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What does your ISP know about you?

Guest thecableguy

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Guest thecableguy

The Department of Justice recently requested search engine records from Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN. The latter three companies complied with the request without need for any sort of warrant or subpoena, but Google is fighting in court to protect the privacy of its users. This brings up the question: just what, exactly, does your Internet Service Provider (ISP) know about your Internet surfing and email? Everything.

    Each dialup or broadband connection receives a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address that is logged and tied to the owner of that account. That IP address is then logged for every web search that is done, and every website that is visited. Quite literally, an ISP's logs can be examined to see every website visited by a particular subscriber including the exact times and dates, or provide a list of every subscriber who visited a particular website. Everyone who visits MoveOn.Org is in the ISP's logs-and you can be certain that information has monetary value to somebody.

Email activity is logged as well. Every time a piece of email is received the information about the sender, recipient and subject is logged. The same information is logged every time an email is sent. Electronic voyeurism by some ISPs even analyzes the words used in email in order to more effectively target you with ads that will induce you to part with hard-earned cash.

    Most ISPs keep such logs for at least a year. In essence, these logs allow anyone who looks at them to know about everyone with whom you correspond, your interests, and where you shop. Did you visit Pfizer to look up Viagra? Your ISP knows. Did you look up the side effects for a mental health medication you've been prescribed? Your ISP knows. A look through these records can tell the searcher an awful lot about you-and an awful lot that most people have no right to know.

    Probably the first and best piece of advice is to consider all electronic communications to be public, and never do anything you would find embarrassing. But even after doing that, you still don't want people you have never met knowing intimate details about your life because, after all, it is your life and not theirs. But how can you protect your privacy in an era when ISPs hand over all of their records to marketers and even government agencies without even a warrant or subpoena?

There are a number of answers to that question depending on your ISP, budget and level of technical expertise.

    The easiest approach is to use an anonymous proxy service. An anonymous proxy service masks your personal details, including the IP address that correlates to your particular account. If a search engine is used via a proxy, the content of your web searches can't even be traced back to your ISP, much less to you personally. There are dozens of anonymous proxy services available, but some of the more popular anonymous proxy services are findnot.com, cotse.net, somebody.net and anonymizer.net.

Anonymous proxies vary considerably in their sophistication, and many even allow bypassing various forms of censorship and filtering. Some proxies automatically encrypt connections to them so that even direct surveillance and packet capture is ineffective. Because of the increasing invasiveness of various governments and corporations, the number of companies offering proxy services to protect privacy and bypass censorship has grown exponentially in the past five years, and the cost for service is generally less than $10 a month.

    Even if a person has successfully maintained privacy from the ISP and websites that are visited, home computers keep logs of everything. There are a number of tools available for cleaning up all the stray information that Internet browsers leave on the hard drive, but some of the most popular free programs for this purpose are Windows Cleanup, Window Washer and Eraser.

    An Internet user who is more technically inclined, or who doesn't trust proxy providers, can actually set up a local proxy that does the same thing via free software called Privoxy. The Onion Router, also a free download, obfuscates the path packets take across the Internet. There is also an alternative Internet known as FreeNet that is accessible only via encrypted proxy and that resists censorship efforts through port shifting and redundancy

BELD Broadband has a strict policy of limiting access to subscriber information, and not sharing it with any other entity for marketing purposes. We don't censor private Internet connections and we don't share any information about subscriber Internet activity with other government agencies unless presented with a subpoena or a warrant.

    Unfortunately, the evidence of AOL, Yahoo and MSN surrendering logs to government agencies without requiring warrants indicates that BELD is the exception rather than the rule. So it makes sense for Internet users to look into what is required to protect their privacy.

Courtesy: Brett Markham/ COMPUTER BITS TownOnline

A word of caution when using the proxies discussed in this post (eg: Findnot.com)....do not use them while logging into SleezeBay or PayPunk or you may quickly find your accounts limited or suspended.  It appears that most of the scammers also use these services and both SleezeBay and PayPunk scan for their IP signatures.

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