The browser add-on’s website states that it’s “an initiative for anonymization on the Internet” that aims “to restore the user’s right of anonymity in the web.” Lofty goals are great, but how does anonymoX hold up when you’re actually using it?
A Quick Introduction to Proxy Servers
When you access the Internet, any site that you go to is given your IP address, which tells it where you’re browsing from. While it may be difficult for other users to find your exact physical location from your IP address, it’s generally known that governments and law enforcement agencies don’t have much trouble with this. Another important thing to note is that some sites are restricted to certain sets of IP addresses.
There are many reasons why someone might want to hide their IP address: often, it’s because certain content is blocked in their country, so they want to appear to be coming from a different country (watching US Netflix from another country, for example, or accessing Twitter from Turkey). Or it could be just an effort to fight back against mass Internet surveillance.
A proxy server is a server that acts as a middleman between your computer and the website that you’re accessing. In the words of anonymoX,
Just like it works in “real life” when you ask a friend to buy something for you because you don’t want to enter the respective store. Your friend acts as a middleman to protect your Identity. AnonymoX is your friend when it is about anonymity in the Internet.
When you access a website through a proxy server, the only IP address that’s displayed is that of the proxy—the website you’re accessing doesn’t receive your IP address.
It’s important to understand what IP anonymizers like anonymoX can and can’t do. They can make you appear to be coming from another country. They can stop websites from tracking you via your IP number.
They can’t stop websites from tracking you via other means, like cookies and browser add-ons. And they can’t encrypt your traffic, meaning that if you’re under surveillance, it’s not going to be too hard to keep tabs on you. If you’re looking for a more secure solution, what you want is a virtual private network (VPN), which creates an encrypted connection between you and the middleman server.
Because proxies offer a slightly lower level of security than VPNs, it’s a lot easier to find free ones. AnonymoX, for example, is free (though there is a premium version). They also tend to slow down your connection less, as there’s no encryption involved.
Using and Testing AnonymoX
AnonymoX is a free add-on that’s available for Firefox and Chrome (the Firefox version was tested for this article). Downloading the add-on is easy: just open the menu, select Add-Ons, and search for anonymoX. After clicking install, you’ll need to restart Firefox. Once you’ve done that, anonymoX will be installed and running. Couldn’t be simpler.
One of the nice features of anonymoX is that you can easily change the proxy server that you’re using. To find out which one you’re currently on, you can click on the icon in the menu bar; you’ll see the proxy that you’re using highlighted (the flag of the country that you appear to be browsing from is also displayed in the menu bar).
There are icons next to the proxy names, as well, that indicate whether the proxy looks like an anonymizer address (if there’s a ghost, it doesn’t), if it’s especially fast (the lightning bolt), or if it’s available only to premium users (the star).
To change the proxy, just click the Change Identity button or select a new server by clicking one in the list. That’s it—you’re now connected to a different proxy! AnonymoX politely warns you that cookies can also be used to track you, and offers the ability to clear your cookies every time you change identity, which will further strengthen your browsing anonymity.
You can also change your profile to make it appear that you’re using a different browser, in case you don’t want anyone to know that you’re using Firefox.
Although VPNs tend to slow down your Internet connection because of the encryption that they use, proxy servers are a bit faster. AnonymoX is no exception, as you can see in the comparison between the non-anonymized and anonymized speed checks here:
Using SpeedTest.net, I made a comparison on a very slow connection and a faster one, using a proxy server in the Netherlands. On the slow connection, the stats were almost exactly the same. On the faster connection, the download speed was affected, but the upload speed was actually faster when using the proxy. I will note, however, that I got a lot of varied results while doing these tests, and the performance could be different for you.
The Verdict: Impressive
While the number of features that are present in anonymoX isn’t staggeringly large, I was impressed by just how easy it was to use.
You really don’t need to know anything about proxy servers or IP addresses to use it, and I feel like I could easily explain how to access a different country’s Netflix site to someone who isn’t a tech-head. And speed-wise, it seems to offer a a very small reduction in performance, though, as I noted before, I got a lot of varied results.
While the add-on itself is free, the premium version of anonymoX promises a higher cap on bandwidth (16384 kb/s instead of 800 kb/s), unlimited daily download volume (instead of a 500 MB limit), 180 different IP address options in 15 countries (up from a handful in 3 countries), and no ads. For €5 ($6.30) a month, that doesn’t seem like a bad deal if you’re going to be using it a lot.
Have you used anonymoX? What do you think of it? Share your thoughts below!
Image credits: H2g2bob via Wikimedia Commons.