Boosting your Online Security, 2020 Crash-course . Apps, Tools and Best Practices

Credits: Memories of Tomorrow by Tatsuro Kiuch

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2020

Wear sunscreen

I’ll just start with a musical reference right there. If you’re an 80s kid, that used to be lurking the night through your parents living room at 1 AM looking to be just a little of a rebel (or otherwise), while listing to VH1 in the background, you’ll get it.

 

For everyone else, behold the masterpiece:

You probably won’t mind me taking just a few moments of your life with this intro, worst case scenario, you’d be adding one to your playlist.

It’s a word spoken song relating to a famous essay- written by the Chicago Tribune columnist, Mary Schmich back in 1997.

The song was released 2 years later by Baz Luhrmann, filmmaker and producer of the acclaimed Moulin rouge (2001) and the Great Gatsby (2013) and consists of some good piece of life advice, while unwinding a filmstrip of retro advertisement(that somehow reminds me of the elevator scene of Vanilla Sky- did I say that out loud?It has a similar allure and nostalgia to it.).

Back to reality. The rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience ( and a collection of some serious online security experts, but no biggie). I will dispense this advice now:

2019 was ringing alarm bells in online security in a major way and judging by the status of the some of the biggest laws out there, the net neutrality repeal in the US and the copyright directive in the EU, there’s no telling how the whole Orwellian scenario ordeal will play out in 2020. Even with Trump’s impeachment on Wednesday, it’s still too soon to tell.

In the meantime, if I could offer you one tip for the future, a VPN would be it.

 However, there’s a whole list that I have piled up here, just for your peace of mind. (You are welcome!)

Want to know how to boost your online security and minimize your online footprint in 2020, at the end of this whimsical musical moment? then, keep on scrolling, here’s the crash-course on what you should pay attention to:

  1. Password Managers

1Password

Keeps all your passwords safe, all in one place.

1Password is described by its creators as a tool that “remembers all your passwords for you, and keeps them safe and secure behind the one password that only you know.[..] Just add your passwords and let 1Password do the rest.” You can use the tool to periodically re-new your passwords with new strong ones that lo and behold, you don’t have to remember.

Keeply

will store your data creating alternate passwords for different levels of access to your device.

  1. OS
  2. linux is by far one of the most secure operating systems out there,
  3. Browsers

Brave

Brave is the bold, fast-performing, privacy-oriented newcomer dressed in a minimalist attire. The browser updates every 8–9 weeks and it’s still working towards a version v1.0 for desktop. Brave offers a fairly customized browsing experience as it allows the user to remove selected data every time the user closes the app.

A default ad blocker and an HTTPS function allows its users to browse unencrypted sites more secure.

Mozilla Firefox

Owned by a nonprofit organization, Mozilla is the caliber alternative to Chrome, also harboring a more hyped, privacy-focused version: Quantum.

Mozilla is updated by volunteers with a 6 to 10 week frequency, making it a bit slower than the competition, but keeping an overall regularity to its updates.

Security features include malware protection, add-ons warnings, but perhaps the most important things is the fact that Firefox is open-source and ONG owned.

Tor Browser

Tor is probably the true rebel out of the bunch. Based on Firefox, Tor was designed to let users access the world wide web via the Tor network, encrypting traffic and bouncing your data across a network of relays composed of thousands of volunteered computers.

Following Firefox’s bug fixes, most Tor updates happen with a frequency of about 2 weeks. Browsing history of users is not tracked by Tor and cookies are cleared after each session. Add the no script policy and privacy features and you will get a pretty safe browsing experience, probably the safest.

Out of the bunch, Tor is the most secure web browser, for enhanced security and privacy you can always turn to a VPN. A good VPN will have its own servers and encryption protocols designed for it, reducing possible security failures to a minimum. Free VPN services are often an open door to malware and can be easily used by scammers.

  1. VPNs

MyIP.io

a reliable VPN service that keeps your data extra safe, traveling through a tunnel encrypted from end to end, so nobody, not even your ISP will be able to make sense of it, since all your information will go through the VPN server and not your ISP’s. You will also be able to bypass geo-restriction.

Having a robust VPN to encrypt your personal data is nowadays, the only way to Zion.

And as we’re not looking to exhaust the “hide everything I do” reasoning; we mainly believe that a VPN is not paramount to activity that borders on illegal, but the very symbol of your right to the privacy acumen. My IP.io stands for data security and flexibility in the professional VPN understanding.

Across the world, businesses use VPNs to connect to remote data centers, or for employees to connect remotely to the physical network of their workplace, while individuals can use VPNs to get access to network resources when they’re not physically on the same LAN (local area network), or as a method for securing and encrypting their information from the potential liabilities that lie ahead once exposed to unsecured networks such as public WiFis or hotspots.

Adding an extra hop to the route between your PC and sites like Facebook, your data location can be easily camouflaged.

  1. Messaging APPs:

Signal encrypted messaging and voice-calling similar with Telegraph or Wire.

  1. Ad Blocker

1Blocker

a native Safari content blocker entirely supported by its users. You’ll be able to block ads, ad networks, scripts designed to track your activity and many more. Just give it a spin!

I’ve started with the sunscreen song, for a reason. Notice how simple Schmick’s advice is? Could online security advice be just as simple? If you peel off the jargon, yes.

 

 

Alexa, we need to talk

Credits: Voice Day Campaign | NYT & Amazon Alexa T.S Abe

From bluetooth headphones to home assistants to activity trackers to pet feeders, today’s devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and portable. Created in close relation to the internet or entirely dependent on it, these sets of devices make up what we today call the internet of things. Based on an intricate system of interrelated computing devices, the internet of things operates (oh, well) in the all encompassing internet. Every such gadget in the chain, inside this ecosystem of devices is provided with an unique identifier (UID) and has the ability to transfer data over a network.

However plain and straightforward these facts are, we tend to dismiss or disregard them completely when it comes to our online privacy.

Take AI voice assistants like Alexa. Basically, a household consumer electronic that can make phone calls, read the news or tell you jokes. Apart from the mundane, Alexa can turn on lights or the heat, if connected to a wifi smart plug or the thermostat and can even lock the door. All through bluetooth.

Credits: Voice Day Campaign | NYT & Amazon Alexa T.S Abe

Voice requests to Alexa are feeding it’s speech recognition system and we’re not saying it shouldn’t. All that we ask here is caution and a proper understanding of how devices like Alexa work inside the broader topic of IoT( Internet of Things). And perhaps a VPN connection to encrypt your data.

The so-called Disappearing computer phenomenon, a historical time aiming to replace the actual interaction trough screens and keyboards with seamless, sensed interaction, unfolds before our very eyes. But as the Internet of Things evolves, so should our privacy awareness.

Recent DDoS attacks nowadays use household consumer electronic devices to access a wide variety of data. Hence, the liability.

What  today feels like an open, uncensored internet, may in a not so distant future evolve into a far-reaching, sensing, predictable internet. And it’s not just browsing histories, passwords or financial information that’s at stake, it’s planes, cars, homes and even pacemakers, that are now connected to the internet.

Apart from potential security breaches, understanding that algorithms curate the news we read or in severe cases decide what someone of our age/gender/status may be interested in or should be is just as important, when in comes to data security.

 

Road to Zion

As we arrive to a new age kicking and screaming all the way, we might even find our way to Zion. I somehow, take solace in that.

Until Zion, let’s take it each step at a time and see how the 2019 digital world looks like.

In the sharing, internet economy, data is the currency and sometimes even a political weapon to be reckoned with. In other words, data is today an informational, political and economic asset capable of traveling the speed of light in a vacuum, when going through state of the art optical fibers. Able to operate at 99.7% the speed of light according to researchers at the University of Southampton in England (source: Extreme Tech).

The digital world is now creating tangible value from big data so expect internet privacy to take an even more prominent route in the future (Ain’t no going back).

Nowadays, security must come in layers, not only in the corporate environment, but on a personal level also.

The number one thing you need to get in line with is having a VPN connection. It’s really simple to use and just like that poof! your data travels through an encrypted tunnel, safe from prying eyes and encrypted all the while.

It won’t save you from all the threats out there, but it will make you less vulnerable.

If all else fails, get a pigeon. Until then, stay smart.

VPN Server Count: Quantity Doesn’t Really Matter

Credits:Data Structures by Dimitris Ladopoulos

Most VPN providers will advertise the number of servers they have available starting with their homepage and will wear those figures like a badge of honor throughout their websites. In the following, I’ll show you why the server count might all be just a gas and why you should not let it influence your buying decision.

Not all servers were created equal

So, let’s talk about servers. They come in all shapes and sizes, while some are serving emails, others do videos or host web sites. In other words, they vary depending on the job they were designed to fulfill and naturally, so do their processors, memory or storage options. Having more servers doesn’t necessarily translate into having better speed, having the right kind of servers though, catering to the right kind of job, does.
For example, some servers were made for high performance applications, serving ever increasing numbers of users (scalability) and highly available or continuous applications, which in plain english means – applications that do not go down.  Other servers are serving web content or were made to VPN servers. Each has its own kind of processor, memory and storage.
Servers can also vary on location and age. A new generation server can be a completely different piece of machinery than an old one and when it comes to VPNs that can go both ways. Good and bad, the whole nine yards. And of course new doesn’t always equal better.  In fact, for VPN servers, more often than not older servers usually offer multiple CPUs and have more cores, a relative rare commodity in new generation servers.

 Uplinks 

Now that we know that internet connection is far more important than the server count, that’s when uplinks come into play.
Good connectivity is today an imperative and that’s why most servers ship 1Gb/s connections. To get the best of each server however, a VPN provider needs to have a pretty good uplink to the ISP.

What you can take away from this

A large server portfolio is usually perceived as better connectivity and an overall higher speed, when it comes to a VPN service. While the inclination to follow the above logic makes sense, connectivity and speed, particularly, doesn’t have much to do with the actual numbers of servers.

 

There’s a far more intricate story that dictates connectivity, going behind the scenes that can determine wether or not a VPN provider deserves the hype it gets, or more importantly, has the expected level of  performance. Server types, processors, memory, storage options and bandwidth are the actual forces that go into play.