Category: News

Sinister Saudi Tracking App – Absher

It’s quite incredible to believe that in 2019 that there exists an application who’s primary purpose for Saudi men is to monitor and track women’s movements.  It’s provided by the Saudi government and it’s called Absher.

Now for anyone from a Western style democracy this would seem obscene, inhuman and unbelievable, yet it’s very real and currently even available on the Google Play Store to install on your smartphone.  First though there’s a couple of background facts that you need to be aware of  –

  • Saudi Law stipulates that every woman must have a male guardian.
  • Much of this guardian system has been computerized and put online.
  • Guardians are allowed to specify which airports women can travel from (or not)
  • System send text message alerts to guardians when women use their passports.
  • This is not a new system it has existed for years.

It’s incredible, amazing, the digital 21st century meets the medieval ages courtesy of the Saudi Arabian State.  What’s more it seems that this is application has even been given mainstream approval by appearing in places like the Google Play Store and Apple App store too.

Looks quite friendly and innocuous, doesn’t it?  Absher has many meanings in Arabic which don’t really tell the real story – ‘your request is granted’, ‘good tidings’ and ‘at your service’.   However these phrases are only really true if you’re male, for this application and digital service effectively enslaves women under the guardianship laws.

Imagine sitting behind this application is a database of Saudi Arabian women, with details and settings which are controlled by their male guardians.  Now much of the Absher system is very ordinary and wouldn’t look out of place in London or New York.  You can pay government fines, register the birth of a baby or renew your driving license (if you’re male obviously!).

Yet you really can use Absher to specify which (if any airport) a women can use to fly out of the country.  Permission can be given or revoked with a couple of button clicks, so for example you could block local airports.   If your digitally tracked female attempts to use one of these airports their ‘male guardians’ would notified by an SMS message to their phone.

The control over women is just restricted to which airports they can use either.  The guardian can specify how many journeys the woman can take, where they can travel to and for how long.  It’s supposedly there for safety yet obviously it is capable of much more.   Many women attempting to escape from the confines of Saudi Arabia are caught using this system.  As soon as any women attempts to use a passport they are effectively alerting any male guardian of their location and intentions.

The state argue that Absher app is available for women to use too, however this doesn’t include the travel permission pages.  Any woman who wants to escape what in some cases is little more than legal slavery has to find a solution to evade Abshar.  Many young women steal guardians phones and reset passwords, they can then give themselves permission to leave.  Obviously this has to be done quickly before hte guardian realizes and resets those permissions.

Digital technology does offer some balance though to this grim story of modern day repression.  It comes from the internet and social media which is full of stories of women escaping Saudi Arabia and starting new lives.  There are lots of forums and groups where women and girls share tips and advice about making their own escape plans.   Women are becoming aware that there are options and that other countries will offer them asylum if the escape the Kingdom itself. News and documentaries are spreading word of their plight too including some programmes still on the BBC iPlayer which are available by proxy.  The pictures of happy, escaped Saudi women living normal lives in other countries are in themselves inspirational.

 

How Can We Start Digital Marketing ?

When people talk about the benefits of digital marketing and the prospects for success, I’m always inclined to think of some of the people I know who have completely transformed their lives.  Now I know if you start researching things like digital marketing or making money online that you’ll find a whole host of promotional stories.

You know the type, we’ve all read them –

“I was homeless and in debt but after starting the megarich program I became fabulously wealthy in just a few weeks.  Not only that I discovered that I only had to work ten minutes a day and the cheques kept rolling in.”

Now hopefully, nobody will believe this stuff but unfortunately many do.  It doesn’t take much to convince some people with these stories, after all we’re all desperate to believe it anyway.  If you’re desperate, optimistic, fed up or simply a little bit gullible it’s extremely tempting to risk a few bucks to buy into this dream.  In many ways it’s no worse than buying a few lottery tickets.  However it’s important to to remember these are sales pages and although there may be a small kernel of truth to the story, most of it will be hyperbole and exaggeration.

How Can We Start Digital Marketing

Yet promotional stuff like this is almost certainly the reason that most people fail in their efforts to change their lives and fail in digital marketing.  Which is a huge shame as there is huge potential there for most people to change their lives completely online.

How Can I Start Digital Marketing

Well first of all it’s best to remember that pretty much all the skills and knowledge are actually available online.  However the difficulty is that finding, using and making money from this knowledge is much, much harder. If you find someone you trust who can it explain, help and mentor you then your chances of success are much higher.

One of the main problems is that there’s so much, choice and potential it’s very difficult to actually get started. The phrase digital marketing in itself is quite confusing as it covers pretty much everything.  This makes it difficult to start and easy to waste time in procrastinating.  yet you won’t get started by reading endless posts or by drifting and watching the BBC or YouTube.

In reality though the majority of people start in a few ways – creating websites, videos or social accounts and making money from them either through advertising revenue or selling stuff.  I would estimate this covers 90% of people I know who make great livings from the internet.  Much of it can be deemed as digital marketing, yet if you met some of the most successful you’d never believe that they were ‘successful marketers’.

So let’s take probably the most popular initial option – building a blog or website and promoting some sort of product.  It can be literally all set up in a few minutes if you know what you’re doing, but if you have to learn from scratch it can take months or even longer.   Believing the wrong people or following the wrong advice can add to this learning curve and can lead to frustration and people giving up right at the beginning of the process.

However there are simple guides and people willing to help without wanting to sell you overpriced rubbish at every turn.  Here’s a marketer I trust demonstrating how easy it is to actually build your first web site –

That’s great, practical information on how to get started and it’s completely free. You can follow the video and create your very first affiliate site and start your journey in an afternoon.  It should be available every where but if you get blocked try using region free DNS servers to access it. What’s more apart from paying for some basics it doesn’t even cost very much at all to get started either.

However many people can take ages getting to that point and will often spend a small fortune on over hyped products in the process.  It’s really not necessary, and although there are products and information which can make your progress quicker you should be especially cautious before buying them.

Who Can Become a Successful Digital Marketer

This is actually fairly easy to answer because it’s virtually everyone.  In practice that’s not entirely true but as far as financial, intellectual or practical barriers there are very few.  The reason that the vast majority of people do fail is because it does take hard work, persistence and a somewhat resilient personality.  If you can become successful in self employed roles in the physical world though there’s little to stop you succeeding in the digital marketplace too.

We shouldn’t underestimate the numbers who do fail though as it’s certainly a huge proportion.  I’ve seen many estimates and of course it’s difficult to measure but I’d be surprised if it fell below 90% failure rate.  The majority of people who fail though are those who simply gave up before they succeeded.  It’s a statement that’s especially true in digital marketing as the potential is there for everyone.

Important points to remember though, are firstly it does take lots of time.  The days where you could start up and make a fortune in a week or so are long gone.  Although some video bloggers and people marketing on social networks can make money very quickly.   However although you can potentially create and promote hundreds of social network accounts very quickly using something like Jarvee  – the skills and knowledge needed can take a long time to develop.

Secondly it’s the work ethic, and this shouldn’t be underestimated.  I normally focus on affiliate sites which promote technology products.   Currently I’d expect to work on a site for at least a year before I’d expect it to generate a reasonable income.  That’s a huge amount of unpaid work that had to be done before a return is realized.  Of course, it’s much easier if you know that your work will eventually be rewarded but it’s tough first time to keep going which is why most don’t.

We’ve all come across fabulous websites which look completely abandoned.  That’s because of the huge effort involved in maintaining, updating will eventually take it’s toll especially when they’re not generating any income.  A successful website which does generate income however is much easier to throw time and resources into!

Start with an Interest

Whether you choose to develop a web site, social accounts or create a killer YouTube channel then there’s one thing you should definitely consider.  Make sure that the topic or product you promote is something you’re interested in because otherwise you’ll be unlikely to succeed.

If you have a real interest in a subject then creating content will be much, much easier.  Some of the most successful websites and channels on the internet where started as hobby/interest sites.  I can think of many niches which are dominated by sites which were started this way with no budget just the enthusiasm of the creator.

You can decide that you’re going to be aggressive and create twenty Instagram channels to sell a certain product.  Or perhaps that you’re going to make a fortune reselling concert tickets using proxies on Ticketmaster.  However whatever format you choose, you’re going to have to become an expert in that specific area. This is whole lot easier if you have an interest in it too, whichi can see you through those early non-profit making weeks!

The beauty of the digital economy is that to some extent it’s pretty much open to anyone.  You don’t need a degree, you don’t need lots of cash and it doesn’t really matter where you’re from or what your background is.  Admittedly if you’re really poor with technology things might take you a little longer although many really successful marketers online are truly hopeless with technology  (but they just pay people to fix stuff).  Also there are certain challenges if you’re based in certain countries where it’s harder to get access to payment processors like PayPal.

Yet these are just all minor hurdles which you can be certain people have crossed successfully before.  So if you’re considering a career or want to change from the traditional 9-5 model that traps so many of us – then try out digital marketing. It’s not that hard to get started and it certainly doesn’t require huge financial investment.   You can succeed and join those of us who choose where to work and what time we get up in the morning!!

 

Digital Clue Leads to Drug Dealers Arrest

In the famous Sherlock Holmes novel  – ” A Study in Scarlet”, one of the clues that helps Holmes solve the mystery was identifying some cigarette ash left at the scene of the crime.   Indeed he actually informs Watson in the same book that he has written a monograph of cigarette ash.    The incriminating ash belonged to something called a Trichinopoly cigar from Tiruchirappalli in India. However in today’s world I suspect Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t need to bother with such detailed research as criminals seem to spend a lot of their time posting them up on social media.

Take for example the recent case in South Wales, where a large drugs gang where caught primarily not because they were smoking Indian cheroots, but because of the incriminating evidence they placed online themselves.  It sounds stupid, but it’s true – here’s the photo which led to the arrest of the gang.

The photo was posted to a WhatsApp group, and before you start worrying about the police monitoring all these groups – it turns out it was actually retrieved from the mobile phone itself.  This criminal mastermind had taken a photo, of his drugs for sale posted it to  a WhatsApp group and then failed to delete or remove the photo from his phone.

It was subsequently seized by the police in a later unrelated arrest and passed on to the police forensics team.  They discovered lots of drug related deals and messages, plus crucially this photo which was to lead to the arrest of other members of the gang.

From the picture, the police analysed the partial fingerprint which was enough to match to another known suspect.  From this the police were able to trace other members including bitcoin deposits of over £20,000 in several dealers accounts.  I suspect if Sherlock Holmes were involved he’d probably have solved the whole lot using a fast broadband connection in Baker Street!

It illustrates several things, including perhaps the IQ levels of some South Wales based criminals!  One of the points worth remembering for those who do value their privacy is that although messaging applications like WhatsApp offer end to end encryption, that’s not the whole issue.   There are lots of ways to hide the transmission including the applications security plus layering on encryption using a VPN with a residential IP.  However secure a messaging system is regarding transit and delivery, it’s normally very difficult to apply that security to the end devices.  If anyone has access to the device that was used to send or receive the message, whether it’s phone, tablet or PC, then it’s usually fairly simple to access it.

Of course, the ground breaking element of this case is using a partial photograph to provide fingerprint evidence.    It would seem that there’s huge potential here to identify and solve all sorts of crimes using social media images and related records.  How many incriminating images are posted on Facebook and Instagram daily  for example, I’m certain plenty if you knew where to look.

 

 

Mansfield Radio Station Hacked

Now this is class, a great example of a childish, yet sophisticated attack on an local radio station.    The station is Mansfield 103.2 FM a small local independent radio station based in Mansfield, Nottingham.   Since June 2017 the station has found it’s frequency hijacked by an unknown individual who has been transmitting an adult song called ‘The Winker’s Song’ sung by errmm Ivor Biggun (scroll down for song).

This is of course pretty funny, although some people of course have been offended.  The problem is that it’s actually quite difficult to stop this happening.   The attacker is obviously using some sort of high powered mobile transmitter, and the police would have to catch someone in the act to do anything.

It is apparently a criminal act with the communications regulator Ofcom trying to track the offender several times without success.  They have Spectrum Engineering Officers (cool job title!) working with the radio station in an attempt to identify the culprits.

Having listened to Mansfield 103.2 many years ago, I suspect it will have probably brought them a few more listeners waiting for the next attack.   The prankster had better be careful though as the kill joys have pointed out that maliciously causing radio interference carries a maximum punishment of two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

I for one would look carefully to people who have an association with the radio company, perhaps a disgruntled ex-employee.   The song selected has to be a big clue – it is of course a rude little ditty about mastrubation which basically loops through the words – “I’m a W*nker” to a George Formby type soundtrack.   It is also introduced by a male voice with a local Nottinghamshire accent, that song is a message dedicated to someone in the radio station I suspect.

To save you all googling – here’s the song –

The prankster also seems to be trying a little comedic timing too, with the latest hijack taking place half way through a live family broadcast from a local Mansfield event.    Hopefully he’ll now stop, because he’s bound to get caught eventually and we need more proper hackers around like this guy.

Maybe though, perhaps he’s a millionaire super hacker who’s adapted some long range drones with a radio transmitters controlled by a secure VPN and will never actually be caught – just the drone shot down. Only to mysteriously return and play the same song every time Nigel Farage does a radio interview somewhere, excellent….

 

 

Best Smart DNS vs VPN – (Making a Choice)

For the expat, the traveller or the film/TV buff the internet can often seem to contain lots of filters and blocks on their favourite websites.  This is because of something called geo-blocking or  geo-restrictions (also a host of of other names) and is effectively a system used to limit access to web content based on your physical location.

So for example if you try and watch coverage of the UK election madness on the BBC website from outside the UK the geo-restrictions will stop you watching. Try and access your US Netflix or Hulu account whilst travelling and the same thing will happen.  It seems that on the internet your  physical location shouldn’t really matter, however it does – very much.

Smart DNS vs VPN

In fact this practice is growing exponentially, literally thousands of websites restrict access based on your location.   Just browse on YouTube and you’ll find thousands of videos on that site which are restricted to specific countries.  It can be very frustrating, especially for those who travel a lot and inevitably people find one of two solutions to bypass these restrictions – Smart DNS or VPN.

The technology for these has been around for a long time, and both can be used to access most region blocked websites.  So what’s the difference, which one should you choose?

Should it be Smart DNS or a VPN Service?

Both of these technologies are mostly effective in bypassing most region blocks, however the way they work is quite different.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) – these are services which create secure, encrypted tunnels between your computer and a specially configured VPN server.  They have been used for decades to provide security by encrypting all your data and anonymity by hiding your IP address and location.  When you are connected to a VPN server the website cannot see you true location only that of the VPN server.

To bypass the region locks you just need to ensure that the VPN server is based in the location that does have access.  So for instance to access the BBC iPlayer you’d need a UK VPN server, a US one for Hulu and so on.   The connections are made from your device on demand, so you could connect to a UK VPN from your computer or tablet and watch the BBC or ITV then disconnect and browse normally.  the majority of the VPN services will offer servers based in many countries, so you can just select which one you need.

Smart DNS – is a newer technology based on using specially configured DNS (Domain Name Service) Servers.  These normally just look up the IP address or name of the server you are trying to access, but Smart DNS servers offer an additional service.   They are configured to intercept requests to certain region locked websites and route the connection through a server based in that particular country.

So if you request access to the Hulu website for example to watch a video, the Smart DNS server would automatically route your connection through a US based server.  This means that your connection is only rerouted through a different server when it’s required to bypass a region lock.

So that’s it really – both will usually allow access to region locked websites, so which one should you choose?

Well firstly the price – you’ll find that both are relatively inexpensive however Smart DNS will normally be slightly cheaper.  This is because a Smart DNS server routes through a simpler server and only incurs bandwidth charges for specific servers.   A VPN service will tunnel your entire connection through the VPN server and therefore the bandwidth costs will be much greater.

Smart DNS is also easier to set up on different network devices, it requires no software or client component.  You just change your DNS settings to point at  the Smart DNS servers, therefore it’s simpler for things like Smart TVs and media devices where you can’t always set up a VPN connection.   You can even set it up directly on your router fairly easily too, this has the advantage of applying the settings to all devices on your network.  It’s not always convenient to do this, however it is essential if you want to apply to devices which have no configurable network settings.  This video is a demonstration of setting up best Smart DNS directly on a router –


The VPN is the only one which provides security and anonymity.  Not only is all your data encrypted, your identity is hidden too.  You should always use a VPN to access secure sites like email, online banking and Paypal when using public internet access like Wifi hotspots.

The choice between smart dns vs VPN really depends on your circumstances if you have any requirements for privacy, security and encryption then a VPN is definitely your only option.  Remember Smart DNS services provide no security beyond basic routing to bypass region locks.  A VPN connection is also much harder to detect than a Smart DNS relay, so they generally work better with sites like Netflix which try and block the workarounds.

Here’s two options –

IDC is a full security product with a super fast VPN service  for accessing BBC Iplayer, Hulu and all media sites.  They have loads of  USA and UK based servers so if you want to watch the BBC Iplayer service then it’s probably your best option. They do have lots of servers in the France, Germany, Australia, Canada and throughout Europe as well though.  They also don’t automatically renew your subscription either which I like.

Overplay is another great little company, I like their VPN with Smart DNS  which is easy to use.  Lots of US servers included in the standard subscription. They also have the widest selection of servers although perhaps many won’t use most of them.  If you need a server in somewhere unusual they are most likely to have them.