A virtual private network (VPN) may confuse some people. At it's core, a VPN is a private network that is made available to authorized users from the internet. Examples of a private network would be the network at your work, at college, or government locations.

Those networks have internet access, but the internet does not have access to them, hence the term private network. The private network becomes virtual when you are able to access it from the internet. The internet still does not have access to the private network, but your computer does. As far as the private network is concerned, your computer connection is at work or school.

How does a It work?

When you connect to a VPN, you are connecting to a set of servers over the internet. This process is known as tunneling. Anything you do on the internet will go through these servers. All of this data is encrypted, which provides great privacy for you.

As far as your internet service provider knows, you're connecting to some IP address. They cannot see what the data is or anything.

Why Should You Use One?

The most important, and obvious, reason is security. As we stated above, all of your internet data is encrypted once you have created that tunnel. Hackers, for example, would not be able to intercept your internet browsing activity. Hackers will often attempt to do this when you use public WiFi in places like coffee shops and airports. If you make a purchase with your credit card on public WiFi, hackers could get a hold of your credit card number. This is why you should use a VPN.

A secondary benefit, which ties into security, is privacy. Because all traffic is encrypted, all data secure and private. What you search for, watch, read, or listen to is your own business. You ISP and hackers will not know what you are doing online.

VPNs will not, however, protect you from tracking by various website trackers, such as cookies.

VPN provides encryption to network traffic. It ensures the communication cannot be easily eavesdropped/tampered with by adversaries. It does not impact application features like cookies. So yes cookies can still be set on your browser if you are tunneled through VPN.

Ximning Ou from the University of Southern Florida

In order to prevent these tracking efforts, you can surf the web with your browser's incognito/private mode. Another option would be to install an extension that prevents this, like ghostery.

Another reason for using a VPN? Virtual locations. Many providers will have servers in multiple locations. This was an option many Netflix users chose to access content that was not available in their region. Just because content has a block in your country, does not mean it is in another country. All you need to do is tunnel into a VPN server in a country that does not have the block, and you will have access.

The same works in reverse too. For example, you're traveling out of the country but your bank blocks access to users outside of your homeland. You can use your VPN to tunnel to a server located back home to gain access.

On a side note, just because using VPN allows your to potentially bypass restrictions, do not forget you are still operating under your countries laws. VPNs will make you anonymous online, not invisible. If you start doing anything illegal or suspicious. Given enough time and resources, government agencies could, in theory, still find you.

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Choosing a Good VPN Provider

Today, there are tons of VPN providers to choose from. Some providers are great, some are not. Below are some things to consider when choosing a VPN provider:

  1. Security vs Cost
    • A general rule of thumb is that more security equals higher costs to the users. Most providers charging $4.99 to $12.99 a month will provide solid balance between cost and security. Stay away from free VPN providers, because they do not have your best interests in mind.
  2. Logging
    • Does the provider keep any logs of your activities? If yes, then this data could help identify you. If no, then you have an extra layer of anonymity while using their VPN service.
  3. IP Sharing
    • Does your VPN provider run multiple users through the same IP address or does each user get their own IP address? IP sharing provides extra protection to you the user. It is harder to identify you when your IP is not unique to you.
  4. Server Locations
    • Providers with more VPN server locations allow for more flexibility. This is especially true when you need to use a virtual location, as we mentioned above. Another benefit of more server locations is that you have more options to find the fastest connection in your area. More users connected to a server equals slower speeds.
  5. Multiple Device Support
    • There is a good chance that once you sign up for a VPN service, you will be using the service on multiple devices. Be sure to double check the device limit per account or service plan.
  6. IP Leaking
    • IP leaking occurs when your computer or device connects to the internet accidentally, instead of through the VPN service. VPN providers will not advertise this. While connected to your VPN provider's server, see if your actual IP address or your physical location shows up at IPLeak. If you see either of the two, you will want to invest in a different VPN provider.
  7. Software / Usability
    • For a lot of people, manually setting up a connection to a VPN provider is complicated. Many VPN providers minimize this with desktop software or mobile device apps that streamline the process for you. Is their application easy to use? Usability makes a huge difference in using a VPN service and ensure that you will want to still fork your money over each month for use.

What are the Drawbacks?

One of the biggest drawbacks is internet speed. Depending on the provider, you will see reduced internet speeds. Sometimes, the reduction is small, other times its large. It all depends on the number of users connected to the same server as you, the location of the server, and the providers setup. Longer distances between you and your VPN server means longer distances for data to travel in order to reach to the internet.

A secondary, and minor, issue is that when you use a VPN as a virtual location, you can see some issues while shopping. Say you live in the US, but have a connection through a tunnel in the UK. While shopping online, your pricing may show in pounds instead of US dollars. The simple solution is to use a server in your country while shopping online.

Final Thoughts

Using a VPN is becoming more of a necessity each day. The krack attack has proven that access to home WiFi traffic can occur. Connecting to a VPN service protects you from this vulnerability. Ensuring you have a good VPN provider will help ensure you are better protected.

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cloudflareDNS2018

Nearly everything on the Internet starts with a DNS request. DNS is the Internet’s directory. Click on a link, open an app, send an email and the first thing your device does is ask the directory: Where can I find this?

Unfortunately, by default, DNS is usually slow and insecure. Your ISP, and anyone else listening in on the Internet, can see every site you visit and every app you use — even if their content is encrypted. Creepily, some DNS providers sell data about your Internet activity or use it target you with ads.

- Cloudflare

On April Fool's Day of 2018 Cloudflare announced their brand-new DNS service. The statement above explains the importance of having a good DNS service. Not all DNS providers are created equal. Cloudflare's DNS service is almost 20ms faster than Google's DNS service. We here at QCTechJunkie have updated all of our devices to use Cloudflare over Google. And there is no real reason why you should not at least try Cloudflare's DNS yourself.

One reason to use Cloudflare's DNS, over the one your ISP probably has you using, is for data privacy. According to Cloudflare:

We will never log your IP address (the way other companies identify you). And we’re not just saying that. We’ve retained KPMG to audit our systems annually to ensure that we’re doing what we say.

Frankly, we don’t want to know what you do on the Internet—it’s none of our business—and we’ve taken the technical steps to ensure we can’t.

Setup Cloudflare’s DNS

Setup is easy, as long as you know where to look. In fact Cloudflare will recognize the device you are on when you go to https://1.1.1.1/. From there they will provide you with basic instructions to setup up your device to use their service. But, why do that when we will cover the major four platforms for you right here:

Windows

  1. Click on the Start menu, then click on Control Panel.
  2. Click on Network and Internet.
  3. Click on Change Adapter Settings.
  4. Right click on the Wi-Fi network you are connected to, then click Properties.
  5. Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (or Version 6 if desired).
  6. Click Properties.
  7. Write down any existing DNS server entries for future reference.
  8. Click Use The Following DNS Server Addresses.
  9. Replace those addresses with the 1.1.1.1 DNS addresses:
    • For IPv4: 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1
    • For IPv6: 2606:4700:4700::1111 and 2606:4700:4700::1001
  10. Click OK, then Close.
  11. Restart your browser.

MacOS

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Search for DNS Servers and select it from the dropdown.
  3. Click the + button to add a DNS Server and enter 1.1.1.1
  4. Click + again and enter 1.0.0.1 (This is for redundancy.)
  5. Click + again and enter 2606:4700:4700::1111 (This is for redundancy.)
  6. Click + again and enter 2606:4700:4700::1001 (This is for redundancy.)
  7. Click Ok, then click Apply.

Android

  1. From your Android’s app list, open the Settings app.
  2. Under the Wireless & networks section, tap Wi-Fi,
  3. Long press your preferred network in the list until a context menu appears.
  4. Tap the Modify network, then tap Advanced options.
  5. Tap Advanced options, then tap IP Settings.
  6. Change Dynamic to Static.
  7. Using your router’s configuration, enter your device’s IP address and gateway.
  8. Tap the DNS field, then erase the number in the field.
  9. In the DNS 1 field, enter 1.1.1.1
  10. In the DNS 2 field, enter 1.0.0.1 (This is for redundancy.)
  11. Tap Save.

iPhone

  1. From your iPhone’s home screen, open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Wi-Fi, then tap your preferred network in the list.
  3. Tap Configure DNS, then tap Manual.
  4. If there are any existing entries, tap the - button, and Deletenext to each one.
  5. Tap the + Add Server button, then type 1.1.1.1
  6. Tap the + Add Server button again, then type 1.0.0.1. This is for redundancy.
  7. Tap the + Add Server button again, then type 2606:4700:4700::1111. This is for redundancy.
  8. Tap the + Add Server button again, then type 2606:4700:4700::1001. This is for redundancy.
  9. Tap the Save button on the top right.

Home Setup

If you want to make things easier for all your devices on your home network, you can configure your router to use Cloudflare's DNS. Doing this will eliminate the need to configure each device on your home network. Below is the general setup for most routers:

  1. Connect to your preferred wireless network.
  2. Enter your router’s gateway IP address in your browser.
  3. If prompted, fill in your username and password. This information may be labeled on the router. Default username and passwords can be found here.
  4. In your router’s configuration page, locate the DNS server settings.
  5. Write down any existing DNS server entries for future reference.
  6. Replace those addresses with the 1.1.1.1 DNS addresses:
    • For IPv4: 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1
    • For IPv6: 2606:4700:4700::1111 and 2606:4700:4700::1001
  7. Save your settings, then restart your browser.

Note: Configurations for your router maybe different, consult your routers owners manual for more information.

In today's world, you can post content online and within seconds millions of potential users can see your post. If you are posting a photo online, like a social media account, you may not 100% own that photo. Many social media websites have terms and conditions, that a lot of people do not necessarily read. When you create your account, you may be agreeing to handing over the rights of that photo or video. Here is a refresher on copyrights for the internet and how your ownership changes with social networks.

Copyright and the Web

In simple terms when you create something, a song, painting, video, etc, you are the copyright owner. This happens automatically, without the need to fill out forms or make any claims. If you believe what you create has potential to make millions, then you will want obtain some documentation to prove you are the creator of said work. This also applies to stuff you post on the web.

According to the US Copyright Office:

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. 

Copyright does not protect:

In short, if you have a revolutionary idea, seek legal counsel before you start talking and posting online about it.

One loop hole with copyright is fair use. Fair use allows others to use copyrighted material in certain cases, like:

Fair use a huge grey area, something we will not dive into any further for this article. The point of this article is to provide you with a low level understanding of who owns the content you are posting online. Now that you know the basics, lets look at how terms and conditions can modify those basics on certain platforms.

The Terms and Conditions of Social Media

Thanks to the terms and conditions, once you upload those photos to the Facebook servers, you have given them a license to reuse those photos however they like. You will not earn any money from that license. The same is true for the majority of all social network. Below are some word heavy excepts from the terms and conditions of various platforms:

As you can see, the terms are all about the same. They are also vague purposefully. Being vague gives Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook substantially more legal grey areas to work with. At the same time, that large grey area allows retweets to occur on Twitter, or Facebook to post photos to a persons news feed, and your photo showing up in a hashtag search. And these companies can do so without the need to pay you or the worry of copyright infringement.

We will stress that those terms do not negate your copyright to your photos, or videos, or etc. If a photo you post on Instagram shows up on a website, and you did not grant permission to, then you can pursue legal actions. Now remember, most social platforms's privacy policies promise to not allow your content to be seen by anyone, unless you grant that person permission.

It is worth noting that if you connect a platform to another website or service, there is a separate terms and conditions clause you will be agreeing to. The important thing to remember is that most will still state you keep the copyright to your content. The only way you lose your copyright is through licensing like Creative Commons 0

How Content You Post Can Be Used

Services like IFTTT are able to do things like copy tagged Facebook photos to Twitter because of the terms and conditions you grant to Facebook, IFTTT, and Twitter. Many third party companies will use the API's for a social platform to provide you with expanded features. The problem is figuring out the licensing and sub-licensing of your content to third party platforms. In fact some of these companies are not as ethical with your data as you would like them to be.

In theory, big platforms can potentially license your content to other platforms, for free. They have not done that yet and probably will not. The privacy policies put in place by these platforms helps protect your photos from being sub-licensed out to stock photo services and such.

In the end, we are all trusting these platforms with our data and the safety of that data. The copyright for your content always belong to you, but we all agreed these platforms can more or less do whatever they want with that content. And those terms and conditions can change, sometimes without the need of any legal notice.

How to Protect Your Content

Going through every platform available on the web would be an exhausting read. The best advice we can provide is to read the terms and conditions for any website or service you sign up for. Pay attention to the areas that talk about the licensing and sub-licensing you are granting the service. If there is something you do not want being shared, it is best to keep it offline. Or you could create your own service to host that content, but that is a whole other article.

Only use a service who's terms and conditions you are comfortable with. Some services will not sub-license out your content, like Yahoo's Flickr. Another services, Medium, has a clear clause on your content. Your content is only available for display on Medium's website. There are no sub-licensing issues, unless your choose to publich your work under any of the Creative Commons rules.

In the end, you own your content. And you need to be mindful of the licenses you grant to platforms and services on the internet.

On June 11, 2018 the net neutrality laws repeal went into effect by the Federal Communications Commission. This will now give internet providers, like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T free reign to throttle speeds and block websites as they see fit. This also allows them to create internet fast lanes.

A lot of people still do not understand net neutrality. Why it is important? Here the key points you need to 10understand.

1. The Internet Could Become Like Cable TV

This is the easiest way to explain net neutrality. If you have had cable TV, then you understand that many cable providers will force you to pay extra for hundreds of channels you do not want, just so you can have HBO or Starz or some premium sport channel.

Internet services providers can now adopt a similar business model. Providers can now block Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Instagram, etc. if they like. You want access to those services? Then you need to pay for an internet package that includes those services. For example:

Note: Packages only allow customer to reach services. Customer still needs paid subscription to access the service, if applicable. 

2. The Internet is a necessity, like electricity and water.

You might not physically need the internet to survive, but for most of us it’s become an absolute necessity. We rely on the internet for work, to communicate with family and friends, and to organize our lives.

Just like electricity, natural gas, sewage and water, the internet has become an necessity in everyday life. Companies and people rely on the internet for communications, organizations, automation, and work.

Internet services providers, the majority of them, are companies that care about profits, not you. Everyone has the basic right to water, electricity, and natural gas at their homes. Because of this there are regulations for the  price of those utilities. Given the importance of the internet, it has become a utility as well, shouldn't it be regulated like the rest of our utilities? Control should not be with companies that are more concerned about their profit margins.

3. Protections from Online Censorship

The one key point of net neutrality is that it stopped internet providers from blocking websites the provider disagreed with. Since the repeal of net neutrality, internet providers can censor anything on the internet they like.

When censorship is in place, this can slow innovation. AT&T had Apple blocking VOIP services because they did not want users using more data to make phone calls customer otherwise could not make, like international calls. Internet providers could also censor websites that compete with any of the media properties they own. Or they could censor websites that review their service poorly.

4. Internet Investments increased since 2015's Net Neutrality Laws

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai makes statements all the time that the 2015 Net Neutrality laws stifle innovation and made it hard for companies to invest in their internet infrastructure. The FCC's repeal is in direct response to those statements.

Here's the problem with Ajit's statements, Free Press had reported that investments for internet infrastructure have indeed increased since 2015. The report shows that internet services providers had spent more money expanding their networks since the Net Neutrality laws than any of the years prior to those laws. Even the majority of internet providers saw their revenues increase, outpacing the U.S. economy revenue growth rate.

The point is Ajut's statements are flat out lies. The net neutrality laws gave internet providers clear standards they needed to meet.

5. Net Neutrality Did Not Start With Obama

Obama may have been president with the 2015 net neutrality laws were passed. Net Neutrality practices and laws started development back in 2003. An example of this was when rural phone company made an attempt to block customers from using Vonage to make phone calls. This company received a fine from the FCC for anti-competitive behavior.

It's because of this that Ajit Pai and Donald Trump are not destroying something Obama did, but something that has been growing, for over a decade, into the free and open internet we all rely on.

As many smartphone users are becoming aware, their phone number and location is not private when they use their phone to surf the internet. All of their data is mined and can be sold thanks to their mobile advertising id (MAID). It only costs $1,000 to track someone online, according to Wired’s Andy Greenberg. In a nutshell, when you visit a website via your smartphone, both the website and the advertisers on the site have access to your phone's IP address and advertising ID. Your telecom assigns your phone an IP address, since they needs to bill you for data use. Because of this, that IP address is also tired to your billing information. And now your telecom sells your information to third party companies. Those companies allow websites and applications to take your phone's IP address and lookup all of your information on those third party resources. So, a website or application can figure out your phone number, home address, email, and phone location.

The short a simple solution... change your phone's IP address with a VPN with a services, such as Private Internet Access.

Some History

Some people may remember that Verizon was stopped by the FCC from using super cookie's. Super Cookie's allowed websites similar tracking features the mobile advertising id. Even though the FCC stopped what Verizon was doing, most telecoms figured out that they already were tracking their users with the IP addresses the assign. And since telecoms have the ability to sell your billing information to advertisers, there is no need for a super cookie. Just dump customer data to a data base, and let advertisers run a search on that data for all the data that matches your IP address. And this is not just something that Americans have to worry about, all customers globally have to worry about this.

"How did you get my number?"

Many people are finally starting to understand the sacrifices we make and privacy we give up when we use smartphones. The FCC is supposed to have our back, but we know that's not really the case anymore. But, like I said, many people are starting to connect the dots on their own, about why we get more spam phone calls. One Redditor commented:

“Sprint does it too. Source: I started getting random phone calls from random ass places once I got with sprint.”

Another Redditor had the same issue on another telecom’s service:

“I was with T-Mobile for years and would get 1-2 calls a month from scammers. I switched to Verizon and got them daily. Sometimes multiple times a day. I called Verizon only to have them try and sell me a call blocker service for $4.99/Mo. I downloaded a free can blocker app and have blocked 100+ numbers in 8 months…”

Like I have said before, the easy solution is to change your IP address and browse the web securely to protect your privacy. VPN's allow you to do that. But, it comes at the cost of slower speeds. Until there is legislation that fixes all of these privacy issues, like making everything opt-in, and fines perpetrators, your data and privacy are always at risk. An no, using WIFI is not a good alternative anymore, especially since there is the WPA2 KRACK.


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