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anonymity | anonymous web surfing | anonymous e-mail | anonymous usenet posting | proxy server
Anonymous networks: Freenet | I2P | Tor | Entropy | garlic routing | onion routing
Related subjects: outing
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Anonymity, promoting Free Speech, opposing Censorship

Anonymity is the state of not being identifiable. The possibility of being anonymous is often considered a cornerstone of democracy, since without it there is the possibility that nobody will dare to give opposing views, or to vote differently from the majority.


Concerns motivating the pursuit of anonymity include law enforcement (in the case of victimless crimes such as drug use), vigilantes and hostile political advocates, who if sufficiently motivated may troll online discussion boards, attempting to discern enough information about each participant to be able to attain identifiable information. Dangers include legal action, libel and slander, physical attacks or other types of harassment.

  • On public discussion boards or chat rooms, instead of using one's real name or initials, use a pseudonym which you do not use in other contexts.
  • Do not disclose personal telephone numbers or your street address.
  • Depending on the size of the country or city you live in, use care in disclosing them.
  • Many would advise against disclosing your age; most agree that exact birth dates should not be given (no "today is my birthday"), while some also advise against giving your age away. For instance, instead of "21 years old", use "early twenties".
  • It may in some cases be necessary to ask for help in such a way that the question would give away information you would not otherwise have given. In such cases, many boards allow you to use a temporary "throw-away" pseudonym such that nobody knows the originator of the question.

Good judgement is needed to decide how much more information to disclose. One should, however, try to disclose information only on a need-to-know basis. Remember that in most cases, you cannot know the true motivation of the person on the other end, and some vigilantes may be very patient. Both parties should respect each other's anonymity and not expect any disclosure beyond need.

Technological measures

Technology can be some help in retaining anonymity, but it is important to understand that technology alone cannot help if you do not observe the social aspects discussed above. Once these are in place, you can begin to evaluate the technology side of anonymity.


You should never use your real life e-mail address, as this will make you very easy to identify. Additionally, there are numerous free mail offerings available, but most of them will give away your IP address to those who receive e-mail from you. Instead, you can sign up to one of the free e-mail services that focus on anonymity.

If you are comfortable with computers and software, you can look into setting up PGP or GNU Privacy Guard to encrypt your e-mail and protect against forgery. You can also look into the anonymous remailer systems called Mixmaster and Mixminion. These offer very good anonymity (effectively making it impossible to trace the e-mails you send back to you), but are relatively hard to set up correctly.


Tor, "The onion router," is a free software product sponsored by Electronic Frontier Foundation. Tor acts as a proxy running on your computer. You can connect to this proxy with many kinds of networking applications to make your communications very hard to trace back to you.

Tor is very useful in combination with IRC chat clients such as mIRC or X-chat. IRC has traditionally been problematic with regards to anonymity because any other IRC user can see which IP address you connect from. When connecting through Tor, you are assigned one of several hundred Tor IP addresses at random, hiding your actual address. You can now chat without worrying about your anonymity.

Another useful application of Tor is web browsing. Tor allows you to browse sensitive web content without those who run the servers being able to find your IP address. Some web sites may have blocked requests from Tor (especially for posting) because of abuse, but many allow it, often specifically to allow anonymous use.

You can use any web browser in combination with Tor. It is recommended to set up Privoxy in conjunction with Tor for an extra layer of privacy (see this page for how to set it up on Windows systems). If you have a recent version of Mozilla Firefox, you may skip Privoxy and use Tor as a SOCKS5 proxy directly (use "localhost" for host and "9050" for port), but this has been shown to be less secure with many other browsers (since they leak DNS queries).

As the Tor developers still have not released a "final" version, Tor may still contain critical bugs. You should always make sure that you have the latest version installed. It can be retrieved from the Tor homepage.

See also