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Archive for June, 2015

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Do I Really Need a VPN to be Safe Online?

You’ll get some very different answers depending on where you ask this question. If you happen to frequent security, technology or hacking groups or forums then there’s little point asking the question, the answer will be a resounding yes. On the hacking forums, there will be much ridicule too for even asking whether you need a VPN in the first place. The general opinion of the technically savvy would be firmly in the ‘yes’ camp.

Other’s are likely to see less of a need, many still believing the mantra – ‘I have nothing to hide’ so what’s the point. The problem is that anyone who uses the internet for any purpose almost certainly has something to hide – anything from their credits card numbers to a personal email address (which gives access to lots of other services). This of course, refers to the many internet baddies who are utilising the web to build huge criminal enterprises with all the cash of traditional activities but without the inherent risks.

The other aspect of the question is ‘who’ you’re thinking to be safe from. Almost all of us want to keep our details safe from the cyber crooks, but how many of us care that the authorities can see what we do online? Many people feel that the police and investigation services need access to our email and web histories in order to catch terrorists and criminals. Other’s think that it’s unacceptable to spy on an entire population in order to catch a few baddies.

First a video which reference the subject – Is VPN Safe?

Of course, it’s up to the individual to decide on the whether they do need to use a VPN. What is worth considering though is the plain facts of what happens when you use the internet without one.

  • The vast majority of your web activity happens in clear text (SSL excepted).
  • ISP Logs contain every web site we visit, everything we download and message we send.
  • Every web site you visit can record your identity.
  • When using an untrusted network anyone can steal any of your details used when online.
  • SSL is no protection on untrusted networks (simple MITM attacks)

For me ultimately, it’s the ease in which it’s possible to steal online without using some sort of encryption method.  The fact that it’s relatively simple to steal credentials that give access to email, online banking and paypal accounts and steal thousands makes me incredibly wary.   I suspect if many knew that this was technically possible they would also be equally as paranoid as the guys in the hacking groups.

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Why Should I Pay for a UK Proxy Service?

One things for sure, there’s lots of free stuff on the internet if you’re struggling for cash. If you have the time and inclination you probably don’t have to ever miss another blockbuster ever again without spending a penny on DVDs or cinema tickets. That’s not going to change in the near future unless the industry severely changes it’s business models. Of course, it can be incredibly time consuming and frustrating experience trying to download a film as more often you end up with a version filmed from the back of a cinema, muffled sound, dark images or my personal favorite where the last ten minutes seems to have disappeared.

There are dangers as well as frustrations too, over the years there have been more and more cases of people being heavily fined for downloading and watching copyrighted films. These are ordinary people who just download the odd movie, yet fail to realise that their identity is easily obtainable from their ISP.

However when you are assessing what free’ things are worth the risk on the internet -then beware something like a US or British proxies are most definitely not one of them. People insist on using these free proxies as opposed to buying an IP address, that are posted and harvested on the internet but it’s incredibly risky. For a start most of these servers are simply misconfigured, so technically using them without the owners permission constitutes a criminal act in many countries. However another large proportion are there simply to steal people’s personal information, hackers log and eavesdrop your internet connection looking for usernames and passwords.

This is an example of a paid UK proxy service which of course has the disadvantage of costing money. However in reality that’s unlikely to be the case, as it works well, is fast and can stream video with ease and it won’t put your personal details at risk.

Of course, whatever people say – many are hard coded into the ‘free’ search. However it’s worth stepping back and thinking sometimes about free proxies and VPNs. Even those that look legitimate like the browser add on Hola have to extract something from you in order to at least cover the costs. We all thought that Hola merely riddled your computer with adware and affiliate links but turns out it actually steals your bandwidth too by using your computer in a commercial botnet (it’s true check that link or Google).

The reality is that providing a proxy service costs a lot of money, the bandwidth costs, the support team have to be paid so why would anyone provide that for free? The answer is that they don’t, there is always a cost.

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Get a French IP Address -Change IP to France

There are quite a few very good media channels in France but unfortunately for many you’ll need to get a French IP address to watch them.   One of my favorites is called M6 Replay and I used to watch it with my son to help with his (and my French), simply because they’d dub a lot of popular US shows into French – so you could change IP to France and watch the Simpsons and pick up some new vocabulary.   However first we had to figure out how to access the programmes because if you tried to watch any of the shows from outside France then you’d get blocked just after the adverts.

The first important point is that the majority of internet filtering is usually based on your IP address.  This is the unique network number which is assigned to you whenever you connect to the internet, it can be assigned to a computer, tablet, smartphone or TV – if you’re online you have an IP address.  Furthermore all these addresses are assigned in blocks to different countries, here’s an idea of the numbers – IPv4 addresses by Countries.   The address you’re assigned will match the country you are in – connect from a French cafe Wifi, you will be assigned an IP address for France.

French IP address

So on to the filtering, remember any website can look up which country your address is assigned to.  You can’t stop this unless you happen to own an ISP and assign yourself a specific address.  Every big organisation, particularly media sites want to know exactly where you are connecting from and they do that from your IP address.  They want information about you, and classifying people by location/country is one of the easiest options.

The reason is that like all the internet’s big media sites, their content is normally restricted to the country of broadcast.  So M6 Replay was not available unless  you connected through a French ISP and had an IP address originating from France.  However fortunately you can change IP to France by by connecting first through a French proxy or VPN server.

How to Get a French IP Address

It sounds complicated but it really isn’t and if you use some simple software it’s just a matter of clicking a button or two.  There’s no real technical set up and once connected will browse from france.  Here’s how to use a French VPN service to do it –

It’s relatively easy to do and if you use the product demonstrated you can even disconnect after the show has started streaming because the check is only at the beginning. However if you restart or switch to another broadcast then the web site will check for that French IP address again, so often it’s easier to keep the connection on.   Remember your real address doesn’t change you are merely hiding it by routing all your traffic through an intermediate server.  Simply pick the country you need such as a French vpn server and you’ll have an IP address from that country – choose UK for watching the BBC online for example.

Remember though all your web experience will be affected by this address.  For example if you start Google with a French IP address you’ll be redirected to the Google.FR and will receive French based search results.   It’s not just the media sites which check your location the search engines do too, browse with French IP and you’ll be treated as a French web user.

The filtering practice is known as geo-targeting or geo-locking and it’s growing extensively. There aren’t many major sites which don’t check your location now and then customise what you can see (or more often not see) depending on that location. Sometimes this practice is  quite useful, for example – the search engines check your location too before listing results, to ensure your search results are localised.

Usually it’s done to block and filter access though, and big media sites like Netflix use it to lock you into a region specific version (usually with different prices). So if you start Netflix from the UK you’ll get a UK version, use a US IP address and you’ll see a USA version and so on.    Having control of your address means that you can bypass all these locks and filters, and there’s another benefit too.  Whilst the VPN france online connection is enabled, all your information is encrypted meaning that no-one has access to your personal data.  This is essential when using unfamiliar wifi connections, especially if you do things like online banking or checking your email.

Using a tool like Identity Cloaker you can actually get access to all versions just by switching your location. So if you want to access French Netflix simply route your connection through one of the French servers and your French IP address will allow you access.

You can unlock your internet access here – IDC France. for just a few Euros

 

 

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