Surfing The Net Incognito

The Wuhan virus commonly called covid-19 has caused unprecedented calamity to society than anything else that has gone before. That notwithstanding, it has plunged most free and democratic nations into an existential crisis over the role of the state. Interactions between humans once a cornerstone of our species are now a No-No in this pandemic crisis. Is it any wonder online activities have surged to an unparalleled level recently? Perhaps, the fact that everyone is stuck working and playing from home has a lot to do with it.

The adult streaming site Pornhub reports that it has seen visitors surge 25 percent since the coronavirus outbreak. One of the rules for containing the virus requires all of us to stay at least two meters away from, well, everyone else not in our bubble. But while porn can be a welcome (light) relief in these trying times, it can also put your privacy (or at least your dignity) at risk.

Browsing Incognito

One of the easiest ways your pornographic preferences can go public is the auto-complete function in your browser's application. Most browsers and search engines try to be helpful by guessing what you’re trying to type based on what you’ve done in the past. This can be extremely helpful indeed, but also the source of some embarrassment. If for example, you frequent a site called adultxxx.com, when you go to show someone the website of London's top premier league team (Arsenal - my preference obviously), your browser might fill in the embarrassing result instead of arsenal.com. This is bad enough if someone is looking over your shoulder, but in these days of working from home and screen sharing in Zoom meetings and the like, you’re likely to multiply your embarrassment by the number of people paying attention to your meeting.

People who use their devices in public for presentations, demos, school, and work should at least use Incognito mode to make sure adult websites and other compromising addresses don’t get stored. Browsing using Incognito Mode will certainly protect you from these embarrassments. This is functionality implemented in most modern browsers. While useful, it’s worth noting that Incognito Mode has limitations.

Your searches, pages you visited, log in details, and cookies will not be saved on the device after you close your private windows session. Furthermore, Incognito Mode doesn’t hide traffic from third parties, and it doesn’t secure traffic from hackers or other attacks and vulnerabilities. Your browsing data can still be collected by your ISP, your employer, and any other third party that can track your IP address so be aware.

Not Your Fault Scenario

A more dramatic threat is data theft, which is unfortunately common in all industries. A data breach from an adult website might contain, confidential information such as chat conversations, transaction history, or even video content preferences. This is likely to create a nightmare like what happened when Ashley Madison (never heard of it? - google it) got leaked. As a result, people learned about the online whereabouts of spouses, employees, and public persons, causing an unprecedented meltdown. If info from a dating app (albeit one focused on cheating) can cause such a ruckus, imagine how much more sensitive data from porn sites will be? A savvy attacker may not even need to steal data to profit from it. Porn watchers might experience some blind blackmailing attempts where they receive messages claiming that hackers have gained access to the computer used for porn-binging and that they also managed to record the victim via the built-in webcam. This is a common claim. Do not panic at this juncture if you become a victim. Just delete all the messages.

The pornography (legal ones of course) you consume doesn’t need to be anyone’s business but your own, and in this sense, a VPN is extremely useful. VPN (virtual private network) reroutes internet traffic through a remote server and hides the IP address, preventing websites from seeing the visitor’s actual IP or location. A VPN also encrypts traffic exchanged between the internet and your device. This means that nobody, including your ISP, can see what you’re doing online.

Always Use Antivirus Protection

Even if a pornographic website takes great care to protect its users, it can still become an unwitting vector for attack. There are some cases where malicious advertisements are bought from small advertising companies and displayed on porn websites. In these scenarios, which is not only an issue for porn sites but any place that sells ad space. Unfortunately, users can’t immediately tell when malicious activity takes place on the respective websites, and therefore a security solution running in the background is highly recommended. If anything, malicious is hosted on the respective page, it will automatically be blocked. Most people are confident in their ability to avoid malicious files and don’t see the use in antimalware software. Unfortunately, it’s exactly people with these trends of thoughts that keep attackers in business. The best security software will identify files and malicious sites before they can cause any damage and can even protect against insidious threats such as ransomware.

Stay Calm

It’s also important to keep a cool head even when handling hot content. Many consumers of pornography exercise poor judgment while browsing because they’re in an excited state. Biology takes over, and users overlook risks they’d normally pay attention to. The checkered past of pornographic sites can also set a dangerous expectation that customers should expect some level of shadiness. You should always be on your guard, and to watch and listen to warnings from your computer or browser (always stay up to date - a must) if it detects something untoward. Last, consider your context. Browsing pornography on a work computer or while using a work-provided VPN—even while quarantined at home—can land you in serious trouble.

These are challenging times we’re living through. Covid-19 is causing so much damage that some people are even linking it to some scriptures in the book of revelation about the end of time. Pornography online can be a pleasure and refuge for many people right now. Don’t let the pleasant pleasure become another victim of the 2020 dumpster fire.

The Alternative

The Dark Net

The deep web is nothing more than web pages that aren’t indexed by standard search engines, like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the likes. If you think of private Facebook profiles, private Instagram profiles, the confidential details of your banking site, etc., etc. These are pages that cannot be indexed with standard search engines and you can understand the reason - because they contained very confidential information.

The dark web refers to sites that are built on top of darknets, which are anonymity networks that require special software or authorization to access. The problem is that the two terms are constantly conflated with one another, so people often use them interchangeably.

Tor is probably the most popular darknet at present and is still one of the best in terms of anonymity. Sites built on top of the Tor network are called Tor hidden services or onion sites. You can also access “Clearnet (.com, .net, .org, etc.) sites anonymously with Tor and circumvent a lot of internet censorship methods that are used in some countries. This to a certain extent, was one of the main objectives Tor was created - to cater for those in totalitarian and brutal regimes being tormented and persecuted in silence. However, Tor is not the only way to access the so-called darknets.

The name Tor stands for the onion router, meaning that it encapsulates your communications in layers of encryption, analogous to the layers in an onion - that humble and versatile vegetable. Because of this onion routing technique, your IP address is disguised, as are the locations and identities of those hosting the hidden services.

It is important to state that Tor is also the network on which many darknet markets are hosted, i.e. eCommerce sites that sell all sorts of paraphernalia from drugs, hacked bank accounts, credit cards, and the likes. One of the most famous was the Silk Road. It was the first modern darknet market - launched in 2011 and shut down by the FBI (in conjunction with ICE, the DEA, and IRS Criminal Investigations) in 2013. The site creator and owner Ross William Ulbricht is currently languishing in prison with a life sentence.

Safe Surfing Always