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Upgrading your VPN Security

Many people use both proxies and VPNs for security reasons, in fact you’re unlikely to be able to connect to most corporate networks remotely without using one.  However for those who are really concerned with security and privacy there is one small drawback about using a commercial proxy or VPN – the fact that you need to redirect your connection through a single point.

Think about it, without using a VPN then there’s only one common point and that’s through your ISPs gateway, and although a VPN will prevent them keeping detailed log – you are still introducing another bottleneck.   A configured proxy or VPN can add to security but it also introduces a single location for your records.

Although if you use something like Identity Cloaker, they delete all logs anyway, for some this is slightly disconcerting.  Fortunately Identity Cloaker and a couple of the other VPN companies have a system to allow you to rectify this – here’s the details in this video – Is VPN safe.

What the system does is to automatically switch your connection between random servers every few minutes. So you could browse through a huge number of different servers automatically, basically relaying your internet connection through different countries on autopilot.

The implications are :

  • Makes it less visible that you are using a remote proxy/vpn, simply because all your traffic won’t be being routed through a single IP address.
  • Reduces the risk of data or activity being logged on a single server.
  • Increases the security of your internet connection substantially.

The downsides are obviously the interruptions in your connection as one VPN connection is disconnected and another established which is obviously something you must consider.  IN mitigation of these delays you could restrict the switching between fast servers near to you or servers in a specific country.

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Creating a Network Wide VPN for all Your Devices

Setting up a vpn on a computer is a fairly straight forward task, simply install the software and then connect to the server and that’s about it. However increasingly people are using a whole host of other devices to connect to the internet, so how can you get them to use a VPN.

For example I stream media on several devices at home, a Roku, a Wii U, Samsung Smart TV and a media streamer from BT running BT View. Although on a couple of these you can access the network settings, there’s no real way to connect to a VPN. You can control basic networking details like IP address (although not directly on the Roku), but to allow authentication to a VPN is pretty difficult without hacking these devices.

So if you want to watch the US version of Netflix on your Roku from the UK or BBC iPLayer on a Wii U from the US then  what are your options? Well you can try a Smart DNS service, although this seems to becoming rather unreliable and at this moment is probably best avoiding. Or you can find some way to set up the best UK VPN that effects all these devices at once. The secret is to look one step away from these devices and set up the VPN on your router, which is actually much easier to do than you would expect.

The first requirement though is a decent modem or router which supports VPN functionality. More specifically you need it to support a client VPN connection, which most modern routers do – although many ISPs supply cut down or restricted routers with this functionality blocked. Here’s the page I set up on my ASUS router –

enablevpn

This is the ASUS AC68U, although most of the ASUS range support client VPNs including the basic models. It’s important to stress that you need the ‘client VPN’ mode as almost all support a VPN mode for incoming connections. What we need to do is to make a VPN connection out from our router to a VPN server in the correct country.  You’ll need the address of the relevant VPN server, then the username and password to authenticate.  If the servers are configured to allow this access you should be able to get the details you need from your VPN service provider.

As you can see from my setup, I commonly use two VPNs one to the USA and one to Canada. When I enable this VPN every device on my network is routed through the respective VPN server.

So to clarify –

When my US VPN is enabled my Smart TV, Tablets, computers, media streamers effectively all have a US IP address.

Which means they’ll all connect to the US version of Netflix, all will be able to access Hulu, ABC and HBO too.  It’s not perfect of course, this method effects everything so there has to some sort of consensus when I enable them.  For example when the US VPN is enabled then nobody will be able to access BBC iPlayer as we’ll all appear to be from the US.

It’s also important that this VPN is fast because everything is routed through this single tunnel, Identity Cloaker’s servers are all very fast so it’s not an issue with them but many VPN services can be extremely slow.

It’s a simple way to effectively enable a VPN on devices like Smart TVs easily, and it’s also quick to enable and disable them if your router has a Web interface which you can access.

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Proxies for Changing Identities

For many people who use proxies for privacy reasons, their location is largely irrelevant.  Obviously they need to be fast and accessible, so countries with poor internet infrastructure are not usually an option.  For people who want to keep their connections as private as possible, the local laws are obviously an issue to.    Generally places like Europe have mature and comprehensive privacy laws which mean  that any data stored on servers is also protected.    Other countries have little legislation and protection, which means that any logs or other data can be easily accessed.

However many of the people who use proxies and VPNs, simply don’t care about these issues – they simply use proxies to change their identity.  A few years ago, everyone was treated pretty much the same when online.  It didn’t matter if you were surfing the web from Cairo, New York, Tehran or Berlin – the experience was identical.  This is no longer the case, for a variety of reasons your internet experience is heavily dependent on your physical location.

Take for example, that I send you a link to the latest BBC nature documentary which is streaming on BBC iPlayer.  I am based in London and the programme works perfectly for me, however if you happened to open the link whilst in a different country – it wouldn’t work.  This is because the BBC iPlayer application, arguably the greatest media website on the planet only works from a UK IP address.    You can’t access it from any other country, without changing your identity.   This video explains how it’s done – or watch this –

This is of course not an isolated example, in fact all the online UK TV stations are only accessible when used from the UK or using a British proxy.

This situation happens everywhere, all the US media sites do the same – you can’t access HBO, ABC, NBC or Hulu from outside the USA. French TV channels block non-French traffic, and the Germans do the same with their TV stations. Then you get big social sites like YouTube with hundreds of thousands of videos locked to specific countries too.

These are blocked for commercial reasons, either because of licensing issues for the content or simply so they can be sold in other countries perhaps as DVDs or CDs. But these restrictions don’t stop there, because along with commercial interests, there’s also a whole host of Governments and agencies actively blocking websites for political and social reasons. Increasingly countries are blocking access to content they feel is inappropriate for their citizens.

Of course this varies widely depending on the regime that is in charge. The Chinese block millions of sites for example, whereas some countries only block a handful. The trend though is that filtering and controlling access to the web is increasing globally irrespective or where you live. Just like monitoring in the name of fighting cyber crime and terrorism is also increasing too.

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Why Can You Never find Working Anonymous Proxies

I get asked this quite a lot, but my answer is quite simply – it’s easy of course you can find working anonymous proxies they are everywhere ! But there is a single word missing here, a subtext to the question and that word is ‘free’

Free Working Anonymous Proxies

Now this is altogether a slightly different problem, the reason of course it’s so difficult is cost. Running a free anonymous proxy for everyone who wants, privacy, anonymity or simply to bypass restrictions based on their local firewalls and proxies – costs an awful lot of money. As anyone who has run a heavy bandwidth using web site knows it can get extremely expensive.

So the question is why would anyone supply anonymous proxies for free to total strangers? The answer may surprise you but it is that they don’t, I mean they don’t on purpose. Makes sense when you think about it, most people have other more fun ways to spend their money than supplying free anonymous proxies.

So where do these working proxies come from, well they’re either left open accidentally, or hacked and made into proxies and used and abused by the internet freeloaders society. The reason it’s difficult to find working proxies like this is that they usually fall over fairly soon or their owner realise what’s happen and pull the plug before they get even bigger bills from people surfing.

Ironically when they do pull the plug they actually have one of the most extensive logs of web searching about. Yes these servers have huge logs of everyone who has surfed through them, their IP addresses and every web site they visit. Enough to easily send bills out to each person although I don’t know of anyone doing it. It would make those people thing about their working anonymous proxies though if the surfers got a bandwidth bill from a systems administrator of a hacked server somewhere!

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Internet Filtering Increases Across the World

There have been lots of surveys and research into the growing menace of internet filtering. I say menace because although there are obviously web sites that nobody should encourage or even allow – filtering does very little to tackle the real issues behind these web sites.

Casually blocking and pretending these sites don’t exist is not the way problems are solved, and the huge irony is that the people who do wish to access criminal sites will almost certainly be able to use the various work arounds that are available. In effect Internet filtering usually ends up filtering people who have no intention of visiting these sites in the first place – in essence an exercise of futility. Whilst the filtered site grow and flourish away from the eyes of governments and states who are best placed to make more direct action against them.

What has also somewhat lagged behind the increases of filtering our internet access is awareness of the practices. The internet is increasingly part of all our lives and the idea that what we are allowed to access is being decided on by our governments is not very popular.

At the very core of this change, is what is specifically monitored, our internet identity if you like – the IP address of our connection. This is linked specifically to our location, and is what is used to track, monitor and filter what we see, and who keeps a record. Obviously it’s not unique to an individual, but it is linked to the person who pays the ISP or cable bill – if you pay the bills then it’s linked to you. Which is why all across the world, people are being incorrectly sued, jailed or monitored because someone else is using their IP address either legitimately or via other means.

Your IP address is your identity online and if you value your privacy it’s essential that you take steps from it being recorded and logged by every site you visit and by which ever intelligence agency wants access to it – that’s most of them. Here’s one way to hide your IP address from all these people.

This can effectively change the way you use the internet. Not only will you stop an entire list of everything you do online being created at your ISP (yes everything!), but you will also be able to bypass the various commercial based filtering that blocks you from accessing sites based on your location. So you can then watch the BBC from outside the UK, Hulu from outside the US and lots of other fun sites that your location might stop you viewing.

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Watching Media Sites like Hulu on the Internet

It’s actually quite frustrating, all the incredible media sites that are available online like Hulu, Pandora, BBC and NBC to name but a few but most people can only access a fraction of them. The culprit is a technology called geotargeting which controls what we have access to online.

Geotargeting works in quite a simple way, when we connect to the internet our IP address is readily available to every web site we visit. This IP address can be used to locate our exact geographical position and that’s what many web sites do. When we connect to a site they look up in a database where the IP address is registered to and this determines what content we see.

In many instances this is quite beneficial, for instance the search engines use this technology to give us relevant results to our queries. When we type in a search query, the results are tailored to our actual position – meaning if we search for an electrician we will get local results rather than ones in a different continent.

The other effects of geotargeting are not so useful, American users get blocked from online casino sites due to their laws on gambling, media sites restrict access to local audiences due to licensing issues. You’ll not get blocked when accessing web sites based in the same country, but you will if you accessing from a different one. People who emigrate or spend a lot of time outside their own country are especially affected, I travel a lot and when I’m away from home I can’t access the BBC Iplayer abroad for example.

This video may help –

The only way to access these sites is to disguise your IP address, you can do this in two main ways. The first is to use a proxy server – this is a server that sits between you and the website you visit forwarding requests as required. The benefit of this is the web servers only registers the proxy server address not yours. Many of the media sites like Hulu and NBC though will block this access and you will need to connect through a VPN (virtual provate network) . There’s loads of information online about these workarounds, so just check online for a solution.