Have you ever wondered what is the extent of your digital identity and if you can control it? Mostly people completely underestimate the scale of their digital imprint and imagine they have some control over it. Firstly they imagine that if you delete or remove something about you online that it’s then gone, unfortunately that it is rarely the case.
The problem with this concept is that there’s rarely a single location where you can delete information. If you send an email, it will transfer from your client through your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and then routed through a variety of shared hardware, servers, routers and switches until it reaches it’s destination. At any point the data can be logged, recorded or copied so that email doesn’t only exist on the senders and recipients computers but potentially in many other places too. Effectively you would have to delete every single copy wherever they may be.
It’s the same with anonymity, it’s reassuring to think that what you do on your computer is completely private but it’s simply untrue. Most data sent from your computer shares some important properties which make anonymity online difficult –
- It’s traceable back to your computer and location via your IP address.
- Most of the data is in clear text and easily readable.
- It’s transported via other people’s hardware.
In many ways using and communicating via the internet is like sending a postcard through the mail – everyone who comes across it can read it (and copy it if they so wished). Understanding this makes at least possible to increase your level of privacy online.
There are of course a whole host of tools which can help reduce the risk however one of the most essential is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Although a VPN doesn’t guarantee complete anonymity it’s without doubt the biggest single step you can take to protect your data online. So it makes sense to find and purchase the best VPN for anonymity you can find.
The crucial protections that a VPN gives you are many, but these are probably the highlights:
- Encrypts all your data being transmitted which means although it can still be intercepted, none of the content is readable.
- Stops your internet activity being logged at your ISP. Without a VPN every website you visit, every file you download or video you watch is recorded and logged at your ISP.
- Stops websites you visit from recording your address and location.
There are other areas you would need to protect of course to minimize your digital footprint but most are irrelevant unless you use something to protect the internet connection you use. Make sure you use a VPN that is run by a company who take security seriously.
The best VPN for anonymity is one where security is paramount and under no account will they log any of your data, at the moment the best legal protection comes from European privacy legislation so it’s worth considering companies based there. It’s tempting to pick a more obscure location, but if you start routing your connection through something like a Russian or Indian proxy make sure you know them well as there’s likely to be little legislation protecting your rights and their conduct.
Our recommendation for the most secure service and the best VPN for anonymity would be ..
There’s little doubt that ransomware is becoming the hottest cyber crime at the moment. The concept is quite old, yet the increasing reports of ransom payments being made suggests that the tactic is becoming much more effective.
The latest report comes from the US, where the Los Angeles Community College District has reportedly paid a ransom demand of $28000 to some crooks who had infected their network with ransomware. The attack took place at the end of December, seemingly timed to coincide with the start of the new term. We’ve not been told the type of ransomware but the attack followed a familiar pattern – an initial infection then spread using the internal network encrypting key files as it went.
They then received the demand, they were given one week to pay the ransom in order to access their files. The college decided to pay for a variety of reasons. Obviously the driving force was recovering their files, however the college also had invested in an insurance policy which covered these situations. Cyber security experts and law enforcement agents advised that paying the ransom offered a good chance of recovering their data. So the ransom was paid anroney but it is not an exorbitant amount. The cost compared to the value of the data to the organisation is worth paying. The cyber criminals have also learned that it is important to actually provide the decryption key when they are paid. Earlier extortion attempts would simply disappear, which made paying the ransom of little benefit to organisations, by keeping their word more victims are taking the risk.
Of course, the crazy situation is that if organisations simply invested in a decent back up system and some sort of disaster recovery plan then this sort of attack would be ineffective. It’s not hard to infect a poorly protected network, it only needs one avenue of attack – a clicked spear phishing email or infected memory stick left around and the ransomware can spread across the network.
The vast majority of organisations which are being targeted seem to be those who are potentially more vulnerable. Hospitals and educational establishments often have large networks with many users. They also often have under-resourced IT departments who don’t always follow security best practices. It is easy to defeat this particular form of attack but it involves investing in IT infrastructure and the relevant staff until organisations start doing this instead of paying ransoms expect these attacks to escalate.
It’s been a few months now since Netflix instigated it’s comprehensive and extremely effective VPN and Smart DNS block. Overnight literally millions of people found that they were blocked from accessing their Netflix version of choice as suddenly their DNS or VPN solutions simply stopped working. When they connected to Netflix by using one of these methods instead of being redirected to their selected version as soon as a movie or video was played – this was the message most users received:
Most people used these solutions to access different versions of Netflix, generally the US, UK or Canadian versions simply because they are much bigger and better. The US version of Netflix for example has thousands more movies and TV shows than some of the smaller countries have access to, despite the subscription cost being fairly standard across the world. For expats or travellers this was even more inconvenient as their US Netflix subscription suddenly was inaccessible and they were redirected to whatever the local version happened to be.
It looked like the media giant had won and the internet got a little bit smaller again. However there is hope, we’ve already written on these pages about one residential VPN system which now works after some serious upgrade work. Now there is a Smart DNS solution too, implemented by the company . . I believe it is the only US DNS Netflix based system which currently works with Netflix and it works very well indeed.
Smart DNS systems are actually preferred by many users because they don’t require any software and you can install them on all sorts of devices. They work by only redirecting part of your internet connection and only when you’re using a region blocking media site like Netflix. All you need to do is to use the Unblock-US DNS servers instead of your normal ones. They’ll work normally until you visit a website like Netflix at which point you’ll be redirected through a server in the country you have specified.
Here’s the screen where you specify which country to be routed through. In this example I’ve chosen Canada as Canadian Netflix has some great shows not available on any other Netflix regions, although I usually leave this set to US Netflix. If you’ve changed your DNS settings, that’s all you need to do – simply specify which region you wish to use. You can use this on virtually any device as long as you are able to access the DNS server settings – including phones, smart TVs, media streamers and games consoles.
You still need a valid Netflix subscription of course, but it effectively gives you access to any version of Netflix instantly from anywhere in the world.
However don’t take my word for it, simply click here – . and try it for yourself. Remember all you need to do is to change your DNS server address and select your Netflix Region and that’s it.
When you join a swarm of people happily downloading the latest blockbuster or best selling album, it’s kind of easy to feel pretty safe. After all you’re hiding behind a piece of software built for anonymous torrenting, right? Well no that’s wrong and for the clue you only have to take a little look in the menu of most torrenting software – here’s a useful screenshot to illustrate the point.
See those details? Those are the IP addresses of your fellow down-loaders, their location and which client they’re using. So if you’re downloading a pirated version of some movie – you can see everyone else who is downloading that movie too. Is it a big deal? After all you’re not likely to use that information as you’re doing the same thing so do you need anonymity? Well imagine that information is available to any legal or copyright holder simply by attaching themselves to the download.
What they can produce in seconds without any skill or knowledge is a huge list of IP addresses who are infringing the copyright on a particular download. Worse, those addresses can easily be turned into real names, addresses and phone numbers with a letter or legal notice to your ISP. It’s worth thinking about that sitting in your ISP is a log with full details of everything you’ve downloaded via torrents for anyone to see, the logs are usually kept for up to two years although that varies on local laws. The name that will be associated with the download will be whoever pays the bill for the ISP – makes you think doesn’t it.
So what’s the risk, well there is a financial cost if you get caught often set at a low cost per infringement – but $20 per download can get expensive if you get caught for 20 songs or movies. What’s worse it can rise to thousands if they decide to make an example by taking legal action. It can also be kind of embarrassing to being prosecuted if your downloads are of the adult entertainment variety, especially worrying if your parents or wife pays the bill!
The risks are so extensive and the likelihood of getting caught so significant that maintaining your anonymity whilst downloading torrents is not just advisable but arguably essential.
Methods of Anonymous Torrenting
There are a few options, some much more technical than others. The free methods using online anonymous proxies or things like Tor are covered online but involve some technical skill and lots of patience as your download speeds will plummet. They’re covered extensively online but make sure you check you have implemented them correctly, it’s very simple to think you’re using an anonymous proxy but you’re really not!
Safety and speed really relies on using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider to both encrypt your download and shield your IP address from any prying eyes. The best VPN for torrenting depends on a variety of reasons including speed and security. Most of these are pretty easy to use, simply click a button to connect then start your torrent client and everything should be protected.
There are some important caveats though:
- The IP address of the VPN provider will appear associated with the torrent so any DCMA notice could be forwarded to them (with a request for your identity) – make sure that your VPN provider doesn’t comply with these or better still doesn’t log any data which means they can’t identify you. There are a few providers who do this.
- Use only a professional service. A badly set up VPN connection simply won’t hide your identity and worse will make you look more guilty, choose an established provider who knows what they’re doing.
- Torrents devour bandwidth – make sure your VPN provider allows this, many don’t.
It’s not complicated to keep your torrenting anonymous but it doesn’t happen without action. Sitting and downloading torrents in the clear has a real chance of getting you into real legal problems. Even if it’s just a $150 DCMA infraction notice, is it worth the hassle. If you do want to take the risk use an random, anonymous internet connection from a cafe or hotel. Also it’s well worth avoiding downloading the latest blockbuster as these high profile films are often monitored and people downloading aggressively prosecuted.
Try IPVanish for the best VPN for torrenting, they don’t log, allow torrent services and you can even pay in bitcoins if you’re really cautious.
For many years there has been a sort of techno battle going on between the big multimedia giants like HBO, HULU, BBC and Netflix and the proxy/VPN providers. Why? Well the answer is simple, most of these media companies deliver their content over the internet but need to control where it can be accessed – sometimes due to copyright issues or simply as a profit maximisation technique. Using a VPN service bypasses these blocks and allows access to any content irrespective of your location
Hence the battle with the media companies trying to block access from these services whenever they can mostly with limited success. The problem is simply the scale, there are so many of these services being used any attempt to manually block IP ranges simply results in a temporary block as new addresses are reassigned. The previous tactics were too simply manually identify IP address ranges being used by these services either through firewall and server logs, plus simply using them – which is why the bigger, more high profile VPN services got hit hardest at least initially. It was fairly simple to switch addresses through the VPN servers though and it became a never ending game of catch up.
Until Netflix decided on another tactic, which although fairly simple has proved devastatingly effective. What they’ve done is to block based on another classification of the IP addresses we all use – commercial or residential. They have blocked any commercial IP address from accessing the service so blocking out virtually every VPN service. Unfortunately for the VPN providers it’s not easy to switch to residential IP addresses as they are hard to source outside standard ISPs. Although in this video – Netflix Blocks VPN you can see that some have found a way.
The program in this video is called Identity Cloaker and it has updated it’s infrastructure to cope with these issues. What happens is that when the software detects a request for the Netflix website it then redirects to a server with a residential IP address. This means that these servers can be limited and the company can provide a residential VPN service but only when specifically required. Most companies won’t be able to do this though, because these addresses are very difficult to obtain, one things for sure the days of using a proxy for Netflix are long gone!
It’s unclear whether other of the media giants will adopt hit approach, although it seems an effective way of enforcing region locking quite cheaply. There are some problems in that many people have to use VPNs for security reasons, and also it will make accessing Netflix at work difficult as corporate networks will mostly be classified as commercial IP ranges.
The war waged on VPN service by the media companies has been going on for many years but it’s lately developed a new twist. Virtual Private Networks are used by millions of people to bypass internet filters, censorship and region locking. The latter term refers to the practice of restricting access based on your location, usually to due with some sort of licensing restrictions. It’s very common and for anyone who travels a lot or lives abroad can be a real problem.
For example a US citizen spending some time in Europe will get barred from accessing all their home media services – their Hulu and HBO accounts for example will not be accessible. This is because they won’t have a US IP address and will ultimately only have access to media resources in the country they are located in. Even more global service like Netflix will redirect you to a localized version which can be a problem if you don’t speak that language well. So VPN services have been extremely popular as they stop this sort of filtering, you simply connect to a VPN in the country you wish to access and everything should work fine, so you can choose which is the best VPN for Netflix for instance.
Blocking these services is actually very difficult, simply because the actual VPN connection is very difficult to identify. The method usually applied is to try and monitor simultaneous connections from the same IP address or manually locate the addresses of these service providers and add them to a black list. Both work but are extremely time intensive to operate and the reality is that the IP addresses can be rotated very quickly anyway.
However Netflix has moved the battle significantly with it’s latest blocking move, by restricting access to specific categories of IP address. The media giant has blocked access to it’s servers from any commercial based IP address, and given that 99% of VPN servers sit in data centers with commercial addresses this move has wiped out the majority of VPN access to Netflix.
The fight has moved on however and other companies are now expanding to offer different VPN services which are assigned residential classified IP addresses rather than commercial ones. These can be more expensive but are currently the only way you can access Netflix servers by using a VPN to hide your real IP address. It’s too soon to be certain whether this will become more widespread, although it does seem to be the simplest way to enforce region locks.
Whether all companies are going to be able to provide the sort of residential VPN that is needed to bypass these blocks remains to be seen. At the moment these domestic classified addresses are hard to get hold of for anyone who isn’t an ISP – some companies like Identity Cloaker have incorporated them but they are the exception at the moment.