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Anonymous web browsing is browsing the World Wide Web while hiding the user's IP address and any other personally identifiable information from the websites that one is visiting. There are many ways of accomplishing anonymous web browsing. There are proxies servers that are usable, as well as programs such as TOR (The Onion Router), which sends information through a net of routers to hide the destination of information (see mix network). However, anonymous web browsing is not completely anonymous, as there can still be traffic analysis and other programs used to counter things such as TOR and proxies.
When browsing the web, the computer connects to the target server by contacting the web page with the user's IP address and sharing other computer information, including the browser and operating system version. This information can be used to track the user. However, a certain degree of anonymity can be achieved by using a proxy server or a VPN server. The proxy server works by redirecting the communication through itself. The browser's IP address is then only shared with the proxy server while the target website only sees the proxy server's information.
Anonymous Web Servers generally work by placing an anonymous proxy between the user and the website that he/she is visiting. These servers can be used to bypass restrictions and visit sites that might be blocked in a specific country, office or school. Some people only use these servers to protect their online identity.
Anonymous web browsing is generally useful to Internet users who want to ensure that their sessions cannot be monitored. For instance, it is used to circumvent traffic monitoring by organizations which want to find out or control which web sites employees visit.
Some may fear that no one can ever really be anonymous due to the fact that law enforcement can request information and logs if they suspect illegal activity through an Internet provider by a client. However, in practice these are not major concerns because those service providers who emphasize personal data protection will typically only save their log files for a matter of days, at which time they are deleted/overwritten by rotation. Backups will be rotated in a similar fashion. To further obscure the client IP addresses that are stored in the log files, they can be truncated by the last byte and thereby made (more) anonymous. Meanwhile, responses to specific requests from law enforcement can be made to take... more than a few days. These issues are further simplified for service providers operating in foreign countries, conveniently outside the jurisdictions of their clients.
Proxy servers have a number of limitations. Since proxy servers have to reroute information, web pages can sometimes load slowly. Also, since the server is attempting to bypass suspicious software, some elements of a page may not load. Proxy servers can even become more of a security hazard than browsing the web, since personal information such as credit card numbers and passwords are passed through an external server that could be accessed by someone else (if not on an encrypted channel (HTTPS)).
HTTP cookies are strings of text that are saved on a computer by browsing different web pages. They allow small bits of information to be stored. Cookies are used to save passwords and shopping lists among other things. They are also used to track demographics and browsing habits. This information is sent to the user's computer and then uploaded to web databases without the user's approval. Cookies represent another avenue (besides transmission of the IP address) by which a user's anonymity can potentially be breached.