few days, but at one point in time, I noticed that they were based in the United States. Which isn’t good because firstly, the US are known for not caring about privacy at all. Secondly, they are part of the fourteen eyes. So DuckDuckGo wasn’t an option for me to consider.
Then I discovered a search engine which was really great, it’s called Searx. It’s an open source engine, which aggregates the results of other search engines while not storing information about its users. No logs, no ads and no tracking. It’s really great for privacy, but the user interface is horrible. However that’s the one I currently use.
A lot of people were talking about Startpage, but they are based in the Netherlands which is part of the fourteen eyes. I know that I’m strict, but my goal was to get entirely of the radar, so even if Startpage has a great user interface, I didn’t use it.
When I was searching for add-ons to improve even more my privacy on Reddit, I was always impressed by the number of people telling me to download this, and this and this. At the end of the day, you should, in my opinion, have as less add-ons as possible. You can never know if an add-on uses your data, or if it has a security breach. So I limited by myself to the strict necessary.
The first add-on I downloaded was uBlock Origin. uBlock is an ad-blocker which hasn’t any monetization strategy and is completely open source. In contrast with one of its biggest competitors, AdBlock Plus, uBlock doesn’t allow “acceptable ads”.
The second add-on I downloaded was Cookie AutoDelete. This add-on will automatically remove cookies when they are no longer used by open browser tabs.
The third one I downloaded was Decentraleyes. Basically, it protects you against tracking through “free”, centralised, content delivery.
The fourth one, I know, this is getting long, was HTTPS Everywhere. This add-on will encrypt your communications with many major websites. It’s a collaboration between The Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
And finally, the last one I downloaded was Privacy Badger. Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web.
That’s it, that was my complete privacy focused setup!
On the privacy side of things, it was a really great experience. I think we can say that I was totally untraceable… at least it would have been very very difficult to track me, let’s say it that way. However, the user experience was just horrible. I’m not talking about the browser experience, but more about the experience overall. While Qubes is great and a very secure operating system, its user experience is just terrible. The interface isn’t friendly, the apps look like they were made a few years ago, which is normal, because Qubes was made by a few developers, not Microsoft, nor Apple, but it remains a problem in my opinion. On top of that, when I was browsing the web through Tor, with my VPN activated, it was really really, and I mean really slow. I had literally the time to make a cup of tea during the time I had to wait for Tor to load the website I was looking for. So yes, you can say that I had become nearly untraceable, however, it was very complicated to maintain this “digital life”, and that’s why I stopped this experiment.
I guess that’s the end of this story, thank you for reading it! :)