For those wishing to guard their privacy while surfing the Internet, a number of options exist. Online web proxy servers, virtual private networks and Tor servers offer free solutions to surf the web anonymously. Although none of these guarantee complete anonymity, each protects a user's privacy to a different degree. Some simple measures that can be taken to help maintain anonymity include turning off cookies, browsing in incognito or private mode, and disallowing certain software to run.
With the proliferation of tracking strategies employed by websites, advertising agencies, Internet service providers and government agencies, surfing the Internet anonymously has become more and more difficult. As a web browser must include its address with all requests so the server knows where to send replies back, that address can serve as an identifier for tracking purposes. It can provide location information and, in many instances, much more about the user. It is not unique, however, as many computers sharing the same gateway, or entrance to the Internet, share the gateway's address.
Proxy servers exploit this fact by acting as a gateway for any number of users wishing to surf anonymously. Users blocked from geographically restricted sites can use proxy servers located in non-restricted areas to gain access. Those wishing to keep not only their location but also their data private can add encryption by using Virtual Private Network, or VPN, technology to the mix.
Although proxies and VPNs protect anonymity by masking location information and data transmitted, they still leave traces of their paths and may include information in their headers useful to tracking programs. The Onion Router, or TOR, erases such data by using a broad network of servers as hop-by-hop proxies, each knowing only about the last hop and the next hop.