Private Browsing – Is it Private?

You may have used private browsing before as the mainstream browsers have all implemented this privacy feature in their browsers, what you may not know is that this form of privacy does not actually protect your traffic from the prying eyes of your ISP or from a fellow patron at the coffee shop. The privacy feature was not intended for these situations. What the privacy is intended for is to protect you from other users on your computer from websites tracking you. We will discuss what the privacy feature doesn’t protect, what the feature protects, and explain how you can improve this privacy feature.

What Private Browsing Feature does not Protect

The built in private browsing feature is limited to what your browser can control.  Your browser does not encrypt your traffic unless you are visiting https sites.  However, there is still information viewable by your Internet Provider, and by the person sitting next to you at the coffee shop.

Browser Encryption

The scary thing is that https Secure Socket Layer (SSL) has been found to be susceptible to a man in the middle attack.  The solution to the man in the middle attack is the more advanced Transport Layer Security (TLS) architecture.  However, the sad thing is you won’t know this as a web surfer if a site is using SSL or TLS as both will show up as a trusted site.  Pouring insult into injury companies have developed ways to do this on purpose.  They break the secure communication between you and the web server with a https proxy, to sniff your traffic and log it.

Luckily most browsers are not susceptible to this kind of brute behavior and will report that your traffic is not secure.  At the time of this writing Internet Explorer does not seem to know if your traffic is being sniffed by a company implementing one of these https proxies.

This has made https practically not trustable at all, because its hard to know if website have implemented TLS, and whether a company has a https proxy.

DNS Queries

Every time you type in a web address that information is translated into an IP address of the website you are accessing.  In many cases your Internet Provider is logging this information whether you visit a http or https site it doesn’t matter.

Whats even worse is that the default DNS service you use is your Internet Providers DNS unless you change it in user settings.  Using default DNS provided to you by our Internet Provider or WIFI zone hotspot is like giving your private information away freely.

WIFI Hotspots

WIFI hotspots have gotten a bad rap for a good reason.  Many of these are not secure, and your information is sent in clear text.  Any unscrupulous offender can sniff the traffic of a WIFI hotspot and steal information. Using a WIFI hotspot is risky in so many ways its beyond the scope of this article.

Please know that you should never use a WIFI hotspot without a VPN.  This is by far more risky than letting your Internet Provider log your traffic and should not be taken lightly.  It takes much less intelligence than you think to steal your passwords, credit card information, or bank information on a WIFI hotspot.

The worst part of it is the fact that most mobile cell phone providers freely hand over your connection to any available free WIFI zone that your phone comes across.  You might be connecting to WIFI zones randomly and not even know it.

What Private Browsing does protect

The mainstream browsers Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera have all built in to their browsers a privacy feature which enables you to keep some of your traffic private. They all protect your browsing history, your search history, your browser cookies, autofill, passwords, and services from being accessed or saved to the local computer.  In addition the websites you access can not access these or other programs or services on your computer.

Browsing History

You are probably aware that your browsing history can be easily accessed by anyone using your computer or phone, especially if everyone uses the same computer account. What you did not know is that this browsing history may also be shared to your ISP or other Internet through sneaky code they embed in programs you install on your computer.  When you use private browsing it never tracks your page visits to be put into the history.

Search History

When using private browsing your searches that you type into the browser address box are not saved.  When you type an address or search terms into the address box your previous private browsing addresses or searches won’t show up.

Browser Cookies

Probably the best part of private browsing is that cookies are not stored on your computer from the websites you visit.  As a result the websites you visit can’t track that you have visited their site unless you log in.  Additionally, websites can’t track what other sessions you have open in other tabs, each tab opened in private browsing is in its own sandbox.

Autofill

One of the key aspects of private browsing is that since cookies aren’t stored in your browser neither are autofill entries.  This means that someone can not come behind you to the same page and see what you may have filled in on the page.

Passwords

Passwords are never saved in private browsing.  The option for saving your passwords never actually shows up preventing you from inadvertently saving your password when you may not have intended it.

Services

In general, services on your computer are not accessible by websites when you turn on private browsing.

How to Improve Private Browsing

Now that we established what private browsing does not do and what it actually does lets consider what happens when you combine private web browsing with a VPN.

Internet Providers

With a VPN your traffic is shielded from your Internet provider, mobile provider, or WIFI host spot.  All of your traffic is encrypted leaving from your computer, and is decrypted by your VPN provider.  Your VPN provider brokers the connection to websites you visit, and no one can determine where the actual source of the requests come from.  Internet providers can only see that your are connecting to a VPN and that is it.

Websites

When your turn on private browsing inside a VPN you double your security. The websites you visit can’t determine where you are connecting from and can not determine who you are without you actually logging in.  Even some of the best hacking techniques won’t work as services on your computer are inaccessible by websites you visit.

In conclusion, using a VPN + Private Browsing enhances your privacy to a level that makes your traffic practically untraceable.  If you are serious about keeping your browsing secret then this solution should work for the most common reasons that you may want this level of privacy.


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