The tools to be anonymous, how the tools can be cracked, and why people are anonymous in the first place.
Anonymity on the internet is a topic of discussion because of the following concepts: What are the tools available to have my identity private? What are the good and bad things about anonymity? Are there more bad or good things about anonymity?
At a base level on the Internet, anything you say and do can be very easily tracked back to you if all you are doing is just using a phone, tablet, or computer and an internet browser.
In order to track you down if you say something or repeatedly do something that is against the ethical usage of the internet. All someone has to do is just do a reverse IP search against you and your location and it will say the following: when you said it, where you said it, and what device you said it on. In doing this, it is always extremely easily to back track to what you did and thus, with this nothing is able to not be traced back to you.
However, there are tools that can create walls to make it harder to trace what you did/said back to you. Proxy Services, Tor, and VPNs are services that can make it harder to trace your actions. A Proxy Service, works by sending requests from one user through a different computer. In this way, a user (or the endpoint website) is seen only to be communicating with the proxy server, and (as long as the message is encrypted) anyone monitoring the message from either end can not determine what the other endpoint is.
This is incredibly useful on both ends. First, someone trying to track down your IP address from a message you sent over the internet will see that message as having come from the proxy server, not from you. The proxy server can be anywhere in the world and betrays no information about who you are, where you are, or what your IP address might be. (Anonymity on the internet, Proxy Services) However, if something or someone who is monitoring your internet usage figures out that you’re talking to a proxy server to access banned content, they can easily ban access to the proxy and thus, no more access to banned content. Also, if a hacker gets access to the server that hosts the proxy all the information it has been concealing can get revealed. Which is why something like Tor, an I2P connection would be used. Tor which is one of the most popular I2P projects, is a system of nodes and clients. A client is someone who is using the Tor system and a node is a place that routes a packet to a different node. When you send a request to visit a website on the special Tor browser (A modified version of Firefox.) your request gets sent to an entrance node and after that the request then gets beamed to multiple nodes around the world making it virtually impossible to track the packet request and then it gets sent to the end destination. This system of nodes and clients works extremely well as there are large amounts of nodes to work with in the Tor project but, if someone snatches the information as it is being sent to the entrance node then your information has been stolen. The last common tool used to make it harder to be tracked is a VPN (Virtual Private Network). There are four things that it can hide: Browsing History, Your IP address and location, your devices, and your web activity. How it works is VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between your local network and an exit node in another location, which could be thousands of miles away, making it seem as if you’re in another place. (What is a VPN) The biggest flaws to a VPN lies in who provides the VPN, in some VPN providers they can actually take your private information and broker it to people for money and that can get spread very easily. It’s also easy for hackers to back track since all the VPN is doing is just shifting your IP from one location to another,
With that being said, there are some misconceptions about what makes you anonymous. For example, the incognito tab does not in the slightest make you hide from your ISP, The government, or other people. All it does is just not put anything into your own personal internet history. At the core of the internet, the way it was designed did not allow for it to be anonymous all because IP Addresses are meant to be a mailing address to send and receive packets.
Being anonymous is a hot topic because there are good and bad things that come from it. A couple of good things that come from it are: People from countries that heavily punish political dissident can voice their opinion freely without them being pursued by their government, discussion among people can be more fair and objective since things like race, religion, and gender are not taken into account since you do not know them and they do not know you, and you can openly discuss problems that would be considered embarrassing without consequence of one of your peers seeing it since you are anonymous. However, with all these good things from anonymity there are bad things, such as: Criminal activities in the dark web from things ranging from petty crime to contract killings, internet cyberstalking, bullying, and threats are sent to people anonymously, and passing of illegal information/software such as government secrets, credit card numbers, and software to break into a financial accounts, private sector power grids, or government agencies such as the FBI, NSA, or IRS.
With the dark side of the internet you have to be very careful what you go on since anything ending with .onion (.onion links are a special type of link used only in the Tor browser and can only be accessed inside the Tor browser.) could be things ranging from undocumented medical journals to copyrighted material that’s being distributed illegally, to websites that allow you to make hits on certain people, or you could end up looking at extremely illegal inappropriate “Lewd” actions involving minors. Which for most of these actions just looking at them could result in a felony and a trip to a federal penitentiary because no matter how many tools or walls you set up to keep yourself anonymous, someone who is way more clever than you will figure out what you are doing and will find a way to have someone who is engaging in these illegal actions in jail. Another topic of discussion with being anonymous is Cyberstalking. Cyber Stalking as defined by Florida Law is “ ‘Cyberstalking’ means to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.” Depending on who you did this to and how long you did it, the crime can range from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony. As mentioned before, even if you do this with the tools and have all the walls up, someone who is way more clever and smarter than you will find a way to make you land in a jail cell. The last thing that should be mentioned is passing of illegal information/software. When doing this over the internet, someone may steal the data/software that’s being transported. If that happens and the data/software goes public, you single handedly may have left hundreds or even thousands of people at risk because you got the information leaked. With this being said, you could be charged with Cyber Warfare and ben sent to a federal penitentiary where you could be looking at life in prison.
To summarize, despite there being tools that make it harder for someone to track you down and there being relatively easy access to illegal content on the internet. Do not do it. There are still going to be people who are way more experienced, clever, and more knowledgeable about tracking you down and figuring out the crimes you committed. So just remember the consequences of the actions you might commit, being morale, and above all else, the ethical use policy of the internet.