Remain Anonymous

Thursday Jun 16th 2005 by Lauren Simonds
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Anonymizer wants to help you maintain a low profile on the Web.

Protecting your identity and personal information while using the Internet is certainly a challenge and a growing concern for everyone — and small business owners are no exception. A layered security approach helps, and it makes sense to incorporate a variety of tools to combat the ever-changing, always-increasing barrage of digital threats, hackers, scammers and other nefarious ne'er-do-wells.

Anonymizer, a privately held company out of San Diego, Calif., offers a variety of products it says can protect you from phishing and pharming attacks and also let you surf the Internet in complete anonymity.

According to Lance Cottrell, the company president and founder, maintaining anonymity while using the Internet protects you against spyware, keyloggers and automated programs designed to steal your financial information. "We use a secure, 128-bit encrypted link between a customer's PC and our network," said Cottrell. "This secure Web connection can't be identified or tracked — and that's especially important when you're using shared network like a cable modem or a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you're not secure, anyone can access your personal or financial information."

The Anonymous Toolbox
The company markets its products under two categories: consumer and enterprise. The consumer products are suitable for SMBs that make up the "S" in the acronym — from sole proprietors to upwards of ten-to-20 employees.

The core product line includes three programs called Anonymous Surfing, Anti-Spyware and Digital Shredder. Anonymizer also recently announced the Total Privacy Suite — a package containing the three above-mentioned programs and designed to integrate with the Firefox browser.

Anonymous Surfing (AS): Designed to keep your Internet (IP) address private, Anonymous Surfing routes your Web traffic (i.e., anywhere you go on the Internet) through the company's proxy servers. Cottrell said that process masks the customer's IP address. "No one can identify you, and that keeps you safe from online marketers, hackers and Internet snoops," he said. "In 10 years, no one's ever had their identity exposed while using Anonymizer."

AS has another feature that's meant to protect your data over wireless Wi-Fi or shared networks, whether you're in the office, at home or on the road. Cable modems connect you to what is, essentially, a large, shared network. With the right knowledge, any other cable broadband user in your area can track where you've been and where you go online.

"But Wi-Fi is the worst," said Cotrell. "You're vulnerable to what's known as "evil twin" attacks. You're sitting in Starbucks, and you think you're logging on to its network, for example, but you're not — it's really a counterfeit site set up to steal your personal data. The anonymity AS provides protects your identity and keeps your data safe." Price: $29.99.

Anti-Spyware: A program designed to find spyware, adware, browser hackers and keyloggers stashed on your PC and then evict them. Aside from letting hackers, marketing spies and other nosey no-good-niks track your Web activity, spyware tends to slow down your computer's performance. Cotrell said that Anti-Spyware also protects against pharming and phishing attacks. Price: $29.99.

Digital Shredder: According to Cotrell, Digital Shredder provides military-grade removal of cookies and temp files, and it also empties cache. The Web sites you visit install cookies — small text files that contain various kinds of personal info about you — on your PC. "Digital Shredder completely cleans all of these files out of your PC to maintain your privacy," he said. Price: $29.99.

Total Privacy Suite: Anonymizer recently announced this package — containing all three of the above-mentioned programs — that's designed to integrate into Firefox, Mozilla's popular open source Web browser. Although considered a more secure browser than the security-plagued Internet Explorer, Firefox is not without its own security-related issues. Cotrell pointed out that the software suite offers Firefox users extra security from identity theft. "Total Privacy Suite integrates into the Firefox browser, provides one-click protection from a host of digital threats and Internet predators," said Cotrell. Price: $59.99.

Cloaking Device
According to Cotrell, Anonymizer is playing a role in competitive intelligence. He said that many companies often examine their competitor's Web sites as part of their own product planning strategies. They look at current products and pricing, white papers and other materials. "Essentially," said Cotrell, "by visiting the Web site and the various pages, you're telling your competitor what kind of new products or initiatives you're planning. They know the exact information you're accessing because they track your IP address."

He further cites an emerging trend called blocking and cloaking. This is where a competitor, knowing your company's IP address, blocks the site so that no one from your company can access it.

"Sometimes they simply redirect you to a page that contains inaccurate information," said Cotrell, "like the wrong price list for products or services. One Fortune 500 company set it up so that anyone with a competitor's IP address coming to the site never reached the homepage. Instead, they'd get a full-page recruiting ad that said, 'Come work for us.'"

Another incident, said Cotrell, involved the local franchise owner of a national tire company. "He'd get customers coming in saying 'I saw your competitor's ad, and you said you'd match it.' So he'd go to the competitor's Web site to check for the price, but he couldn't access the page because his competition was tracking and blocking his company's IP address. He was left with the choice of telling the customer to get lost or accepting the price. Nationally, that tire chain estimated it lost one million dollars in a year."

"Anonymizer is all about looking like a random Web surfer," Cotrell said. "It keeps your identity and personal information safe, and people can't keep you from accessing a competitor's site or feed you misleading information."

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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