How Private is Your Web Browsing

When you sit at home surfing the web many people have a quite understandable desire for privacy.  After all none of us would like to think that every thought, whim or web site we visit is logged somewhere and could be viewed by anyone else.

Unfortunately that’s pretty much the real situation and there are a number of reasons why this is true.   Among the many problems with privacy and the web perhaps the most important one is a protocol called HTTP.  This stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol and you’ve probably noticed it in front of every web site you visit.

It’s the way your computer and the web servers communicate, it works pretty well allowing your Mac or PC to communicate with a Unix, Windows or Linux server quickly and reliably.  However the problem is that it does this all in clear text.  That’s right the vast majority of our surfing is done in clear, readable text – accessible by anyone, no encryption, no ciphers – just plain readable text.

To make this worse, is the way the internet works in a sort of open ended architecture – our web requests fire across thousands of servers all across the planet owned by a myriad of organisations and companies.  For instance the first port of call is your ISP – where every request that is sent from your computer is recorded and stored.  Here lies a complete and total list of everything you have done online from your home PC – all held for a few years in case someone wants to view it.

In fact this is the biggest barrier to anonymous surfing – http://www.anonymous-proxies.org/2009/10/anonymous-surfing-needs-more-than-proxy.html, the  fact that these logs exist and can be requested by pretty much anyone.  In fact in many parts of the world you don’t even need any legal ruling to obtain this and governments, agencies and interested parties can get a copy of all your online activities.

In fact anyone who wants any level of privacy should ensure that they use some sort of encryption to   hide these logs.   If you encrypt your surfing, through an SSL or VPN connection, these logs are not readable – all they show is the amount of data but not the destination site or anything you typed in.

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