How to Browse the Internet Anonymously (12 Steps)
In this section, we’ll explain how to be anonymous online using 12 different tools.
In isolation, these tools and techniques are not enough to stop others from tracking you. But when used together, you can effectively block attempts at tracking your online activity and exposing your personal information.
Here are 12 easy steps to keep your data confidential and stay anonymous online:
1. Use a No-Logs VPN (Virtual Private Network)
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a secure virtual tunnel between your device and a private VPN server.
It replaces your IP address with a new IP belonging to the VPN server, and all of your internet activity is encrypted, so it’s impossible for third-parties to decipher.
This prevents your real IP address from being exposed to the websites you visit, disguises your physical location, protects your data transfers across unsecured WiFi networks, and prevents third parties from monitoring your web activity.
In short, using a VPN centralizes your risk and prevents several types of data from being in the hands of the websites you visit and WiFi network providers you use.
However, your VPN service has the technical capacity to observe and record all of your online activity. That means it’s important to choose a VPN service with a strict no-logs policy and RAM-only servers that automatically delete your browsing activity.
The downside to using a high-quality no-logs VPN is that you have to pay a subscription fee. Additionally, if you choose a VPN that logs identifiable information, like your IP address, timestamps, and DNS requests, your online activity is at risk of being exposed.
Here are the key anonymity features to look for in a VPN:
- Zero-logs policy
- Diskless or RAM-only servers
- Effective kill switch
- AES-256 encryption, OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols
- No DNS or WebRTC leaks
Our Recommendation: Use PIA to Browse Anonymously
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a trustworthy and secure VPN that offers the highest level of privacy possible for a VPN.
What sets PIA apart from its competitors is its proven no-logs policy and advanced security features. Throughout our kill switch tests, PIA continually proved itself to be the most effective VPN at protecting our IP address from accidental leaks.
It also has RAM-only servers, which regularly wipe any data on the server, making it almost impossible for personal data to be extracted in the event of a seizure.
Summary: How Does a VPN Keep You Anonymous Online?
A VPN prevents your real IP address from being exposed to the websites you visit. It encrypts your web traffic and stops ISPs from monitoring your activity.
2. Use the Tor Network
Tor is an open-source, decentralized privacy tool used for accessing the internet anonymously. Short for ‘The Onion Router’, it uses a series of layered nodes to encrypt your web traffic and mask your IP address, location, browsing history, and other data.
To use the Tor network, you can use the Tor browser, set up a proxy to work with Tor, or use a VPN with inbuilt access to Tor servers. Each method has differing levels of security and risk.
If configured correctly, you can browse the internet almost completely anonymously with Tor.
We only recommend using Tor in extreme circumstances, where your anonymity is vital. In these cases, you can also use Onion over VPN to conceal your real IP address from Tor’s guard node.
A guard node is the point of entry into the Tor network, the first of three nodes, and can potentially expose your real IP address to third-parties.
The Tor browser has effective inbuilt methods for resisting browser fingerprinting. It does this by trying to generate the same fingerprint for all clients, no matter which device or operating system you are using.
EXPERT ADVICE: Make sure to never maximize or change the size of the Tor browser window. If you do, websites can determine your monitor size, which can be used to track you.
The Tor network’s strong affiliation with the dark web and criminal activity can also mark you out for surveillance by your ISP and the government.
It’s a powerful tool, but using Tor can be a huge risk to your online security if done incorrectly. Any private information transferred across the dark web — e.g. credit card information or physical addresses — is at risk of being exposed to websites you’re visiting and other third parties.
Research also shows that there are potentially hundreds of malicious servers on the Tor network, which may be used to de-anonymize users and record their web activity. Even worse, 81% of Tor clients can be de-anonymized using Netflow technology, a type of traffic analysis software.
Summary: How Does Tor Keep You Anonymous Online?
Tor hides your real IP address and encrypts your online activity by passing your web traffic through at least three random servers. The Tor browser also prevents browser fingerprinting by making your browser less unique.
Tor is best suited to more experienced users. If not configured properly, it can leak personally identifiable information and lead to viruses or identity theft. If you’re not confident in using Tor, opt for Firefox instead.
3. Use a Private or Anonymous Browser
If you want to prevent browser fingerprinting, but you don’t want to deal with excruciatingly slow speeds and a limited browsing experience, you can opt for a private web browser.
A private web browser is designed to limit the amount of information you share with third parties when browsing the internet. Once properly configured, it will ensure that your personal information is not shared with large tech companies or advertisers.
Importantly, private web browsers make it difficult for you to be singled out or tracked online. This involves making your browser seem more similar to other browsers to help you blend in.
Some of the best private browsers include the Tor browser, Mozilla Firefox, and Brave browser. They can be configured to block trackers and ads to protect your anonymity online. Other popular browsers, like Safari, Chrome, and Edge collect vast amounts of your sensitive data instead.
Google Chrome browser is the most popular web browser, but is one of the worst offenders in collecting personal information. It can collect data including your passwords, financial information, location, search history, browsing history, interaction data, downloads, and other user identifiers.
Chrome links this data to your other devices and even other people you know. If you enable its sync accounts feature, Google will link all personal data across all its services, like Gmail and YouTube to build an even more extensive profile on you, which can then be sold to advertisers.
By default the Tor browser, which is a modified version of Firefox, has telemetry data collection disabled. Firefox also gives you the option to disable telemetry collection by typing in
about:preferences#privacy to the address bar and unticking Allow Firefox to send technical and interaction data to Mozilla.
There isn’t a single browser that can make you completely anonymous by default. The Tor browser can make you almost completely anonymous online, but it’s also so complicated to configure that casual internet users might accidentally expose themselves to criminal or government surveillance by using it.
Our Recommendation: Use Mozilla Firefox to Browse Anonymously
When Mozilla Firefox is configured properly, it is the best private browser for users who value their privacy, speed performance, and ease-of-use.
It doesn’t provide the same extreme level of anonymity as the Tor browser, but it is more useful for the average person wanting to browse the internet anonymously and it doesn’t put you at the same risk of cyber attacks.
Unlike Google Chrome and Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox is completely open-source, which makes it open to scrutiny from all users. This is also why it has so many modified version (or forks), such as LibreWolf and Waterfox.
The browser itself is highly customizable. You can turn on custom Enhanced Tracking Protection, which blocks social media trackers, cross-site tracking cookies, and more. Firefox also has a guide showing you how to prevent Firefox from making automatic connections (or phoning home).
The browser even lets you disable WebRTC, block prefetching DNS requests, and set a filter list to block known third-party trackers.
Summary: How Does a Private Browser Keep You Anonymous Online?
When properly configured, a private browser can block persistent cookies that track you across sites and blocks prefetching DNS requests. They are also compatible with a large variety of privacy and security-enhancing extensions, like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger.
The Tor browser is the most anonymous browser, with inbuilt protection against telemetry data collection, meaning your personal information is not collected and sent back to Big Tech companies. However, it is the most difficult to configure and is extremely slow.
Firefox is the best private browser for most users because it’s highly customizable (with the option to opt out of data collection) and doesn’t sacrifice on ease-of-use or speed. Similar to the Tor browser, you will have to manually configure to optimize for anonymity.
The Chrome browser is one of the worst browsers for keeping you anonymous online because it’s so heavily integrated into Google’s data collection and advertising business infrastructure.
How to Configure Firefox Browser for Anonymity
The most important thing to remember about using a private browser is to configure your browser for optimum anonymity before you start using it.
Here are some essential steps to configuring your Firefox browser for maximum anonymity:
- Enable strict enhanced tracking protection, or choose which trackers to block manually.
- Disable Firefox technical and interaction data collection and use.
- Change your default search engine to DuckDuckGo.
- Change advanced Firefox privacy settings by typing in
If you’d rather use a browser out-of-the-box, you can also check out LibreWolf, which is pre-configured for online anonymity.
LibreWolf is a custom configuration of Firefox that prioritizes online privacy, security, and freedom. Essentially, it’s a version of Firefox that’s already been pre-configured for maximum anonymity.
It’s designed to protect you against trackers and fingerprinting, while also optimizing security and maintaining an easy-to-use client. LibreWolf also aims to remove all the telemetry, data collection, and anti-freedom features like DRM.
The developers of LibreWolf aim to have each updated version of the software within three days of a Firefox update and have an active online community.
4. Use a Private Search Engine
Private search engines like DuckDuckGo and Qwant prioritize user privacy.
They offer an alternative to Google, Bing, and Yahoo, which collect and store user data to improve search results and show targeted advertising.
Search engines can record the following information about you:
- Search queries
- Timestamps of your queries
- IP address
- Physical location
- User agent
- Cookie-based unique identifiers
These key data points can be combined to create a user profile that search engines use to push personalized ads.
To avoid this, we recommend opting for a lesser known search engine that prioritizes its users’ anonymity and online privacy.
However, a lot of the private search engines don’t offer the same polished user experience or level of search results as mainstream search engines.
If you’re searching for a broad term, you might have to sacrifice a few extra minutes scrolling through search results to find what you’re looking for.
But if you’re using a private search engine for specific searches and prioritize your online anonymity, you’ll have no problem using them day-to-day.
Our Recommendation: Use DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo is a privacy-focused search engine that doesn’t track your search history and avoids the filter bubble of personalized search results.
Furthermore, DuckDuckGo is so private that it’s been the default search engine for the Tor Browser since 2016. As Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo states:
Using Tor and DDG, you can now be end to end anonymous with your searching. And if you use our encrypted homepage, you can be end to end encrypted as well.
DuckDuckGo also offers a useful browser extension that uses advanced tracker-blocking and makes sure you visit HTTPS encrypted versions of websites.
Lastly, it’s important to note that a private search engine does not make you completely anonymous online if not combined with other privacy tools, such as a VPN or a private browser like Tor.
Summary: How Do Private Search Engines Keep You Anonymous Online?
Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo deletes your search queries after each session and doesn’t store this data for analytics or advertisers. It also doesn’t save your IP address, timestamps, and other unique identifiers when you use it.
DuckDuckGo can be enabled as your default search engine and offers a helpful browser extension that encrypts your connection and blocks known trackers.
5. Use an Encrypted Messaging App
Encrypted messaging apps, like Whatsapp and Signal, provide end-to-end encryption to protect the privacy of their users’ communications.
Encrypting your communications prevents third-parties, such as your ISP or mobile data provider, app provider, or government from intercepting and reading your private messages.
We recommend choosing an encrypted messaging app that’s open-source, which means that the app’s source code is available to view and critique. This helps ensure that the app doesn’t have any backdoors or vulnerabilities to cyber attacks.
It’s important to keep in mind that some of these apps may have limited features, such as no audio or video calls. These apps might also require you to input certain personal information, like your phone number or email address, in order to verify your account.
However, there are workarounds, such as using a pseudonym or a burner mobile number to receive verification messages.
Our Recommendation: Use Signal
Signal is the gold standard of secure messaging apps, and it’s the best free encrypted messaging app of 2023. It helps you achieve confidentiality without sacrificing a premium user experience.
Its source code and protocols are all available for anyone to see. Its Sealed Sender feature hides metadata about the sender, which is unique to the platform. It’s also available on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and Debian-based Linux distributions.
Signal offers audio calls, video calls, group calls, and even emoji reactions to messages, giving it a similar feel to iMessage and Messenger.
But Signal isn’t without its flaws. Signal’s biggest drawback is that you have to enter your phone number to sign up. But, the good news is that you can use a throwaway number to sign up.
To do this, either use a Google Voice phone number (only available in the US), a phone number from Skype, or a cheap prepaid SIM card when signing up.
Why We Don’t Recommend Threema
Threema is a popular instant messaging app that costs $5.00 and advertises itself as completely anonymous.
Unlike Signal, you don’t have to provide a phone number to use Threema. It’s even cleared by European government and army departments for official communications.
However, a paper published by ETH Zurich in 2023 found seven critical vulnerabilities in Threema’s security. It even recommends that Threema adopt Signal’s protocol to combat its weaknesses.
In short, despite being a paid service, Threema lacks the advanced security protocol that Signal offers. If you can live with Signal’s use of your phone number, it’s a much safer option.
Summary: How Does Encrypted Messaging Keep You Anonymous Online?
Signal ensure that third-parties, like your app or network provider, are unable to see your private messages. Keeping your messages out of iMessage, Messenger and Instagram DMs also prevents Big Tech from seeing your conversations and using it for advertising purposes.
6. Use Encrypted Storage
Encrypted storage means securing and protecting your files by encrypting them before storing them in a device or the cloud.
Encrypted storage is a great way to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information like your financial data, confidential documents, and photos. Keeping these encrypted decreases the likelihood of them being stolen or leaked by hackers.
If you prioritize convenience as well as anonymity, NordVPN offers a suite of privacy tools that complement each other, including an encrypted storage service called NordLocker.
Our Recommendation: Sync.com
Major online storage services like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive offer encrypted storage, but they might still have access to your files and data.
Sync.com is a safe and secure alternative that offers end-to-end encryption for files. The encrypted storage service also offers local-drive encryption, password protection, and two-factor authentication.
Summary: How Does Encrypted Storage Keep You Anonymous Online?
Encrypted storage ensures that any files, documents, and images you have are encrypted and protected in a private cloud.
7. Use a Live Operating System (OS)
Live operating systems (like TAILS, Whonix, and Ubuntu) increase your online anonymity by providing a private virtual environment for you to browse the internet. These operating systems run directly from a CD or USB, rather than loading from a hard disk drive.
A live operating system gives you the flexibility to fully customize your operating system and secure it against cyberattacks.
These systems are great if there’s a specific task where you require complete online anonymity compared to most casual computer users, but they’re definitely not built for a smooth everyday browsing experience.
Not only does a live operating system often come with inherently limited storage, especially compared to macOS and Windows, they’re also often slower as they rely on the speed of a CD or USB.
Physical CDs and USBs can also easily be lost, stolen, or damaged in everyday use.
Overall, we recommend only using a live operating system for specific tasks that require extreme anonymity. Otherwise, it may not be suitable for everyone and for everyday use.
There’s often a considerable learning curve that you can’t avoid when deciding to set up a live operating system.
Our Recommendation: Using Tails
Tails is a live operating system that uses the Tor network to protect your privacy online and help you avoid censorship. Without Tails, everything you do on your computer can leave a trace, including files that have been deleted.
To combat this, Tails takes a different approach. It never writes anything to the hard disk and only runs from the memory of the computer. This means all memory is completely erased when you shutdown Tails, including all possible traces of your files and activity.
To use Tails, shut down the computer and start on your Tails USB stick instead of starting on Windows, macOS, or Linux.
NOTE: To use Tails, you need a USB with at least 8GB of data. Make sure this USB is only for Tails and doesn’t have any other files installed. The Tails website has a useful installation guide hub with step by step instructions.
However, Tails does not protect you from everything. Your identity could be revealed if you share files with metadata, such as date, time, location, and device information. Additionally, if you use Tails for more than one purpose at a time, those two activities could potentially be connected.
Lastly, Tails cannot detect if a device is already infected with a virus. It also can’t secure a device that has compromised firmware or hardware.
Summary: How Does a Secure OS Keep You Anonymous Online?
Tails is a live operating system that eliminates the traces of identifiable information left on a Windows or macOS. Similar to RAM-only servers, each time it is disconnected from an electricity source, all data is permanently wiped from the USB.
Tails is highly suited for specific tasks that require higher levels of anonymity and might not be useful for day-to-day casual internet browsing. It’s a great resource for journalists and activists that require anonymity.
8. Use a Temporary Email Address
Temporary email addresses, also known as disposable email addresses, are designed to be used for a short period of time before being discarded.
Some temporary email address websites and services provide these email addresses for only 10 minutes, and some provide them for use across multiple days.
One of the major benefits of using a temporary email address is avoiding spam and marketing emails. It’s also a good way to communicate privately online, though Signal might be more convenient and anonymous for instant messaging.
EXPERT ADVICE: If you want to keep your emails, use a VPN to create a throwaway email account with no identifiable information in the address.
There are also some potential drawbacks to temporary email addresses. Firstly, some websites and services don’t let you sign up with a temporary email address. Secondly, any important emails sent to the address after it’s been discarded will not be delivered.
To summarize, temporary email addresses are great for avoiding spam. Using one also decreases your chances of identity theft or fraud. However, temporary email addresses might not be the most convenient solution for general communication.
Summary: How Does a Temporary Email Address Keep You Anonymous Online?
Using a temporary email address prevents exposure of your real email address online. This helps you avoid spam, which can lead to identity theft or fraud. It can also be used for anonymous or private communication.
9. Use an Ad-Blocker
Ad blockers filter out online advertisements on websites, which can help protect your online privacy by preventing advertisers from tracking your online activity.
However, ad blockers are not a foolproof way to stay anonymous online. Websites might still track you with persistent cookies or browser fingerprinting.
Our Recommendation: Use uBlock Origin
uBlock Origin is a trustworthy and reliable browser extension for blocking persistent ads. It successfully blocks YouTube ads, banner ads, popup ads, and more.
It’s also completely free, open-source, and doesn’t use much device memory. It’s also widely available on all popular browsers: Chrome, Chromium, MS Edge, Opera, Firefox, and all Safari releases prior to 13.
You can even report bugs to the uBlock Origin GitHub page, which is also a great resource for troubleshooting.
Advanced Recommendation: Use Pi-hole on a Raspberry Pi
Pi-hole is a network-wide ad-blocker that protects your network from trackers and ads, without having to set it up on each divide individually. It works by blocking domains known to be hosting ads, trackers, or other suspicious activity.
However, this solution is not suited to beginners. Setting up a Pi-hole is difficult if you’re unfamiliar with the Linux command line. Configuring your router to work using Raspberry Pi as the DNS server may also be complicated, depending on your router’s model and firmware.
Unlike browser extensions that only work for in-browser ads, Pi-hole can block ads on any software using your network — e.g. your smart appliances, like an Amazon Echo or Google Nest.
On Firebog, domains are categorized into advertising, tracking, malicious, and more. Whereas Blocklist Project covers those and highly specific lists: gambling, pornography, and TikTok.
Summary: How Does an Ad Blocker Keep You Anonymous Online?
Ad blockers prevent third-party advertisers and trackers from recording your online activity. It will also block intrusive ads that might use personalized data collection to feed you targeted ads. An ad blocker can also block malicious domains that are known for fraud or viruses.
10. Check Privacy Policies & App Permissions
Reading privacy policies and checking your app permissions is an important part of making sure your data isn’t exploited or misused. Privacy policies are legal documents that outline how a website, product, or service collects, stores, and uses data from its users.
When you install and launch a new app on mobile, you might receive notifications requesting access to your location, audio, or camera data. Refuse these requests to make sure these apps aren’t tracking your location or constantly recording audio from your device.
For example, we’ve read the privacy policies of 55 VPNs, analyzing which collect, store, and share identifying information. We ask ourselves the following questions:
- What types of data does this service store?
- Is the data stored aggregated and anonymized?
- How long is this data stored for?
Summary: How Does Checking Privacy Policies Keep You Anonymous Online?
Companies are legally required to state when and how they record, use, or sell your data. Analyzing the privacy policies of devices and services is an extremely important step to maintaining your anonymity online.
To protect your online privacy and anonymity, you should avoid companies that exploit or misuse your data.
11. Pay Using Cryptocurrency or Cash
Cryptocurrencies are completely decentralized and built on blockchain technology. A current lack of governance and oversight leads many to think cryptocurrencies are completely anonymous. But, that’s actually not the case.
For example, Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency available. But all Bitcoin transactions are recorded and transparent on a public ledger, meaning anyone can trace a transaction to a specific wallet.
If you then use a cryptocurrency exchange that has an extensive “know your customer” policy — which might have requested ID and financial documents — your wallet and currency exchange into dollars (or any other currency) could be linked to you.
It’s important to acknowledge that cryptocurrencies are not infallible and wallets can be traced and seized by the government. Despite this, some cryptocurrencies have inbuilt anonymity features that make it more difficult to trace payments.
Our Recommendation: Use Monero for Specific Purchases
Monero is a cryptocurrency that prioritizes anonymity. Unlike Bitcoin, Monero doesn’t track transactions on a public blockchain by default.
It has several inbuilt features to maintain your anonymity, including:
- Ring signatures: A type of digital signature that makes Monero transactions untraceable.
- Stealth Addresses: Ensures only the sender and receiver can determine where a payment was sent.
Alternative Recommendation: Use Cash for Specific Purchases
Physical cash transactions are much harder to trace than digital transactions. Some VPNs, like IVPN and Mullvad, also accept cash payments for their service to further increase their customers’ anonymity.
However, paying with physical cash for goods and services means giving up the convenience of a credit card or contactless mobile payments.
Summary: How Do Cryptocurrencies and Cash Keep You Anonymous Online?
Some cryptocurrencies, like Monero, make your payments and purchases much more difficult to trace back to you. However, not all cryptocurrencies have the same anonymity-focused values.
Many cryptocurrencies publish their transactions on a public ledger, which could be used to trace payments back to a user.
If you’re wary of cryptocurrency, physical cash payments are a great alternative. You might lose the convenience of digital payments, but it’s much harder to track the origins of physical cash.
12. Disable Cookies in Your Browser
Cookies are text files with small pieces of data — like a username or password — that are stored in your browser and can be used to identify your device.
Session and persistent cookies are specifically used by websites to track your online behavior. To avoid this, regularly clear your cookies (preferably every time you leave a website) and fully disable cookies in your browser.
When you disable cookies in your browser, websites can’t use them to track your behavior and online browsing history.
Disabling cookies isn’t a foolproof way to stop third-parties snooping on your browsing history, as you can still be targeted with browser fingerprinting, but it’s still essential if you’re using a popular browser like Firefox or Google Chrome.
Disabling all cookies can negatively affect your browsing experience, causing some websites to break or not load properly. Firefox tackles this by giving multiple options, ranging from absolutely no cookies to just first-party cookies.
Summary: How Does Disabling Cookies Keep You Anonymous Online?
Cookies are unique identifiers that allow websites to track your behavior across the internet. They are widely used for advertising purposes and to create a user profile, which can then be used for targeted advertising.
How to Disable Cookies in Different Browsers
Firefox and the Tor browser are the best browsers for online anonymity, but it’s possible to stop cookies from tracking you in other browsers, too.
Here’s how to block cookies in Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Brave:
- Open Firefox and click on the hamburger icon on the right.
- Click on Settings > Privacy & Security.
- Under Enhanced Tracking Protection, scroll down to Custom and tick the box marked Cookies.
- In the drop-down menu, select All third-party cookies for extreme protection or opt for Cross-site tracking cookies, and isolate other cross-site cookies.
- Open Google Chrome and click on the three dots icon in the top-right corner.
- Scroll down to Settings > Privacy & Security in the left hand tabs.
- Click on Cookies and other site data.
- Scroll down and click Block third-party cookies or Block all cookies.
- Open Safari > Preferences.
- Go to the Privacy tab.
- Scroll down to Cookies and website data and tick box Block all cookies.
- Underneath the tick box, click on the Manage Website Data button.
- From here, you can see which websites have data stored on you. Click on Remove All and then Done.
- Open Brave > Settings.
- In Additional Settings > Privacy and Security > Cookies and other side data.
- Then under General settings, choose Block third-party cookies or Block all cookies, depending on your threat model.