Maybe you’re publishing a website of cats eating pickles and you don’t want to be associated with it, maybe you’re trying to become a publicly elected official and you don’t want your movie review blog gaining attention, or maybe you’re doing something a little bit shady. There are a lot of reasons you might want your web hosting to be completely anonymous. And luckily for you, you’ll have a lot of options in this respect.
How Can People Find Out Who is Running a Site?
There are a number of different ways that people can connect a website to the person behind it, including:
- Email addresses
- Looking in the domain registration record, WHOIS
- Payment methods
- The records of your hosting company
- IP addresses
- Third party plugins
In addition to this hard data, remember that there are additional ways that you can get found out. If you start talking about your website offline, you may compromise the site. And if you leave too many clues that cross over from your online presence to your anonymous site. For example, if you post something about onion rings on your anonymous site the same day that you post a picture of onion rings to social media, that could be a clue. It might only take a couple of clues for someone to figure it out.
Web Hosts Aren’t Trying to Out You
Web hosts consider you as their customer and they aren’t interested in publishing the names and addresses of people who have signed up to use their site. That’d be like if a tech company put a customer list on their website of names and addresses of people who bought a phone from them this year. Nobody would be happy about that, and nobody is asking for it.
So in this sense, most web hosting companies are “anonymous.” Don’t do anything illegal and continue paying them for their service, and they aren’t selling your data or publishing a list of people that are buying websites from them. —
There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. First of all, there isn’t anything that would prevent them (in most cases) from sharing lists of their clients with other people. For instance, an additional third party service. Second of all, there are also situations where the hosting service becomes entangled in some sort of government investigation. There are such things as digital search warrants. Hosting sites will obviously comply with authorities that come knocking on their digital doors.
So if you’re mostly worried about whether or not someone is finding out about your sparkling water review blog, you probably don’t have much to worry about from the hosting side. You should, however, think about DNS listings….
Domain names have to be registered, and there is usually information about the domain name posted on the registry. Using a WHOIS lookup can trace you back to the owner of the domain name. Many domain registrars will let you setup a private listing if you’re going to need additional privacy. That will let you register a domain but won’t toss your information up with it. Using a private hosting and private DNS solution should allow you to get anonymous web hosting.
Also keep in mind that domains can be registered to companies in addition to individual people. If you register a domain to a company, you have additional options for remaining anonymous with your domain hosting.
Being Completely, 100% Anonymous
…is really difficult, because most hosting services require you to attach a payment method to the account, and payment methods are required to verify customer information. At this point, you’ll be using offshore hosting and cryptocurrency to try to maintain anonymity, which of course will make everyone (especially government agencies) wonder just why you’re going to such lengths to remain distant from your website. If it’s for any shady reason, you might as well raise a flag that says “illegal web activity” rather than run cryptocurrency, a VPN, and foreign hosting all at the same time.
Still, if you’re really sold on the idea, there are some steps that you can take:
Anonymous Web Hosting: No Domain
One of the best ways to run anonymous web hosting is to avoid paying for hosting or registering your own domain. Many free hosting services will simply tack your site onto their own domain, and this can be a great way to run your site without association. You’ll be able to blog and build a site–that doesn’t violate the terms of service–without being traceable. For an added layer of protection, you can use a VPN and an anonymous email address. The VPN covers your IP address, unless the VPN provider gets tapped.
Anonymous Web Hosting: With a Domain
Of course, your options in free hosting that lacks a domain are often limited. You’re running free hosting on a different platform and will be really limited by what you can do. In order to build anything impressive, you’ll definitely need a different kind of hosting service and a domain. If you aren’t doing anything illegal, it is unlikely that your VPN will be compromised. Set up a VPN connection and use an anonymous email address. Now, because you’ll probably have to pay for decent hosting and because host companies will need to collect payment information, you’ll also need to register some sort of business. This business might be registered to your name, but there are ways of registering that might avoid this. If you have a business you can register the payment information to the business, and now you’ve got a fairly untraceable web hosting solution.
Conclusion: Am I Anonymous?
Honestly, for most people, simply paying for WHOIS protection and paying a legitimate web hosting solution will provide enough anonymity. Once you’re jumping through the hoops of a VPN connection, an anonymous email address, and a shell company–you’re probably trying to do something illegal. And once you’re doing that, there are ways for agencies to subpoena data. Stay legally anonymous by paying for protection and keeping your data off your site, but be careful with other kinds of hosting solutions that go to extremes to protect your identity.