Does the internet really provide anonymity? For many people the internet is a place to get away from it all. Surfing the web or chatting on websites is a way to unwind and to put real life behind us, and that can often lead to people behaving in a way that they otherwise would never dream of. Sometimes this can be because people are simply more comfortable online, but for others it is because they believe that the internet provides complete anonymity for them, and hence a layer of safety that isn’t there in their bricks and mortar life. However that anonymity may be an illusion.
There are various ways in which a person can be identified online. Firstly there is by their name, because many people still use their real name when registering for services. Secondly there is their IP address, and thirdly there are the many pieces of identifying information that people share when they are online.
Taking a pseudonym instead of using your real name is a small way to protect yourself because this fake name hides your real name. When posting under a pseudonym on forums, or when sending emails it is possible for the forum administrators and email recipients to see your IP address. IP stands for internet protocol and it is the unique numerical identifier that is assigned to you when you use the internet. IP addresses are assigned in blocks according to area.
You can be identified by IP address in such a way that creating a new pseudonym on the same site will not anonymize you. Your IP address can be matched up on both accounts and in some cases this will result in a ban. You are banned by IP, so that you can never return by simply creating a new account. Your IP address can be traced back to your town, and your ISP company can identify the address. However there is no way to prove who was sat at the computer at the time the activity occurred.
There are programs that will hide your real IP address-software packages that can be bought, as well as web based proxy anonymizers, but even these may not be fool proof. In recent years there has been a range of illegal activity online that has in many cases traced back to the culprit. Such people are generally experts in avoiding detection, having practiced anonymity in order to protect themselves whilst they undertake hacking activities. Recent weeks have seen the arrest of several individuals found to have hacked high profile targets, and the individuals now face extradition from their home countries, as well as a potentially long prison sentence. Ultimately, while you can make it harder for people to trace you or to find out who you are, you are never truly anonymous when you use the internet. Though it may take a court order in order for your activities to be traced back to you there is always a way, so it is best to simply make sure that you are following the word of the law when you are online, just as you would do in the bricks and mortar world.