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There are lots of great reasons for keeping your real identity masked while you're online. Maybe you're discussing some controversial topics on a forum, or simply concealing your activity from nosy-parkers. And with all the security leaks and revelations about the security services spying on our online activity, it makes sense to be a bit more cautious. Think of it as the equivalent of switching your house alarm on when you go on holiday.
IP addresses, which are activated automatically every time you go online, contain information about your location, other programmes you are running, the type of computer you are on and even some details (associated with other applications and programmes) about who you are. Hackers use this information to spy on you, so blocking your IP gives you extra protection. There are lots of IP blocking programmes out there to choose from. Hide My IP, Easy IP Hide etc. and they apply to smartphones as well as PCs. Check the app is compatible with your device and enjoy safely surfing away from prying eyes.
For added protection, don't just hide your IP, but use applications to encrypt the information you send online every time you access the internet. There is so much information being transmitted without our direct knowledge and this information is not as secure as it should be. Passwords, web queries, previous sites you've visited, details on forms you have filled in - these are all stored in the ether. Identity cloakers are especially useful if you're trying to get in somewhere difficult to enter. Perhaps you want to visit a website whose laws in your resident country are ridiculously convoluted (such as, some of the gaming legislation) or re-join a forum which has unfairly banned you. Programmes like Identity Cloaker will not only supply you with IP addresses, but allow you to connect to the internet via secure proxy servers. These store your personal data safely and provide you with background information which the websites you visit can read.
We've all heard about the Fappening (and some of are very familiar now with Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar-winning charms), but it's not celebrities who are at risk of their photos being snatched from the cloud, even if we're not as in demand. Apps such as Picture Safe for the iPhone provide you with secure vaults for your uploads. Instead of every picture being added automatically to the Camera Roll - and therefore, the hackable iCloud, they can be placed in the secure area. This is a discreet option for anyone keen to preserve their privacy.
Sometimes we want to be ourselves online, such as when connecting with friends on Facebook. At other times we want to conceal our identities. Avatars: Don't use an image you've used on another profile. Reverse Image Searches are surprisingly efficient and will root out other times images have been posted. So that picture of you building sand-castles when you were three years old might look nothing like grown-up you, but if it was on your Facebook, it will identify you.
All of us have "made friends" online and it is tempting to lower our guards once we're familiar with other members of communities we visit. If you really do want to maintain an air of mystery, do be wary of slipping into the habit of sharing personal information. The same goes for filling out questionnaires or helping out people with research.
Are you logged into Chrome at the moment, maybe after playing some games online? Have you got into the habit of checking the "keep me logged in" box? You are easy to track down. Log out, clear your cache and stay logged out unless you need access to a site.
It is tempting to use the same password for different logins, but that makes you so hackable! Ideally use different email addresses and passwords for different online accounts - web-based emails, such as Gmail, allow you to create multiple associated addresses. If you struggle to remember a multitude of passwords, save them on encrypted USB sticks for reference.