Guide For Achieving True Online Anonymity

Have you ever been blocked from accessing a particular website or messaging platform simply because of your location? Unfortunately, this happens often in certain workplaces, educational institutions and public buildings. Imagine the following scenario:

You’re a school student in the class, and you need to Facebook message your Mom because you’ve forgotten to pick up your gym kit for the afternoon; she’s driving past the school in an hour anyway, so you pick up your phone and go onto messenger.

Unlock social media

The screen comes up with a message from the school’s Wi-Fi network: ‘access to this web address is blocked due to policy infringement’. So you go to send an SMS, and guess what? No signal. You’re stuck unless you use a proxy residential IP address.

It’s a straightforward concept. Instead of accessing Facebook messenger from your school’s Wi-Fi (and, by extension, their IP address and server), you access your chosen proxy server from the school server. That proxy accesses Facebook in turn but passes the content back to you.

The school blocking software won’t block the proxy because it won’t be on their blacklist. There are millions of proxy servers all over the internet worldwide, so the school can’t ever possibly hope to identify them, let alone block students’ access from those IP addresses.

The idea of a residential proxy server acting as an intermediary is something like three friends in a room, Bob, Rita, and Sue. Bob and Sue have fallen out badly and won’t talk to each other, but Rita is still friends with Bob and Sue. Rita is the only person wearing a watch. Bob wants to know the time.

He asks Sue what the time is, but she simply turns her back on him and refuses to answer. So instead, Bob asks Rita to ask Sue what the time is. Sue replies: “One o’clock”. Rita then turns to Bob and whispers, “ Sue says it’s one o’clock.”

Avoid password hackers

It works both ways, however. A residential proxy connection can also guard your business or school against hackers and spyware, so internet access and browsing are anonymous and safe from malicious code. If the institution itself uses a residential proxy, only authorized administrators can change users’ access so it can act as a firewall between the business and the wider internet.

The risks from malicious code and all those internet baddies are genuine. Unfortunately, social media platforms like TikTok can be a breeding ground for such people. It’s easy to hack a TikTok account by email phishing. The hackers will send spam emails to random users, purporting that the messages come from TikTok.

These messages ask for personal information, and if the recipients fall for the scam, the account can be hacked by the victim by clicking on a link or opening an attachment. The hacker then has control of the TikTok account and can spam away until the activity is discovered and the account repatriated to its original owner.

But again, it’s essential to realize that bypassing government and commercial geo-restriction gateways isn’t always carried out by cybercriminals, nor is using a residential proxy anything new; take the example in this 2015 UK Guardian article about Chinese people wanting to access the BBC News via the iPlayer platform. The BBC was always considered one of the world’s most impartial and fiercely independent news organizations.

People living in China could find out more about what was happening on their doorsteps by watching the BBC news than by tuning into the Chinese state media. They could only do this by using residential proxies or VPNs because the iPlayer blocks any IP addresses outside the UK.

The good, the bad, and the in-between

It’s not only what are held to be ‘repressive’ regimes blocking internet and news access to their citizens. For example, the National Security Agency (NSA) in the USA was reported back in 2014 by the BBC for spying on users of the Tor ‘dark web’ browser through servers in Germany.

Once again, the presence of an intermediate residential proxy server would have prevented the authorities from being able to identify protected users.

The conclusion we must draw is that such technologies as residential proxy servers can achieve true online anonymity and help the way people do business. But that shield can also be used for malicious ends by bad people.

There was a famous quote from Larry Page, co-founder of Google, who was talking about mobile phones being used by criminals to facilitate drug dealing. Nevertheless, he emphasized that such technology was not a bad thing per se just because criminals were using it:

“Sure, it’s true that mobile phones can help criminals to operate more efficiently. But those phones also save thousands upon thousands of lives yearly and enhance many people’s existence. That doesn’t mean you ban mobile phones; you must try to police their use more efficiently.”

It’s a philosophical conundrum. One country’s liberal journalist is another state’s shadowy subversive. So how do we decide – who are the bad guys?

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