Reasons for Publishing Anonymously Online
People most commonly choose to publish anonymously because they:
- Your work runs contrary to the reputation of your physical identity: A famous healthy food advocate would be far better off running a food blog on delicious (but horrifically unhealthy and chemical-laden) junk food under an anonymous pseudonym than her own name, as taking the latter approach may undermine her reputation
- You do not want audiences to judge your work based on your physical identity: Should you feel your work or opinion may be discounted because of your gender, occupation, education, background, or other factors, it might be best to share your work through an anonymous identity that is free of those constraints
- You cover controversial issues: Should the information you provide provoke agressive, threatening action from readers, it may be wise to direct that action to something other than your physical identity
- The things you publish may lead to arrest or detention: If you have reason to believe a government agency or political authorities may take action against you for the information you publish, it is wise to publish it anonymously
- You are a whistleblower: And being discovered by your employers may result in your losing your job
- The things you publish may get you fired: Even if you are not acting as a whistleblower, it is best to remain anonymous if the things you publish (e.g. badmouthing customers, revealing unprofessional behavior, etc.) may endanger your employment status
- The things you publish may prevent you from getting hired: If a potential boss might be less likely to hire you after encountering your content online, you might want to publish it anonymously
- The things you publish may lead to legal action: While we do not recommend publishing illegal information (such as trade secrets) online, it is even worse to publish such information under your own name
There are nevertheless compelling reasons why it is good to publish under your own name:
- Added credibility thanks to transparency: Readers are better equipped to determine whether you are biased, whether your credentials are adequate, etc.)
- Added authenticity: By tying your personal reputation to your published work, you demonstrate that you care about it, are proud of it, and are willing to stand by it
Should you decide to publish anonymously online, bare in mind that your physical identity may yet be discovered. The following actions and precautions may help to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
How to Avoid Being Caught in the Act
If you do not want to be caught publishing anonymously:
- Do not create or publish content at work
- Do not create or publish content using work computers
- Do not leave drafts of your content open when you leave your computer (likewise, do not leave written drafts out in the open)
- Do not tell friends or family members about your anonymous work; you cannot control whether they may share your secrets with others (intentionally or otherwise)
Information to Change, Hide, or Destroy When Publishing Anonymously
There are many more ways to discover someone's identity beyond basic names. In addition to using a different name when publishing online:
- Do not create an anonymous pen name that resembles your real name
- Do not create blogging accounts using your personal email; create an anonymous email account through a free email service such as Gmail* (paid email services require payment information that reveals your identity), and if you are being extra careful, sign up for and use that email account using Tor so that not even your IP address will be associated with the account (further instructions on downloading and using Tor can be found below)
- Consider changing the name of an employer you're writing about, should it be easy to discover who you are within a specific organization
- Be mindful of revealing information about the sort of work you do, how many employees work for your company, and the sorts of clients you may serve
- Do not reveal personal details that might lead others to identify you (e.g. signature habits, identifying personal characteristics, etc.)
Do not include photos in your content that could easily be used to identify you, your location, an associate, or an employer
- Do not geotag photos you use in your cotent
- Do not reveal your location
- Do not share names of specific venues or locations
- Hide your publication times and (if possible) schedule posts to run at random times to make others less likely to uncover your schedule, make educated guesses about your geographic location, or associate your publication to a specific Tor node or IP address
- If you own the website to which you publish anonymous information, make your WHOIS information anonymous as well using a services such as Domains by Proxy (otherwise people will very easily be able to look up your name and contact information by searching for your domain on a WHOIS service)
- Delete** drafts of your posts that may exist on your computer once those posts have been made; do not leave drafts of your work on your computer for extended periods of time (you never know when your computer might be lost, stolen, or compromised)
- Regularly clear your browser history and private data so that it is not possible to trace the websites you have previously visited
*In his guide to blogging anonymously, Ethan Zuckerman recommends using Gmail or Riseup.net and avoiding Hotmail and Yahoo, which include the IP address of any computer used to send email (this matters less if you're using Tor).
How to Hide Your IP Address When Publishing Anonymously
Every computer that connects to the internet has (or shares) an IP address that may be traced by another person.
Should you be concerned that someone may attempt to trace your anonymous activity through your computer's IP address (which can be obtained from your hosting or email services through a subpoena- or through illegal methods), you may mask it using one of several methods:
- Using public computers in public spaces
- Using proxies
- Using Tor
Whatever tactic you use to hide your IP address must be used for all activities related to your anonymous work, including:
- Publishing anonymous posts
- Creating an anonymous email account to manage your anonymous identity's communications and accounts
- Creating any accounts associated with your anonymous identity
- Using accounts associated with your anonymous identity
- Responding to comments on your posts
- Posting comments on others' posts using your anonymous identity or name
- Posting content to any site that is related to your anonymous identity
- Visiting and reviewing posts you have published anonymously
Using Public Computers to Mask Your IP Address
To ensure that your personal or work IP address is not associated with your anonymous work, you may access and publish it from a public computer, such as one in a library, cyber cafe, or university.
To keep things as convenient and anonymous as possible, we recommend composing everything offline and in private before moving to a public space to publish. Also be sure to remove all personal files and clear browsing history from any public computers you use once you are finished with your task.
The weakness in this approach is that your work may still be traced back to a specific geographic area and specific locations, which can be used to uncover your identity. What's more, some of these public spaces keep track of those who use their services (plus managers might come to recognize and know you), which offers an even more direct line between you and your pursuers.
Using Proxies to Mask Your IP Address
By accessing the web using an anonymous proxy, you can mask your personal IP address. To do so:
- Select a proxy server (recommendations below)
- Open your browser's "Preferences" section
- Find the option to set up a proxy server under the general, network, or security section of preferences (it varies from browser to browser; for Firefox, it is under Preferences > General > Connection Settings, for Chrome, it is under Settings > Show Advanced Settings > Network > Change Proxy Settings, for Safari, it us under System Preferences > Network > Airport > Advanced > Proxies)
- Select manual proxy configuration
- Enter the address of the proxy server into the proper location
In his technical guide to blogging anonymously, Ethan Zuckerman recommends the following proxy services:
- Publicproxyservers.com: Includes both public an anonymous proxy servers; be sure to choose an anonymous one
- Samair: Shares anonymous proxies only
- Free Public Proxy Servers List
Ethan shares that you can test whether your proxy setup process has worked by visiting noreply.org before and after your setup attempt. The first time you visit it (before setting anything up), it will say "Hello [your IP address]"; if you successfully set up the proxy server, its address, rather than your personal IP address, should appear instead when you revisit the page.
The downsides to using proxies include:
- Slower internet browsing
- Trouble accessing some sites (e.g. those that require you to log in)
- Proxies sometimes get blocked, requiring you to switch to new ones
- An operator of a proxy server might keep records of those who use it, which make it possible for others to find your IP
- If you do not use popular proxies and do not switch proxies frequently, it is still fairly easy for others to track down your IP
Using Tor to Mask Your IP Address
Why utilize just one proxy when you can utilize a sophisticated proxy network? You can do so using Tor.
Originally designed to protect government communications, Tor can be used for secure communications, hard-to-track browsing, and to publish information without revealing one's location.
To get started with Tor:
- If you haven't already, install Firefox
- Install the Tor browser package (which includes TorBrowser and Vidalia)
- Should you be a Mac user and find yourself blocked from opening the software (as it is not from one of their identified developers or the App Store), override the protection by clicking on the icon in your Finder while holding your control key, then clicking "open"
- Start by making sure TorBrowser actually works: make sure it says "Congratulations. You are using Tor." instead of "Sorry. You are not using Tor."
- When using TorBrowser, take care to browse the internet cautiously: don't enable browser plugins, use HTTPS versions of websites, don't open documents downloaded from Tor while online, and beware that Tor will not protect you from keystroke logging or old-fashioned visual surveillance (for more thorough warnings and usage tips, visit Tor's download page)
For more detailed instructions (addressing a variety of setbacks and approaches), visit this guide to anonymous blogging with WordPress and Tor.
Tor becomes more useful when more people in your area use it. If you live in a desolate area in which nobody else uses Tor, others can fairly easily see that you're using it (they just won't be able to say what you're using it to do). Encourage your friends to use the service to generate cover traffic, which makes you less conspicuous. Using Tor regularly (for things other than anonymous, secretive publishing) makes it seem far less conspicuous, so don't be afraid to use it for regular activities as well.
Sources, Resources, and Further Reading
If you want to take extra efforts to shield your digital behavior from surveillance, stop by Prism Break for alternatives to mainstream operating systems and software that are less accessible to surveillance programs.
Much of our research on this subject began the following articles. We recommend reviewing each and every one: