Common Computer Security Mistakes

There’s no doubt that as our use of the internet grows then so do the risks. Computer based crimes such as identity theft are growing at a staggering rate, with huge criminal gangs all over the world expanding into this area.

Anyone is a potential victim however, there are some simple steps you can take to minimize the risk. This video shows you some of the very basic things you can do to help keep you safe.

If you want to go further, there are of course lots of other measures you can take, the use of VPNs or learn how Smart DNS works to hide your identity too.

The reality is that these very basic, simple steps hugely reduce your changes of becoming a victim. The reason being is that online criminals focus on the various easiest targets, simply by keeping your system up to date and never clicking on links in emails will make you much safer.

Why Should I Need to Change My IP Online

Well it’s a valid question and for many people they won’t see the point.  Your IP address is your unique address on the internet, which is required to allow you access.   It is completely unique and nobody else on the net will have the same IP address as you at a single point in time.  Which is why if you decide to go and start posting threats, requests for illegal activities or ordering explosives online you may very well find someone at your door with a search warrant shortly afterwards.

Many people argue this is a good thing, after all if everyone could do or say anything online without the slightest risk of repercussion then it would be even more chaotic than it is now.  The dark web is something nearer this position (although complete anonymity there is still difficult), and you’ll see bizarre ad listings for credit card scanners, hit men and illegal drugs all over the place.  Of course what many fail to realise is that they may order twenty kilos of illicit narcotics anonymously but it still has to be delivered somewhere!

For other people, it’s more a matter of a) privacy and b) being blocked because of your address, both of which can really affect your online experience.  Privacy is important, people pay bills, manage their finances and conduct all sorts of personal stuff online.   Do you want everything you do online instantly accessible to those with the means to check?  Well currently this is the situation as sitting in your ISP are logs of everything you do online, every web site, every video watch or movie downloaded.  Combine that with the logs on all the web servers you visit and the endless harvesting of all this data by data marketers and it’s like having a crowd of people with notebooks standing behind you when you’re online.

So the second point is being blocked, filtered from TV stations, movie sites or music downloads because your IP address is from the wrong country.  Your IP address is used to determine your physical location and used to determine all sorts of things, including varying the price of goods you buy.  People in different countries often end up paying vastly differing amounts depending on their location – sounds unfair doesn’t it.  Well here’s how to change it –

This doesn’t solve all the issues, but it makes your internet connection much more secure and if you ensure you use an encrypted VPN like the one in the video then all your ISP logs will be unreadable too. Being able to rotate your IP to a US, UK or European one will also ensure that you are rarely blocked access to the best online sites and prevents filtering conducted by certain countries who feel to dictate what is allowable online.

There are other options for avoiding blocks, for example if you just trying to circumvent the geo-filtering conducted by most media sites then s simple Smart DNS service may suffice although remember it certainly doesn’t hide your IP address from anyone if privacy is a concern.

Is Smart DNS the VPN Killer?

I first came across Smart DNS about three years ago when it was relatively unknown, the concept was good to hide your real location by just masking specific parts of your connection and routing it through a specific server. The idea being that an intelligent DNS server could just hide your location without rerouting your entire connection. This had numerous benefits including price because only small portions of a connection where routed through a proxy there weren’t huge bandwidth charges to be paid.

Other benefits included speed, again due to your connection being mostly direct with the server you were trying to access. Also configuration was simpler, just change your DNS settings to point to a smart DNS server like this would then allow you to access different sites across a whole host of countries irrespective of your location. This means that suddenly you are not restricted to watching on computers but potentially on any internet device, without the need to support a UK IP proxy, just watch this video.

As you can see if you can access the network settings on a device then you can enable a Smart DNS server. Where as a VPN needs client software to enable it to work either proprietary or from within the devices operating system (such as Windows or linux). Suddenly devices like Roku’s, Smart phones and even Smart TVs can be Smart DNS enabled without a problem. The device itself is irrelevant, only the accessibility of it’s network settings – surely the VPN didn’t stand a chance?

Certainly the VPn is superior in as far as security is concerned simply because Smart DNS simply doesn’t supply any identity protection or encryption, however that’s largely by design to limit costs and improve simplicity. The ability to enable it on any device is also a huge advantage in a world where there are so many ways to access media online. So why hasn’t the Smart DNS application killed off proxies and VPNs?

Well there’s obviously the marketing aspect, the big players in the VPN market are all well established and companies like HMA have a huge internet footprint. Search online for queries on how to watch US netflix or BBC iPlayer then you’ll likely find yourself at a VPN solution provider somewhere on the web. However there is another problem in that Smart DNS is easier to block than a traditional VPN. Earlier this year Smart DNS stopped working on many devices – this article explains more – Broken Smart DNS for Netflix, and indeed explains a fix (albeit a rather technical one).

The problem was that although it’s relatively simple to change the DNS settings on most devices, it’s also very simple to code that an application or device must use a specific DNS server. What happened was anyone trying to access Netflix found that their DNS settings were ignored as the interface used public DNS servers like 8.8.8.8 from Google. This meant that the ‘location switching’ technology from the Smart DNS servers never got chance to work as the servers were ignored. The big media sites obviously started putting pressure on other companies as modifying basic DNS settings on all sorts of devices got harder and harder. The result was that for many people Smart DNS just stopped working for a couple of weeks until there seemed to be something of a pull back. It is surmised that the owners of these public DNS servers like Google were probably not impressed with this huge upsurge in requests for an effectively free service and the providers back tracked.

At the moment Smart DNS works relatively well on most platforms but this could change at any time, Netflix could easily block these through the code in their interface and most expect this to happen. Blocking a VPN is much more difficult though as it well configured service is almost impossible to detect, companies like Hulu have been trying for years. As such VPNs remain the ‘safe choice’ for watching things like BBC iPlayer abroad, as this – if Smart DNS is still working in a year or so then this might change.

Where Can I Find a Fast Free VPN – Hola perhaps?

It sounds a reasonable question at first – a fast free vpn, after all this is the internet and there’s always loads of free stuff around.  However there is a problem and if you think about it, then it’s quite obvious.  First of all a quick definition, VPN stands for a Virtual Private Network and although it has rather a wide meaning – basically in the context of this article it’s an encrypted tunnel between two computers across the internet.

One of those computers will be your PC, laptop or tablet – the other will be a specially configured server that manages that connection.  It’s commonly used for secure access, most companies use VPNs to allow remote workers access to their corporate network safely.   This is because it allows them to control access to outside computers and ensures that all data is protected and encrypted.   It’s important the VPN server is securely configured as it is used to relay all the data from a connection.  The speed, security and safety of a VPN is heavily dependent on the VPN server itself – in fact a badly configured server is actually worse than using nothing at all.

hola-botnet

However most individuals use VPNs on their personal computers for different reasons, most commonly to access popular media sites.  Most of the web’s best media sites like BBC iPlayer, Hulu, ITV, HBO and Netflix operate restrictions based on your location.  So to access the BBC online from outside the United Kingdom you’ll need to route your internet connection through a UK based VPN server.  The same principle applies for Hulu, US Netflix or HBO but here you must use a USA based VPN, for German TV a German proxy and so on – which is why so many people are desperate to find them.

So Where Can I find a Fast Free VPN Server

Well the simple answer is you can’t, simply because a fast VPN server costs an awful lot of money to run.  First they need dedicated support staff, high specification hardware and lots of fast bandwidth all of which is very expensive.  SO any ‘free VPN’ you do find will need to make money some way in order to meet these costs.

How do they make money?  Well traditionally most insert adverts into your browsing, which earn them money.  Some insert affiliate links too, typically to places like Amazon where they can earn commission if you click through and buy something.  However there are more sinister ways to make money too, and a perfect but disturbing example has come from Hola – a free VPN/proxy service with something like 45 million users.

What they have done is to basically use the connections of all ‘free’ users of their software in a private ‘botnet’.   Any user is essentially a node on their own private network, where internet traffic can be relayed through their internet connections.   These connections are resold on a private security network called Illuminati where users can pay to hide their real location.  Which effectively means Hola users could be relaying all sort of illegal activity through their home computers, which can be tracked back to them.

Using Hola is like installing a virus or malware on your own computer.  Not only are they stealing your bandwidth but you could very well be relaying all sorts of illegal traffic through your home PC.

There is no such thing as a Free VPN server and if you’re using Hola you should remove it now !!

Source: http://www.theninjaproxy.org/just-interesting/no-such-thing-as-a-free-vpn-the-hola-price/

UK TV Reference: http://uktv-online.com/ 

Introducing an Elite Proxy Switcher

For utmost security, simply connecting to a single proxy or VPN just isn’t enough. For a start it will be completely evident from your ISP logs that you’re using a proxy server and where it is located. Imagine instead of the logs containing lots of different locations and remote IP addresses, you’ll just have one in use all the time. Of course it’s better than using nothing at all particularly if the connection is encrypted, but it’s no where near as secure as using an elite proxy switcher program.

So what exactly is a proxy switcher and how does it work? Well the idea is to distribute your internet connection through a variety of servers all across the world. This minimizes the ‘proxy fingerprint’, meaning it’s not obvious from your logs that a proxy is being used. Also it’s much more difficult to track (in fact virtually impossible) if your connection is switching every few minutes. Here’s a quick introduction into using secure proxies, using my favorite security program Identity Cloaker.

As you can see, all proxies are not created equally in fact many you may stumble across online are inherently unsafe simply because they are so badly configured. However when the proxies are configured correctly, rotating your connection through multiple servers and hence switching your IP address every few minutes makes you connection extremely secure.

Here’s the settings for rotating in Identity Cloaker:

eliteproxyswitcher

You have the the following options of proxy switching:

  • Particular country – if you are searching or using a geo-restricted site, then you have the option of only switching between proxies in a specific country.
  • Nearest Place – this is the best option if you’re concerned primarily about speed, servers will be selected based on their proximity to your current location.
  • Any country – the most secure option, means that your connection can be routed through any of the servers distributed across the world.

All the above options add an extra layer of privacy, however using ‘any country’ option is probably the best for ultra security. It’s also worth considering the countries that the various proxies are located in, for instance german proxies would offer the protection of the strong EU and German privacy regulations.

 

 

So How Can I Install a VPN on my Smart TV

For me it happened when I was on a short holiday in the USA, and I started up my Netflix account and it was a revelation.   Although I used my own UK based account, because of my location I was redirected to the US version of Netflix which is so much better.  Thousands more films and TV shows, movies which had only just left UK cinemas and a whole host more where available, isn’t something I wanted to lose when I went back home.

If you investigate, it’s incredibly common and not just restricted to Netflix.  The majority of the big media sites all have some sort of restrictions or blocks based on  your location – in fact try and access Netflix from some countries and it’s not even available even if you have an account.  BBC iPlayer only works in the UK, Pandora the online radio station will now not work outside the US, every TV channel is normally restricted to it’s country of origin.

But if you keep investigating , you’ll discover there is a way to take back control and watch whatever you want, irrespective of your location.  The technology you need is called a VPN (Virtual Private Network), forget the other solutions that you see mentioned like Smart DNS and proxies.  Although they work both are intermittent and easily blocked – setting up a VPN to the country of broadcast is what you need to do.

It works like a dream, install a VPN client on your PC or tablet and you can access whatever you need.  I use a service called Identity Cloaker primarily because it’s fast and inexpensive, however there is a problem using all these services – How Can you Use a VPN on a Smart TV?

Or really any non-computer type device, for example I watch online stuff through my Smart TV, phone, Roku, Wii U and a load of other devices.  However I simply can’t install any client VPN software on  my TV even if it would let me, in fact many of these devices are increasingly restricting access to the network configuration screen to stop people bypassing these blocks.   Well what you have to do is look one step away from these devices, in my case my router which connects all these devices to the internet – How to Set up a Smart TV VPN

So instead of messing around with lots of different versions, installing client software on numerous devices and tweaking settings – just set up the vPN on your router, access point or modem – basically the device that connects
you to the internet. This ensures that everything connected to this router uses the VPN by default and you can turn it on and off at will. Of course, it’s not perfect and it does mean that if my US VPN is turned on – another device cannot watch the BBC iPlayer at the same time (the BBC will see the US IP address of the VPN server and block it). However you can switch these on and off very easily when you need to.

Not all VPN providers allow this manual access though, so it’s worth checking before hand – Identity Cloaker does on all it’s servers and I would imagine most of the ‘reputable’ VPN services do too.

Can You Find Good, Free Proxy Online

It’s of course a recurring them on the internet, many people are concerned with security, privacy and internet filtering so spend a lot of time searching for solutions.  However inexplicably people seem to think they can find these solutions in a free proxy online.   Just think about it to provide a free proxy – you need to create the following:

  • A high powered server connected to the internet.
  • Support people to keep it both secure and online.
  • Someone to pay all the bandwidth costs (a lot!) of the server
  • Allow everyone to use it for nothing.

Why would anyone would do this?  Why would they pay huge amounts of money, spend their own time – simply for thousands of strangers to bypass internet blocks, surf porn at school or simply mess around on Facebook at work.  Of course there is no logical reason that they would, and in fact even the free proxy servers are not in fact free?  Just watch this video for a quick intro.

The price you pay for using free proxies or VPNs is one of the following:

  • Some form of adware or advertisements injected into your browsing.
  • Risk of Nastier stuff like spyware or trojans or the proxy itself stealing your personal information.

People don’t like to believe it, because obviously they want to use something for free.    Ultimately it’s for every one to decide for themselves, but you should certainly be very careful using any free resources which take control of all the information you transmit online (which is what a proxy does).   The reality is that for bypassing region blocks, then using any sort of proxy no longer works – using a free proxy means you’ll get all the risk and no benefit.

Rotating Your IP Address

When you connect to the internet, using anything from a smart TV to a Laptop – you will be assigned an IP address. This is your unique identifier online, this address in the format – 192.168.1.1 is directly linked to your device.

For most of us at home, this address is assigned by the ISP we connect with and as such there is no way of changing it. This address is recorded by most web sites you visit for a variety of reasons and is in effect your digital ID. Much worst for those concerned with online privacy, at your ISP every single thing you do online is recorded in logs along with this address. Which means that for all of us there is a complete record of every website we visit, every movie we watch, video we download and email we send stored on servers hosted by whomever you pay your internet fee to.

However although it is impossible for most of us to actually change our IP address, at least the public facing one we use online. It is possible to hide our IP address and gain some elements of privacy online by the following methods:

  • Hide your real IP address from web sites you visit
  • Encrypt Your connection to ensure your online activity is kept private.

These two steps are essential and are detailed in the following video entitled IP Anonymizer which you can watch here or directly on YouTube.

Your real IP address is effectively hidden via the network of proxy servers distributed across the world, all the web sites record this address and not yours which is not visible to them.

The encryption is required to prevent interception of data, and also ensures that although logs will still exist at your ISP – they will not be readable. The encryption will ensure that the only information that will be visible in the logs is the connections made to the proxies – nothing else will be legible.

Choosing a VPN Service

When I first looked for a VPN (virtual private network) service online about 8 or 9 years ago, there wasn’t much to choose from. There were only a couple of services available, and to be honest they weren’t very good. In fact I never really used either for very long, they were slow, always breaking and not really worth the bother. As was usual in those days it was easier to set something up for yourself either using a rented server or through your home PC. VPNs were common enough but normally linked to a company or academic server, if you worked for a large company and travelled to any extent you’d almost certainly use a VPN to download documents or access the company email account.

These days both the demand and the choice available have grown exponentially. Over the years, those one or two providers have multiplied and now there are literally thousands of companies providing VPN/Proxy services usually on a subscription basis. Unfortunately the quality has not increased, the vast majority of these VPN providers are little more than an IT guy with a website and a dedicated server hosted somewhere obscure. This is fine if the only users are him and a dozen customers, but if you start taking in lots of new customers – you need some serious infrastructure and knowledge to cope with it – which normally doesn’t happen!

This is the sad reality, that the vast majority of these services are hopeless – something you’ll probably be aware of if you’ve tried any number of them. There’s normally two real issues with these servers – firstly they are badly set up and configured, the other is they’re overloaded. Both are serious issues for variety of reasons.

It’s important to remember that when you use a VPN or a proxy, you are in fact trusting the provider with all your web traffic. Your connection consists of an encrypted tunnel (well hopefully) back to the VPN server down which all your web and application traffic will flow. It’s therefore essential that this server is secure and well configured in order to protect your data there’s more to this than just something to change your ip address – read this.

The other issue is of course – speed, it wasn’t such a problem years ago but nowadays most of our online activity consists of video, multimedia and hi resolution images – browsing the web on a slow connection is a painful experience. It is of course why many people use VPNs in order to access content on sites like BBC iPlayer, ITV player or Hulu which are normally restricted to their home countries. This is a useful demonstration of how a high speed VPN should work.

The video demonstrates that the VPN connection has virtually no effect on the speed of the internet connection. It should be noted that in that video the user is based in the UK and using a UK VPN but it’s still a worthwhile check. The speed will almost certainly diminish slightly when routed through a US, Australian or German proxy server for example, but should still be reasonably fast. As alawyas the only true test is the one you run your self, so if you subscribe to Identity Cloaker or another VPN solution then make sure you test it using a short term trial/subscription first.

Turkish Implement Twitter Block

The Turkish block of Twitter this week, is such ill conceived madness that it sometimes is hard to comprehend that these guys are politicians who are supposed to understand people.  When they follow the example of dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and decide the best way to stop people saying bad things about you it to try and stop them talking completely – true genius.

It’s not even as if Turkey has the first idea about how to block access, they’ve been actively filtering the internet for years now and there still using the baby/first steps blocking  technique.  Look around certain places in Istanbul and Izmir for example and you’ll see posters of Erdogan with DNS server addresses pasted all over them.  That’s how the country is blocking the site by rerouting DNS requests, so by switching to another of the many millions of DNS servers available across the planet you can bypass the blocks.

In fact  there are many ways to completely sidestep these restrictions and when you’re Prime Minister has threatened to crush the social networking sites and demonstrate the power of the Turkish Republic, you really need to come up with something better than a very amateurish attempt like this.  In fact it’s looking like Twitter use in Turkey is rocketing after the ban has been implemented – circa 17,000 Tweets from Turkey every minute at time of writing.  I’m afraid it doesn’t make Erdogan look strong or powerful, more like clueless and inept.

Here’s one the many ways you can bypass the Turkish ban on Twitter –

The more the numbers spiral out of control, the more ineffective both the ban looks and also how powerless the leader who implemented it appears.  It also adds your name to the list of others who have attempted to do the same,  hugely successful leaders in places like Iran, Iraz, Egypt, Syria and North Korea.  Of course when we say leaders, the list is actually one of dictators, democratically elected people don’t generally try and repress free speech.  It is widely expected that the Prime Minister is intending to continue his tirade against these sites, so you may need a Facebook unblocker in Turkey as well soon.

The block will only really affect people who don’t use Twitter anyway, and have no real desire to use one of the workaround or use a Turkish Proxy.  Although human nature being what it is, probably many will suddenly sign on to see what they’re not supposed to see.  Many think this could be the beginning of the end for Erdogan, not only has he attempted to repress talk of corruption but he’s done it badly – making himself look completely impotent and powerless in the process.   He also is starting to look as guilty of hell with his rantings of moral outrage at the evil forces of erm Twitter and Facebook.  A great country, with fantastic friendly people for the moment stuck with a dodgy, shifty leader – they deserve better.  Especially  Berkin Elvan, the young boy killed by the Turkish security services firing on protesters, whilst he went to buy bread.