Improving Your Internet Privacy, Part III
Posted on: 03/30/2018 03:15 PM

by John Young

In the first two parts of this four-part series, we covered alternative DNS and VPNs. In this part, we will be covering alternative web browsers: Brave and Tor. They both help to protect your privacy, but via very different methods.

The Mozilla Project is the inheritor of the venerable Netscape browser. They develop an open-source browser called Firefox along with some related software. Several years ago, one of their co-founders and the inventor of Javascript (used in nearly all websites today) was forced to resign because it was discovered that he had contributed a small amount to a campaign in California to ban gay marriage. There was an organized social justice response to such an extent that he was no longer able to operate, so he stepped aside.

Never mind the fact that contributing to political campaigns is a fundamental aspect of free speech. Unlike our voting ballots which are secret, it is legally required that our campaign contributions be publicly disclosed. If you contributed $20 to a dog-catcher campaign fifteen years ago, that is a known public fact. But the purpose of this disclosure is so that we the people are aware of who may be buying influence with our politicians. It was certainly never intended to be used to harass, harm and penalize citizens who contribute to our political process. But public records and required disclosures are being used by the left in precisely this way. This ranges from obtaining lists of pistol permit holders for use in harassment campaigns to lists of contributors and petitioners for ballot questions.

Brendan Eich was a victim of this. But like most great creators, singling him out for persecution backfired on his persecutors. He turned around and created the Brave browser.

The Brave browser, by default, blocks all manner of ads and trackers.

You may have noticed, if you have gone to a controlled media source such as "" or The Chicago Tribune, that these sites load slowly. That is because the ads and the software for tracking you literally constitute between 300% and 500% more of the downloaded data than the rest of the article. In fact, especially on cell phone plans, the average smartphone user literally spends $23 in data charges just for ads and trackers. Often, to make matters worse, these are poorly written and force you to reboot your phone or whatnot.

You will also notice that that even though the use of ads is ubiquitous as people try to monetize their pages, that the worst offenders of this are usually controlled media sources. Isn't it a shame that Brave transparently blocks all of the things that help them make money? It would have been better for them had Brendan Eich stayed with Mozilla. But it is better for us that he was persecuted.

Now, Brave has another aspect -- and this is how the company that Eich founded makes money. Instead of wasting your time and bandwidth on ads and spyware for tracking you, Brave gives you the option to set a monthly budget -- say, $5 -- and then have that $5 distributed via a micropayments system to the sites you visit, divided on the basis of proportion of time spent on those sites. So if you have a favorite content producer and they have registered with Brave, you can support them transparently (and anonymously) from that monthly budget.

Anonymous payment for content producers is becoming increasingly important. There are a large (and increasing) number of peaceful right-wing activists who have published their bitcoin addresses. Large cryptocurrency providers like Coinbase have taken it upon themselves to literally ban any of their users who send payments to these activists. But Brave anonymizes your payments to them, thereby avoiding any repercussions.

When I downloaded Brave, I was astonished at how many trackers it saved me from downloading. Brave is an awesome project that helps protect you from web pages invading your privacy, and it is well worth your support.

TOR (The Onion Router)
If you are an EAU member, you recently got a link in your email to our (still fledgling) membership website. This site has a ".onion" address, and can't be found with a regular web browser.

TOR is a browser that uses a built-in encrypted proxy to bounce your traffic all over the world, completely obfuscating where it came from. Normally, a website can report your IP address right back to you. (To see this in action, bring up Google search, and type in "What is my IP?" ;) A website that knows your IP can communicate both directly (and via tracking cookies you automatically download) with other websites that know your IP, thereby profiling you. If one of those sites knows your real name ... then all the sites that cooperate also know your name. Even worse, in a case of "guilt by association," the logs of the server can be pulled and used as a basis for identification requests from the Department of Homeland Security. They send a letter to your ISP asking "Who was using IP address X at 10:15 last Saturday?" Usually they respond with that information in less than an hour.

Through obfuscation and encryption, TOR fixes that problem. Initially developed by No-Such-Agency as a tool to allow Chinese to surf the Internet without being visited by a mobile execution van, the source code is now open source. Open source is IMPORTANT. Anyone with basic computer skills can literally build TOR from the source code right on his computer, to assure it has no hidden back doors. And people with programming skills can review that source code in detail, assuring any flaws or leaks are plugged.

TOR is not perfect. A lot of security revolves more around behavior than technology. Probably the biggest possible risk for the user of a browser -- other than behavioral issues -- is something called a "DNS Leak." But this is solved by using either an alternative DNS as described in the first part of this series, or the DNS server addresses provided by the VPN you are using in the second part of this series.

You can use TOR to visit ordinary websites, though because of the technique it uses for security along with its security features it can be slow, and some sites won't work well. But the best part of TOR is what people often refer to as the "Dark Web." TOR proxies allow the publication of special websites that end with a ".onion" extension that are hidden from the rest of the Internet, in an unknown location, and completely encrypted. This is a key tool against censorship and de-platforming. The casual user of the TOR browser doesn't need to know the technical side of how to set these up, but they provide an alternative to the world of "dot-com" domains, $200/year SSL certificates and having to worry what will happen if, as has happened to us and many sites before, a provider decides to cut us off.

The phrase "Dark Web" is used mainly to sensationalize the content of networks of ".onion" sites, Freenet political sites etc. But like most sensationalism, there is a nugget of truth there. The hidden nature of these sites will, by definition, attract some unsavory characters who try to use the anonymity to conduct serious criminal enterprises including the sale of deadly drugs and other contraband.

This sort of content -- nay, it's mere existence on a website you can browse and shop can be fascinating. But I am going to urge you to avoid such sites, not only for moral reasons that should be obvious, but practical ones as well.

TOR is almost entirely funded by the Navy, the State Department, Radio Free Asia and an offshoot of the CIA called BBG. (This is because it is primarily a tool for organizing radicals in other countries to overthrow their governments.) Although the open-source nature of the software means it doesn't have any actual "back doors," if there is an accidental bug that can allow an exploit, U.S. security agencies are informed of that bug BEFORE users are informed and a fix is issued -- thus giving security agencies an opportunity to develop ways to exploit it. Those interested in digging deeply will find the proof of this here.

There is a solid track record that for activities such as ours -- non-violent and non-criminal political dissent -- TOR provides excellent protection. Nobody has ever been arrested or harmed for running a purely political TOR site or using TOR to visit such a site.

But sites featuring serious criminality -- such as the infamous Silk Road where assassinations could be purchased, large scale child pornography, organized terrorism and the like DO get found and those who run them ARE arrested and jailed. It's just a matter of dedicating the resources.

TOR is not a "get out of jail free" card. It is a tool that will protect your privacy from your ISP, certainly the Antifas of the world, your employer and ordinary law enforcement examinations. But it will NOT protect you indefinitely if you are involved in serious or large scale criminal activity.

So ... now your action items include downloading Brave and TOR.

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