The internet is a useful and powerful tool, not only for persona use but for advocacy too. Most of us who use the internet are taken in by its vast wealth of information and quick communication. However, if you work with sensitive information or with people and organisations focusing on sensitive issues, you should look closely at how the internet communicates and stores your information, and how safe or secure it really is.

To start understanding privacy and security on the internet, it helps to know the basics of how it works. How do you get connected to the internet? How does an email travel from you to intended recipient? How does information from your search results make its way to your computer? Understanding these will enable you to know what is happening behind the scenes next time you click “send” or “search”, and will become more conscious of security and privacy on the internet.

The Basics

  • Everybody uses an internet service provider (ISP) to connect to the internet. These are mostly big telecommunications companies or small independent ISPs are still connected through telecommunications companies.
  • When you connect to the internet, your ISP provides you with a number called an IP address. This number is like a house address and it’s function is similar too. Most communications that happen on the internet are two-way. The IP address allows you to send and receive internet communications in the form of emails, web-browsing and the like. You cannot be on the internet without IP address. No IP address means no internet.
  • IP addresses are geographically allocated. This means that for a specific country there is only one set of IP addresses differ from country there is only set of IP addresses. IP addresses differ from country to country and in some ways controlled by ISPs (telecommunications companies).
  • ISPs provide routing services too by directing your internet traffic. They are like traffic on a crossed, directing you on the internet. Most ISPs control the crossroads of the internet.

The insecurities

  • Most communications on the internet have a “to” and “from” address. This is the IP address. For example, all email messages have this but it’s not visible by default. This means that if somebody gets hold of one of your emails, they would know exactly where it came from and where it is going to. Remember that IP addresses are geographically located, so they are indicated by country and, depending on how the ISP allocated the IP addresses, the location may be indicated up to the level of street address and even by subscriber (that’s you!).
  • Web browsing works in the same way. If somebody can get hold of your internet traffic or logs they would know what sites you are visiting. Remember that everybody on the internet has IP address to be able to communicate, all websites have one too. When you could go to a page, you reveal an IP address so that the website can send you the page that you requested for viewing.
  • The crossroads of the internet that direct your traffic (usually ISPs) are capable of viewing all of your internet traffic. Since they route/direct for you they know where you are and where you are going to. This is especially important if your ISP is controlled or can be influenced by external bad elements.

Things to consider

  • Be especially aware when sending, receiving and viewing sensitive information on the internet.
  • Carefully check the reputation of your ISP or the place where you plan to connect to the internet.
  • Make sure that the people you are communicating with are also privacy and security aware. Communication is a two-way process. It does not make sense if only one party is connected with privacy and security.
  • Consider using a proxy service or application to anonymity you on the internet.