Does Internet Crime Pay?

Too right it does!  For anyone who thinks cyber crime is just a tabloid headline or a story spread by scaremongering geeks is I’m afraid very much mistaken – cyber crime is rife and pays extremely well.   Forget about the big million dollar stuff, it’s small to moderate stuff that the smarter crooks are targeting – in many cases it doesn’t even get reported as companies are reluctant to admin security breaches.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre

Here’s a very recent example that happened to a private medical centre in Hollywood, USA.  The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre has just paid a $17,000 ransom to a hacking group who installed malware on their computer systems which then encrypted key files.  There are limited details of the exact nature of the attack, but it is believed that it was  simply a classic ransomware exploit.

Ransomware is  simple but very effective malicious software which usually operates in a couple of main ways – it’s focus is denying access rather than actually stealing data.

  • Screen Locking – the malware will lock your computer screen or prevent you logging in, effectively stopping all access to the computer.  It’s often accompanied with a request for a ‘fine or donation’ payment to remove the screen lock.
  • Encryption – this won’t touch your computer system or applications but will encrypt data files effectively blocking your access to them.  The ransomware will usually offer to sell you the decryption key

The screen lock type is usually fairly simple to bypass if you have some knowledge and the right tools. However to decrypt the files you’ll need the private key which was used to encrypt them in the first place.

Which is why the hospital was forced to pay the ransom, despite the obvious problems with that tactic. Happily the decryption key was supplied and the hospital was able to recover it’s system and data with the help of some IT experts. Generally the criminals who use ransomware do honour the deal as it encourage future victims to pay.

It’s a good payday though for the hackers for what is likely to be little more than a few hours work. Attackers will generally pick soft targets with poor security to attack, so it’s unlikely it was that difficult to install the malware on their network.

For the attackers though. it’s the forensic investigation that is the most dangerous part of the crime.   Covering your tracks after committing a network based attack and ransom is extremely difficult to do properly, sure you can install the malware over a Tor Connection or use a safe VPN in a remote country. However you have to maintain this level of obscurement throughout the attack, specialist investigators can glean lots of information from a variety of advanced forensic tools. The FBI and US security services are notoriously aggressive in pursuing computer criminals across international borders too.

Geolocation Costs you Money

THe internet is by far the biggest global market place that the world has ever seen, but it’s far from the fairest. Across the world one of the goals of economic development has been the operation of free trade, opening up markets across geographical and social divides. Of course, it doesn’t always work like this but to be fair in the infancy of the internet it came pretty close.

When sites like Amazon where in their infancy, it was quite simple to order from a different country with relatively few restrictions. I routinely used to order computer software and hardware from Amazon in France simply because it was often 20-30% cheaper than Amazon prices on their UK site. After a few years most of the sites blocked this behaviour and it became much more difficult to access regional versions of different web sites.

The reason that the internet has become so segmented is primary due to an economic concept called price discrimination.
Here’s how it’s defined on Wikipedia –
Price discrimination is a pricing strategy where identical or largely similar goods or services are transacted at different prices by the same provider in different markets

Basically to maximise profits, a company seeks to try and sell it’s product or service at different prices to different markets. Often this is difficult to do, simply because you have to keep these markets completely separate. Initially the internet made markets more accessible, and consumers used the technology to cross the geographical barriers – however now using a technology called geo-location the barriers are rising again.

Most commercial websites determine your location when you try and access their pages, they look up your IP address and then redirect you based on your location. So if you visit the BBC from outside the UK you’ll be redirected to the international version which doesn’t have any of the iPlayer functionality. So it continues – videos, films, goods and services blocked, filtered or offered at different prices according to where you logon to the web.

Unsurprisingly, this behaviour is not entirely popular and there are a myriad of technologies designed to circumvent these blocks with one of the simplest is by using proxies. Take for example if you want to access UK content but happen to be based somewhere outside the UK – by using an English proxy like the one in this video you can fool the website.

The basic idea is that if you route your internet connection through a proxy server based in a different location, then the web site thinks you are in that country too. Hence you can use an English based proxy to access UK content or sites, a French proxy to use French sites and so on. There are now even services which offer multiple proxies in a variety of countries which you can buy – like this.

The companies obviously are not happy with these services and indeed a ‘cat and mouse’ game of them blocking various proxies and VPNs addresses, then the providers switching IP address and data centres.

An Alternative to a UK IP Proxy

Proxies have been the ‘must have’ tool for anyone who wants unrestricted and unfettered access to the internet for years.  In July 2007, the BBC launched the iPlayer application on to the internet as a ‘free catch up service’ for UK TV license payers.  A few days later thousands were already accessing the service from all over the planet, many who had never even heard of a TV license fee never mind paid it.

To be fair, the BBC has always been fairly laid back about blocking access to it’s TV services.  The official line has been that you can’t access without a) a TV license and b) being located in the UK, however this is rarely the case with no millions watching from all over the world – making the BBC a hugely important global media giant.  A very simple proxy is all you ever needed until recently to access the BBC iPlayer service.   In fact you only ever needed it until the programme started streaming to your computer, switching off the proxy was perfectly possible after the initial location checks had taken place.

Advancements have led to more sophisticated VPN based services like this one, which open up global media even more allowing you to switch your connection through a long list of different locations as you require.  However there has always been one issue, the fact that all these services have been much easier to use on a computer. The fact is that we no longer all sit at a powerful PC to access the online world, now we use all sorts of different devices like phones, games consoles and a myriad of other gadgets.  These devices can be difficult to use a VPN or proxy on, indeed some are deliberately locked down to prevent their use.

So there are now newer technologies which you can use to access blocked content.  If you want to watch the BBC iPLayer from your Spanish residence then you no longer need to try ad configure a UK IP proxy on your Smart TV you can use this –

As you can see from this video, there is no requirement here for a proxy or connection to a VPn server based somewhere. This technology is called Smart DNS and is explained on this site, but it basically works by only routing the location based queries through an intermediary proxy server everything else just streams directly.

There are numerous advantages to this method, for one it’s cheaper as the bandwidth costs are significantly reduced. However the major advantage in this world of internet connected devices is that it’s much easier to configure on things like media streamers, smart TVs and games consoles. The reason is that it doesn’t require any client based software like a VPN, and configuration needs only a change of DNS servers. At the moment this network configuration is openly accessible on most devices and modification requires no technical knowledge at all.

It’s too early to say that Smart DNS will see the demise of proxies and VPNs certainly in the media blocking world. Certainly there are restrictions, Smart DNS provides no layer of security and it could be that it is ultimately much easier to block from the media companies themselves. We’ll have updates on the developments at thenewproxies.com though so watch this space.

Netflix and the Smart DNS Fight

SMart DNS is the innovative new technology designed to stop ordinary people getting blocked from their favorite web sites. Many of us discover these blocks when travelling or on holiday, for me it happened years ago when I tried to log onto the BBC website to watch the news and was told because I was not in the UK I couldn’t watch it. I was annoyed, I paid my license fee at home so why should it matter where I happened to be.

Nowadays it’s even more common and in fact most of the larger web sites use geo targeting or blocking to some extent. I certainly don’t think there is a big media site that allows unfettered access to their content to the whole world. Smart DNS changed this and offered an alternative to the usual fix of connecting through a VPN server. Smart DNS doesn’t route your whole connection it just filters the location specific requests and therefore has little impact on your own connection.

If you want to see how Smart DNS works – then this video illustrates how it can be used to bypass these blocks.

As you can see the only modification required is to the DNS settings on your device which is why Smart DNS is so much easier to implement on different devices like Smart Phones, media streamers and even Smart TVs. Unfortunately there does seem to be a downside which has been illustrated by the efforts of Netflix to block use of Smart DNS servers and codes.

The first efforts were successful although not completely, Netflix started to roll out updates to the various Netflix interfaces on device like the Roku. These updates hard codes the addresses of public DNS servers like Google DNS, which meant that any DNS settings you configured would be ignored as the servers were already hardcoded in the the device. This stopped SMart DNS working with Netflix and people were unable to change regions or access Netflix in a country where the media giant hadn’t established a presence. It also was rather unpopular with the owners of these public DNS servers as their servers became flooded with so many DNS requests from millions of devices.

It appeared that they backtracked and removed the static DNS entry requirements. Whether this remains the case, we’ll have to see – Many of the media giants seem more concerned with SMart DNS than they were with VPNs probably because it has the potential to be used on a much wider base of devices and even pre-installed on new hardware without the owners knowledge. Cretainly if the Smart DNS settings are set up a router like this, they’ll effect every device on that network.

What You Need from a Secure VPN

Like everything in life, with computer security you get what you pay for. Unfortunately most people don’t look at things like this and usually pick based on the nearest to free that they can get. Take for example Anti Virus programs, there are literally millions of people who use free or very cheap services who have about as much chance of stopping your computer being infected with malware as my grandmother does of setting up a wireless access point (i.e none whatsoever). This attitude will only really change if they suffer the extreme hassle both in time and money of having their computer infected and possibly their personal accounts raided too.

It’s the same using a VPN (virtual private network), people think that they are all the same and if you are using a VPN then your internet connection is both secure and private – which is a long way from the truth. Have a look at this video for some introduction – Most Secure VPN Service

The points are important, logging (or lack of it is crucial), if you use a VPN which doesn’t deal adequately with the logs then you are safer without using them. Worst still VPN costs lots of money to run and support, some free proxies and VPNs are not run by some wealthy, benevolent technology company (surprise, surprise). They are run on hacked servers by cyber criminals who offer the service because it’s a simple way to steal all your credentials and help them selves to your bank accounts or identity.

VPNs do offer security, they do offer a level of protection that is unparalleled on the internet but only if they’re on properly configured hardware and run by technically competent staff- which of course costs money. Before you connect to that free proxy or VPN ask yourself this –

why is this company or person paying thousands of dollars a month to provide me with a completely free secure VPN service?

Hopefully if you’re over 15 then it might occur to you that there’s another agenda. Stay safe, don’t use free proxies and VPNs they could end up costing you big time.

VPN Speed and Security is Important

Of course on the internet there is a temptation to look for the cheapest version of something, however when you’re talking about VPNs and proxies then this is almost certainly a huge mistake.    Whatever the reason you’re looking for one, then VPN speed and security are of paramount importance.

Consider these two thoughts:

  • A slow VPN/proxy will make everything you do online happen at a snail’s pace.
  • An insecure VPN/proxy could put you at risk from identity theft.

The simple fact is that the moment you connect through a proxy or VPN server, anything you do online is routed through that server.   That is everything, every user account, email, password – whatever you do online it will be going through that server.

Which is one the reasons there are so many free hacked proxies and VPN servers around on the internet.  You may think that the cost of using one of these servers is speed, after all it’s free so it will be slow but the real cost is you are paying the price with your identity.

First of all the speed – look at the impact a normal fast VPN like this will have on your connection.

The impact that a fast, well configured and maintained VPN has on your connection is negligible – in fact often they can speed up your connection by compressing the data. Of course free services are never going to do that, it takes time and money to host and run fast servers like this and the majority of free proxies are on cheap unmanaged hosting with adverts to support them or are on hacked servers and financed in a more sinister manner.

Imagine you’re a cyber criminal who has just hacked into a network of servers at a community college in the US. How can you make money from these servers before they are discovered? Well one of the easiest options is to set them up as free proxies or VPNs and then let them loose on the internet. Wait until people start using them and then simply log all activity on the servers, sifting through the transactions looking for email addresses, usernames and passwords.

Pretty soon you’ll have a host of account names and passwords to all sorts of sites including home banking, paypal, ebay and hotmail. Any of these can be used to steal money and goods very easily, all from the comfort of the thieves desktop. It’s a pretty good model for cyber crime, relatively safe from getting caught and potentially hugely lucrative if you get access to a few bank and paypal accounts. Some people have had thousands drained from their accounts in this way simply because they are often completely unaware it’s happening until it’s too late.

So remember using free, unregulated proxies and VPNs to do anything online is a huge risk to both your privacy and wealth.

Here’s How to Access Japanese Netflix from Anywhere

This month saw the global expansion of Netflix move into potentially one of it’s biggest markets – yes Japanese Netflix has arrived. It’s often surprised people who have been watching Netflix for years when they touch down in Tokyo that the Netflix button on their phone or media device stops working. After all the Japanese love movies and TV, there’s a fast internet infrastructure across most of the country and a high disposable income.

Why has it taken so long? Well many point to the struggles of Hulu who tried to enter the Japanese market about four years ago and never really got started. The fact is that Japanese viewing habits are actually quite dated, with some reluctance to pay for online entertainment services. Japan has several high quality national broadcasting channels(similar to the BBC) run by NHK and quite a few funded by direct advertising.

Also in Japan, people still rent much of their entertainment on DVDs and BluRay unlike places like the USA and Europe. It is perhaps why Netflix has been biding their time and building up enough Japanese content to support the new service. Well it looks encouraging, and for those outside Japan the majority of Netflix is still in English, some title with subtitles but there appears to be lots of new Japanese content and of course the anime section is packed to bursting.

How to Access Japanese Netflix

It’s probably going to change a lot over the next few years but looks good value for Japanese subscribers at something like $5 a month.   For those of us who subscribe to Netflix in another country, there is a way to check out the Japanese Netflix if you want to see what’s there.  I am hoping to discover a treasure trove of those wonderful old Japanese science fiction/monster movies which I love to watch.

So how to connect to Japanese Netflix if you’re not actually in Japan? Well of course, Japanese Netflix as usual is geo-restricted – that is locked to those people with a Japanese IP address.  However many of us have discovered how to change country on Netflix account simply by switching the location of their registered IP address. It’s not so difficult and here’s a video demonstrating one method of watching Japan Netflix from anywhere in the world.

As you can see, it’s not even necessary to change your IP address completely to a Japanese one (which saves redirect your browsing to downtown Tokyo at the same time). Using a Smart DNS proxy server like the one offered by Overplay you can simply redirect through their control panel to whichever version of Netflix you want. I have’t investigated fully what different stuff is on the Japanese Netflix but I’ll bet there’s some hidden gems there even for English speakers.

Give it a try.

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.

Online IP Changer – Switching your IP Address

It’s a tool that a few years ago, nobody had any use for – after all why would anyone want an online IP changer ?  The reality is that the internet of a decade ago was a very different place, and although the internet has expanded over the last few years, so to has the filtering and restrictions that are placed upon it.   Most of us probably realise that internet access in places like Iran and Turkey are not quite as open as in most of the European and North American democracies.  However consider also that German internet surfers for example are blocked from lots of YouTube music sites due to ongoing copyright discussions, or the fact that nobody can watch the wonderful Hulu website from outside the USA.

online ip changer

Everything we do online is increasingly being controlled based on this unique address, before you rush off onto the command prompt or the control panel to modify your address don’t waste your time – it won’t work.  Unfortunately the local IP address that we can change is pretty much irrelevant and has zero impact on your internet experience.   This is because it’s not visible to anyone else anyway so can’t be used to determine your location.  In reality millions of us share identical local addresses – the range of 192.168.1.xx is extremely common being the general default for most network devices to assign to connected devices.

Using an Online IP Changer

So if you can’t change your actual address, how do people bypass these blocks all the time and get a new IP now?  Perhaps more importantly how to change IP to different country to access all those blocked films and videos.   We’ve all seen the laptop streaming the BBC in Spanish airports, or watching a film on Hulu in a cafe in London – of course it’s possible.  Here’s a little demonstration of an online IP proxy changer in action –

So as you can see it’s perfectly possible to control your web browsing, not by changing your IP address but hiding the real one using some IP changer software. Which is why you need proxies, vpns and secure servers to act as an intermediary, to buffer your real location and identity from the websites that you visit.  If set up correctly and using very fast servers the process is almost seamless, the server receives your request and forwards it to the web site which replies based on the location of the server’s ip address not yours.   Expand this network to contain servers all across the world and theoretically you’ll never got blocked anywhere again.  So ever wondered how to change IP address to USA for Netflix well this is the answer.

It works well for 99% of websites out there, everything from Hulu to BBC can be access from anywhere using a well configured VPN server based in the relevant country.  There are as always exceptions though, some sites in the UK will block any IP ranges which are not from ISP’s and data warehouses.   One big Canadian TV site online – CTV, requires you input your Cable account number before accessing so just hiding your location isn’t enough.  These solutions currently work extremely well, however we’ll have to see how the filtering and blocking technology adapts over the years to come.  Fortunately most of the older companies have extremely advanced interfaces and extensive infrastructure meaning that they can adapt their IP address changer software as required.

Over the last few months of 2016, Netflix have developed a new system of blocking the use of online IP changers and VPNs. They are restricting access only to residential IP addresses, that is those assigned primarily to domestic connections from their Internet service providers. This has effectively blocked the vast majority of VPNs from being able to access Netflix. Fortunately some providers like Identity Cloaker have managed to incorporate these ‘residential IP addresses’ into their server infrastructure which means they are not blocked. Others will probably follow, however these IP addresses are in short supply and cost significantly more than commercial addresses so the costs may start to rise.

Further Reading on residential Ips.

Watching the Global News Live Over the Internet

One of the many wonderful things about the internet, is that it gives you the chance to really learn about what’s going on across the world.  Of course, in most democratic nations there are international stories and reports all the time, however these are always in the form of foreign reports and are often sporadic.  After all what’s a huge news story in North America may not even register in Europe and vice-versa, every time you watch a news story unfold on your domestic news service then you see but a single viewpoint.

Of course in some countries that’s better than others – many countries even supposedly democratic ones have a very biased and political news service.  It’s still a very important way of controlling information and political opinion, only the very strongest democracies have a very open news service.  Places like Russia and Turkey will pretend that there news reporting is completely impartial but there’s always Government pressure and control.  In my experience the European and US News services are generally pretty good although you have to be careful with which channel you’re watching there’s plenty of religious and political bias even in these countries.  In fact probably one of the most independent News services in the world is often accused of both ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ bias by viewers, although in my opinion it genuinely does try and stay away from any political leanings.

If you’re keen on watching the news from around the world, the BBC is certainly one that should be on your list – this video shows you how to watch the BBC News  live.

The reason that you can’t just watch the BBC from anywhere normally is because like most media services it’s restricted to the domestic market normally. This is presumably due to restrictions based on the license fee which everyone in the UK has to pay to own a TV set, which funds the BBC. However all commercial stations practice the same way with broadcasts only being allowed online for people in the home market. This is usually achieved by a process called geo-location which checks the location of your IP address when you access the site, so a UK IP address is needed for the BBC News and US one for Fox News and so on.

Which is why having some method of switching your IP address is so useful especially for those of us who like to watch the news and to be able to watch it reported from a different perspective. The program I use is called Identity Cloaker and it is the one used in the video above, it allows you to switch between proxies and is effectively a quick IP address changer. This means that from one console I have access to news channels from anywhere in the world, switching from European to North American or even Australian News stations with a simple click of the button.