I want to protect myself as much as possible online. I do have a encrypted email account with Proton. Should I use that or is there a better option? I would also like to use a VPN but I am confused by all the options. I use an ipad and Safari as a browser. Thanks. Skin and Bones are been very helpful. I retired from a tech firm but the technology has changed in the last 15 years!
top of page
bottom of page
VPNs provide an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN provider which makes it very hard for anyone to eavesdrop on your conversations and activities. VPNs are great for those who travel and need to use unsecured WiFi or networks.
VPNs are less useful when at home, though they do hide your location and communications through your ISP and to your VPN provider. However, use the VPN for purchases and the weaknesses become apparent - you (or your computer) can still provide information that identifies you to the website or service you are accessing. A VPN doesn’t hide you from the websites you visit but does disconnect your IP address from your activity.
Other ways to sort of protect yourself and identity are to use public WiFi and not your home connection. There are things to keep in mind, though. Your computer is essentially unique because of the combination of applications and other software your browser reveals about you and your computer’s abilities. There is a website that will test if your computer is uniquely identifiable - https://amiunique.org
I’m on an iPad right now. You would think that would be pretty common and “safe” to hide in the forest with. Nope. My iPad is unique among the 651,607 fingerprints they have collected. If you test your system it will show you all the parameters used in determining if you are unique.
The upshot is even with a VPN, you can still be identified (or at least uniquely tracked) just by visiting a site. Cookies make it all worse.
Something else folks might be interested in are live installs of Linux on CD or USB stick. You can boot your computer into a bone stock Linux distribution that resets back to stock each reboot and doesn’t touch your current Windows or whatever install. Another technique is to just use a whole different computer like a Raspberry Pi that can be easily wiped and rebuilt (trivial). Both of those can be used with VPNs and other measures to help keep things private but customizing them is more advanced. But these both isolate anything personal by putting you on a different system for all practical purposes.
There’s also TOR and other ways but maybe not applicable for your reasons. I don’t know anything about Proton. A lot depends on who you are trying to protect your communications from. If it’s just general internet badness, I’d also suggest custom DNS like OpenDNS or others. (I use OpenDNS with a Raspberry Pi-based Pi-Hole local network appliance with its own block lists) Your DNS provider (generally your ISP) sees most everything you do online. Not the details but the “who” you are contacting. That’s how the server in Trump Tower New York got caught with a covert channel open to Alfa Bank in Moscow during the 2016 trump campaign. Researchers could only see the call log (analogy but basically what the trail is) but not the content. But specialized DNS providers keep lists and can block a lot of scammers, trackers, etc. Blocking all the junk also cuts down the data traffic to/from your computer, makes web pages load much faster without tons of ads or popups, saves disk space, and even can protect you if you accidentally click on a malicious link.
Privacy and security on the web are big deals and not especially user friendly. Scammers are looking for every way possible to steal from you but possibly the bigger threat looming is a paranoid fascist radical republican government that won’t have any reservations about mining ALL online data to find out who is a threat to them and who isn’t. People really do need to educate themselves about the risks of our current online behaviors if we get a repressive 1984-style government. We’re very used to free speech and the right to criticize government. That “guaranteed” right can disappear just as easily as the right to an abortion in the fascist republican upside-down.
I wish I could help, Polly, but I'm on Windows and Android. Surely someone else will know more, though!
You need to use Psiphon for VPN on a phone and there is also Open VPN. I suggest Tutanota for email and pay the small annual charge of £12 for it. https://psiphon.ca/
Best of luck with this. Perhaps you can share your discoveries later, for the rest of us?