Ten ways to make your internet browsing safer and more private.
If you only do three things suggested here make them the first three. Just these three precautions will prevent the majority of identity theft, spying and trojan hijacking attempts.
1. Use a different password for every service. Don't assume you can trust a site because it's run by a big corporation. (Sony for example) If you use a different password on every site if your social network account is hacked you only lose one account, not your entire bank balance. Your password should be something that can't be guessed by someone who reads your posts or knows about your interests. If you like Lady Gaga don't use "pokerface" as your password.
3. Clear your cache, cookies (including Flash cookies) and all other browser data regularly. Flash cookies can be cleared using the Betterprivacy Firefox extension. Most "immortal" cookies regenerate by using special files hidden in the browser cache, so clearing the entire cache is essential. There are even scripts that check for cached favicons, so clear them all just to be sure.
4. Be careful what you click on. Sites can see where you came from, so if you don't want anyone knowing you're browsing Ranther don't click directly, copy the link and open it from a new tab or window. Even then there's a risk if your opponent runs their own server. They may have created a special link that's only posted in one thread or blog post that the person they want to catch is likely to read. Anyone who looks at that page will be from the place they set the bait. It's safest to always use a proxy when visiting unknown sites. The other danger is that some new exploit could be developed that gets past Firefox's security. Sites where users can post links can be dangerous. If you lower your security level because you're on a trusted site then click an outside link you could be infected with a virus. Any site you visit without using a proxy can see your IP address, which may tell them your location. On some sites links can be disguised, what appears to be a safe link may go to a botnet operator's server designed to infect you with a trojan that takes over your machine, making it part of a zombie machine network.
5. Block sites that track your activity. Facebook and Google are the worst, but there are statistical and web ranking sites like Quantcast that also try and plant cookies to watch you. On Windows you can edit your Hosts file to block these sites on all browsers. In Firefox you can use the Request Policy extension to select which sites can load.
6. Don't install spyware in your own browser. Google toolbar sends information about your browsing back to Google, Alexa toolbar does the same for its corporate creators. Be careful of freeware or even shareware programs, many will try to install the Google toolbar or other spyware. In some cases the creators of these programs get paid for every piece of spyware they get installed so not everyone is honest in their user agreement. Some of this spyware is very hard to uninstall so before downloading any freeware it's a good idea to search the program's name and "spyware." If a lot of people say there's spyware included look for a different program.
7. Use Tor for private browsing. Tor encrypts your browsing, hiding it from your own internet provider. You pay for security with speed. Tor is very slow. With Firefox+Torbutton it's easy to switch between Tor and regular browsing. Just be careful to check that Tor is on before going somewhere you don't want anyone snooping in on.
8. Use encryption to secure private documents on your hard disk. Truecrypt is a free program for Windows that's not hard to set up.
9. Use a hardware firewall to block intrusion attempts and a software firewall to manage your own applications access to the internet. Many applications try to phone home and send information about you to the software's creators. If you'd rather not let them do this a good software firewall can block attempts by programs that don't need internet access to contact their home.
10. Remember, with few exceptions everyone on the internet is a stranger. If you don't want to be identified don't tell random strangers too much about yourself. Just a few seemingly harmless facts are enough to bring a cyberstalker to your door. It's surprisingly easy to inadvertently expose yourself. For example if you mention that you're male or female that cuts the number of suspects in half. Your age will eliminate millions more. But the greatest danger comes from easily searched unusual facts. Just three quirky hobbies are enough. If you collect vintage radios and you regularly buy them on online auction sites your name could be discovered easily. So if you value your privacy think twice before you post even a brief autobiography.