Lots of people have written many articles on how to use the internet in more or less anonymous fashions. So I suspect that this isn’t going to add anything new but will perhaps add a new slant or at least group things in a different fashion that may make more sense for some people than other articles have.
The obvious first step as many people have said is to make sure that whatever operating system you’re running is kept up to date and that you have a firewall and it’s locked down as much as possible. All of which is well and good and stops people getting directly onto your machine, but if they’ve got that level of interest in you you’ve probably got bigger problems to worry about (or you’re reading this a few years after I wrote it). At the moment the powers that be are mainly concentrating on traffic analysis. That’s what monitoring what web sites you visit and who you email actually is, they’re looking for patterns in the traffic people generate to see who’s talking to who and if there’s more traffic just after or before specific events. So at this stage in the game disguising your traffic is a good thing to do, and that’s where it pays to be generous.
If your ISP allows (if you have a BT homehub they positively encourage this) then run a public access wifi spot such as Fon. The two immediate advantages to you are:
1) You can use other peoples wifi elsewhere for free
2) If you use the public side of your shared wifi network then any traffic you generate is deniable
Depending on where you are the chances are you’ll rarely actually have anyone else use it (and even if they do you can restrict how much they use) so there’s not much cost but you gain deniability and a bit of noise.
If you’re more IT literate run a TOR node, it makes the network more effective for other users and hides your traffic in amongst that of people using your node.
If you can get a static IP address run your own mail server and let friends use it, perhaps run mailing lists for community groups. Both are actually surprisingly easy things to do but it means more e-mail isn’t going near ISPs and your mail traffic is hidden amongst other peoples. If you do this remember to turn on mail encryption at the server and to keep very poor logs. Encrypting mail between servers only takes a couple of lines in a configuration file and remembering to get a new certificate every year or so, but it stops your mail being snooped between servers with no effort on the end users part. Really it’s functionality that’s been available for years and takes little effort, but very few servers do it. It can be circumvented but it adds to the work they have to do, and every bit of extra work is a good thing.
If you can’t find a line like:
(using TLSv1 with cipher DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA (256/256 bits))
in your email headers then that email has been snoopable all the way across the network.
The more services you can provide to the internet the less visible your traffic becomes, the less there is logged by the big providers for the government to go after or to sell to the highest bidder and the more the internet belongs to the people. Just remember don’t make backups and don’t keep logs beyond the bare minimum.
If you’re less technical try to persuade technical friends to do the above, form a group that funds a hosted server or business connection so that public services can be provided and so that you can take control over your own internet usage. A mail and web server can be set up and usable in a morning, domain hosting with e-mail provision can be got for under 5 pounds a year. All of these things have got easier and cheaper year on year.
For a quick fix, do use tor or UltraSurf or similar on a regular basis and run plugins such as Track me not, so that when you’re doing things you don’t want seen it doesn’t stand out as a change in behaviour. For a low tech light weight approach there’s even things such as public web browsers. You might also want to consider that if you’re using any sort of safe browser function (turned on by default in firefox and suing google about:config filter for safebrowsing ) then every page you look at is being submitted to a third party who’s logs can be requested.
Whilst we can’t stop them forcing the ISPs to turn over logs, we can make those logs as noisy and meaningless as possible and we can take back control of much of our internet traffic.