Hiding Behind a Pseudonym: Ten Things to Avoid Discussing

UPDATE: I originally wrote this post after having some conversations with people from a certain East-Asian country with quite the surveillance state in place. Just recently I came across this resource which is a great list of things that go beyond what is discussed on this post. The post below can be thought of as a set of ten fundamentals that are by no means the only things to take into consideration.


People may have different reasons for using an alias online or “away from keyboard,” but that doesn’t mean the things you need to shut up about to keep under wraps aren’t more universal. This post is meant to be a simple but sufficient checklist for anyone wanting to hide their real identity online. Before you hit “send” or “publish” or put anything else about yourself on the web, make sure it isn’t any of the following:



1. Your Name: Do I really need to explain this one???


2. Education: You might be able to get away with disclosing your major if it’s not too niche, but you sure as hell don’t want to make your alma matter public. Like everything else on this list, you may as well not even bring this subject matter up.


3. Occupation: Nothing whatsoever about who you work for, let alone specific job title. You can get away with disclosing special skills you have in some cases, and chances are you probably will anyway.


4. Location: What I said about #1 on this list applies here too. If anyone asks, begin with the broadest boundaries or descriptions possible and try to avoid county or city-level details.


5. Family: Your biggest concern here has more to do with keeping family history and background under wraps rather than what parents or siblings you have. The former is more likely to distinguish you from everyone else.


6. Friends: If you talk about “AFK” friends, establish a habit ahead of time about what you will avoid bringing up (such as names) online so you don’t slip up later. Any “I know someone who” statements should be as broad as possible.


7. Favorites: Limit what you say about favorite bands, favorite TV shows, favorite places, etc. The more hipster you potentially are the more this crap will come back to haunt you later. Just pretend to like top 40 if you can.


8. Events: Limit talk about concerts you’ve been too, or major conventions or social gatherings that are big enough to warrant a website, or small enough to narrow you down to a small set of people. Which could be any event really…


9. Organizations: Are you an NRA donor or a card-carrying ACLU member? Not anymore, or at least don’t say anything about it. The same rules about occupation apply to this category as well.


10. Possessions: Have a bookshelf or DVD collection? Don’t disclose every last title, and if you need to just say you’ve “read” or “watched” something rather than reveal whether you specifically own it or not. I should mention here that along with everything else on this list, you are more at risk if someone already suspects you have something to hide in real life and tries to uncover it rather than vice versa since it’s easier to match real life details about yourself to an online identity rather than narrow down an internet persona to millions of possible persons.



For honorable mention, I’d like to add two more broad things to keep in mind as well: Take the time to research secure internet surfing and communication as well as the overlooked field of stylometry. If you would like some additional advice, take a look at this presentation, but only if you aren’t logged into a Google account of any kind!


Abiding by these guidelines won’t guarantee perfect secrecy, but they should be more than enough to provide plausible deniability without making your life a tinfoil hat hellscape in the process. Be careful out there…