Protect Your Privacy 🛡 Wonder Tools
Simple ways to stay private and safe
Welcome! In this Wonder Tools post I’m sharing security tips. You can use the tools noted here as your simple, low-cost privacy toolkit.
The resources in this post come recommended by software engineer Rahul Chowdhury, who I collaborated with on this post. Rahul writes Hulry, a weekly newsletter I like. Rahul recommends the following privacy tools:
Use Burner Mail for disposable email addresses
What these service help you to avoid
Stop apps from tracking your online behavior to blast you with targeted advertisements wherever you go online
Prevent spammers bombarding you with unwanted emails
Keep companies from pinpointing your location and selling data about your personal behavior
📧 Burner Mail — Protect Your Email Address
Burner Mail provides you with disposable email addresses. They expire whenever you want.
📩 Why you need this
Shady companies harvest email addresses to blast you with marketing spam. That clutters up your inbox, reducing your productivity. In some cases, they can pair your email address with other info online, further comprising your security.
With Burner Mail, you can create random email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org. Your disposable account forwards incoming email to your preferred inbox without giving the sender access to your actual address.
👉 How to use a burner address
When you sign up on a website or app that you don’t fully trust, use your burner email to avoid giving away your actual address. That’s useful whenever you have to provide contact details to download or register for something you only need temporarily.
If one of the burner addresses gets compromised and starts receiving spam, you can turn off or delete that address to avoid unwanted messaging. And there’s no way for anyone to track it back to you.
Burner Mail has browser extensions that can generate and autofill burner emails for you in a single click.
It’s free for up to 5 burner emails at a time, which is enough for most ordinary usage. You can upgrade to use custom domains, have unlimited burner addresses, or for other advanced features.
One easy alternative to Burner Mail is to use a burner version of your Gmail address. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
The bottom line: when you’re next asked for your email address by a company, just add a + at the end of your real email address and a word that will remind you of who you gave that email address to.
e.g.: If your email is email@example.com use firstname.lastname@example.org
Gmail ignores the plus and anything after it so you’ll still receive messages as if they were addressed to @email@example.com. You can then set up a Gmail filter to send any messages sent to the patsmith+cvs address. Direct those to a special folder for commercial spam or send them straight to trash.
Read other👇 recent Wonder Tools posts
Rahul’s take on two more ways to secure your privacy online 👇
The Domain Name System— or DNS— is like the phonebook of the internet.
Every time you open a website— like hulry.com (Rahul’s site)— your computer asks your DNS provider for the address of the website.
The default DNS service is usually your Internet Service Provider — ISP— which is usually the company you pay to be able to access the Internet. That means that your ISP sees every site you visit. 👀 It can gather and sell info about your behavior by looking at your DNS queries. 👁👁
NextDNS replaces your default DNS service to answer all DNS queries from your devices. And all DNS queries are fully encrypted. This means that anyone snooping in on your network won’t be able to identify the websites you’re visiting.
NextDNS respects your privacy by charging you to keep their business running, instead of selling your data. NextDNS also blocks most online ads, trackers and phishing attacks.
It’s available on all platforms. It’s free for up to 300,000 DNS queries/month. A paid plan costs ~$1.99/month. Rahul: “I’ve been using NextDNS all the time on my laptop, phone and tablet, and I still haven’t crossed the free quota yet.”
💂♀️Outline VPN — An advanced privacy step
While NextDNS will protect your privacy, you may still want to use a Virtual Private Network — VPN. That helps hide communications between your device and the web from prying eyes.
Unlike an encrypted DNS, a VPN encrypts all information that flows between your device and the web. This is where Outline comes in handy. You can use the Outline Manager to create your private VPN server in a few minutes and then use the Outline Client on your devices to connect to the Internet.
💨 A private VPN for faster Web browsing
The primary difference between using Outline as your VPN vs readily available commercial VPN services like NordVPN, Surfshark or ExpressVPN is that Outline will give you the fastest browsing experience.
Rahul has already written about the various disadvantages of using a commercial VPN service. Outline addresses those issues.
Outline works by letting you create your private VPN server on some of the most popular cloud platforms like DigitalOcean, Google Cloud and AWS.
Since you’ll be using your private server to connect to the VPN, the quality and reliability of your VPN service will be superior to most commercial VPNs where hundreds of people are competing for server resources.
💳 Platforms and Pricing
Outline is available on all platforms. It’s free to use. You pay only what your cloud provider charges you. Rahul used DigitalOcean with Outline and his monthly bill came to $5/month for unlimited devices and up to 2 TB of monthly data usage.
👨💻 Consider switching to a privacy-friendly browser
Your choice of web browser can poke another hole in your privacy protection. Chrome, for instance, can track much of your browsing activity. Safari is a good alternative. But if you don’t use Apple devices, consider using Firefox.
New free browser alternatives I’m in the process of testing include
Brave, which claims to consume laptop battery power more efficiently than Chrome
Epic, which also blocks ads and trackers, and includes a VPN service. Full transparency: Epic was founded by a friend of mine, Alok Bhardwaj.
Vivaldi, another new option, blocks ads and tracking and lets you stack tabs to keep them organized.
If you found Rahul’s input useful in this post, subscribe to his newsletter for free.
One final tip: a Yubikey might be of interest if security is crucial for you. It’s a $45 physical key — a “dongle” — that allows two-factor authentication. Basically, it helps Web services check whether it’s actually you logging in. Read more about how Google used these keys to stop phishing attacks on 85,000+ employees. Thanks to reader Paul Schreiber for the tip.
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