Category: privacy

Best UK VPN Access for iPlayer

Which is the best UK VPN Access provider with British based servers for BBC iPlayer?  It’s a difficult question, simply down to the huge choice that is available now online.  Years ago, I was involved in a project to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client on thousands of laptops in a large multinational company.  The laptops consisted of wide variety of hardware, lots of different language builds and each had different software installed (even some VPN client software which needed to be removed first).   One thing I did learn throughout this project is that VPN client software can cause all sorts of problems mainly concerned with network connectivity if it doesn’t work properly.

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Reliable Software is Important

This is why, choosing a reliable VPN service is so important. For most of us, an internet connection is why we use our computers, using a poor service will at best slow down your connection and at worse completely break it. A VPN needs to be well configured, maintained and supported both at the client and the server side to work quickly, securely and seamlessly.

In fact seamlessly is an important point, because the better a service is, the less impact it will have on your connection.  If your internet speeds plummet to a slow crawl as soon as you enable the connection then it’s going to be fairly worthless.

Most people need a VPN for the following reasons:

  • Secure their connection and personal details.
  • Access blocked websites like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ABC and others.
  • Privacy

There are other reasons, but it’s mainly to bypass blocks and ensure security, any well run VPN should be able to supply both of these.  If you’re interested in a accessing a particular service like British TV online then a fast UK connection is the priority.  This is an important point, the best VPN or Smart DNS service will actually allow you access to a network of VPN servers in different countries. However it is the speed of the specific servers that you connect to which will ultimately determine how it performs.

For example, many services offer a server in a few different countries, which is great if you are not concerned about which country you connect to.  However if you want to watch and access the BBC online then you will have to select a UK one to change your IP address, unfortunately so will many others.   Which is why for so many companies popular servers will be completely overloaded.

Identity Cloaker monitor their servers 24/7 and because they are one of the oldest and safest UK VPN Access providers on the internet they have a wealth of expertise in maintaining fast, accessible servers.  They also have deployed servers based on demand – their network has dozens of UK and US servers with huge, available bandwidth to be used for the popular media sites like the BBC and Hulu, but less servers based in other countries.

Which means their UK VPN servers are fast, very fast especially when used with the compression algorithm in the client software.

The reality is that the service is one of the best because it has been around for so long and been actively developed.  The software is sophisticated and robust, the servers have been optimized over the years to provide the fastest and most effective service.

Here’s a great example, although Identity Cloaker was originally available using the client software which redirected through a UK BBC proxy for British addresses but it was becoming apparent that demand was moving towards different devices.  For example many people were starting to stream video directly onto Smart TVs, tablets or media devices.  Making different versions of the VPN client software was almost impossible for many of these devices, how do you install software onto your Smart TV for example?

Which is why all the Identity Cloaker servers were modified to allow direct VPN connections from other devices.  Basically it was possible now to set up your VPN connection manually on tablets, ipads and phones.  You can even connect directly from your router to effectively switch every device to use the VPN even things like Smart TVs – watch this video.

This won’t be suitable for everyone of course, because by default it does effect every device connected to that router.  However it’s a marvelous fix for situations where you can’t get access to the network configuration settings and still need the a good VPN you can get access to.   Most modern routers will have this facility, although unfortunately in the UK there is a tendency for ISPs to supply heavily restricted devices.  BT have removed the majority of the connection settings in it’s Home Hub device including much of the VPN functionality.  The overriding advantage of this message though is that the IP address is classed as a residential one, a valuable asset that you’d normally pay for from a residential IP provider !

However for speed, security and reliability then I can thoroughly recommend Identity Cloaker which you can try out for 10 days using their . .

Snooper’s Charter – UK Passes Surveillance Law

This was always likely to happen given recent events, the ridiculous snooper’s charter which was originally tabled in 2012 by the then home secretary Theresa May has been approved and passed.

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Over the years it’s been blocked and repealed with good cause, civil liberties groups have described it as the most extreme surveillance legislation ever passed in a democratic nation.   It’s a huge blow to personal privacy with the government basically having access to pretty  much everything we do online.

Here’s some stand out points:

Internet provider’s Forced to Log Web History for 12 Months

This is a great one, your ISP will be forced to record every single web site you visit for 12 months.  So just imagine this, Government departments will be able to generate a list of every single web site you have visited for the last year.   Sounds a bit Orwellian,  a bit intrusive?  We thinks so!  Further imagine sitting down for an interview or an application with some Government official sitting across the desk from you with that list in hand.

Decrypt Data on Demand

The government will have the power to force any company or individual to decrypt data on demand.  Obviously no one really has any idea how this will work or how it can be implemented, but this just means it can be made up to suit the situation.  Is your VPN a protection, who knows if the law demands you hand over the key perhaps not.

Intelligence Agencies can Hack into Our Devices and Computers

Great eh!  Not only do they get a list of every porn site you may have inadvertently clicked on over the last 12 months, but the Government can legitimately hack into your phone, TV or internet enabled toaster to pry just a little bit further.  The use of the word ‘devices’ means they have pretty much ‘carte blanche’ to break into every electronic device in your possession and create sinister, snoopy lists and databases.

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There are many other provisions, and in the spirit of oppressive regimes everywhere lots  of them are kept suitably vague and unclear.  This is important because it allows the security agencies to do pretty much anything and claim it is covered under the legislation.  Places like Iran, Turkey and China have been doing this for decades.

Is privacy a basic human right?  Many people think so, yet this legislation completely erodes that concept.   It’s been criticized from all quarters – privacy groups, United Nations representatives, lots of IT companies and even the parliamentary committee that was tasked with looking through the bill.

Nothing seemed to matter and the UK has now established a legal right to spy on it’s citizens like some second rate, despotic regime.

IP Address Mapping Hell in Kansas

Is there such a thing as a ‘digital hell’ well although it sounds like some sort of melodramatic media headline, one couple in Kansas could arguably have been living there for several years.

Everything that is connected to the internet has an IP address, every computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone needs some sort of address in order to communicate on the world wide web. Tracking, mapping and filtering these addresses is big business and many companies have sprung up providing accurate information on the IP address attached to your device.

Obviously knowing the location is one major part of the puzzle and there are several services for looking up the physical location of an IP address. You can have a look here at where your IP address appears to be located – https://www.whatismyip.com/ – did it return your correct location?  Sometimes these can be very accurate, the information sourced from companies like MaxMind has been built up over many years through a variety of methods. The information is used for a variety of reasons, from targeting advertising to region locking and filtering used by companies like Netflix

Sometimes, however this information is not very accurate at all  but sufficient if you just want a specific country or region. However when a company like MaxMind have no relevant data on an IP address they will tend to resort to assigning a default location. For example if they have no further information other than country is USA, Maxmind will return a default location – the geographic center of the United States.

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Sounds logical? It is until you realise that located in the geographical center of the US is a small farm in Kansas owned by James and Theresa Arnold. Furthermore there are quite a few IP addresses which are registered to this ‘default location’ – specifically just over 600 million addresses.

Now it might seem that this isn’t really a problem, but unfortunately this is not the case. These 600 million addresses are real and being used online all the time – and of course with such a huge volume some of these addresses are being used for all sorts of activities. Spammers, hackers, cyber crime, terrorists, pedophiles are all using these IP addresses online and when anyone tries to investigate their location – they are directed to this small rural farm in Kansas.

For years the couple have been subject to all sorts of accusations – they’ve had visits from law enforcement agencies, public officials, ordinary people who’ve been crime victims and have tracked the IP address back to the Arnold’s home address. You can imagine the volume when even a small percentage of 600 million addresses are used for criminal purposes.

It’s not the only situation like this, there is a house located at the end of a cul-de-sac in Ashburn, Virginia which has similar problems. The town itself is the home to several huge data centers and server farms, all with registered commercial IP addresses – the house was unfortunately given as the default location for millions more IP addresses with similar results – strange accusations and police raids being a common occurrence.

Fortunately there should be a happy ending for both these parties as the ‘default locations’ for unknown IP addresses is being changed to non-residential addresses such as the middle of a lake! The Arnold’s though are unsurprisingly also seeking some financial compensation for the distress and inconvenience over the year, and you can hardly blame them!

The Dark Web – Secure and Sinister or Just Slow

The darknet is often cited on news stories and the mainstream media as a mysterious, scary place full of criminals and terrorists however part of that is simply not true.  There are actually plenty of criminals on there, in fact illicit substances and pornography seem to form a huge proportion of the anonymised sites.

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For anyone who has never ventured onto the darknet perhaps a quick introduction is in order.  The Darknet exists completely independently of the mainstream world wide web and crucially none of the sites or information exist on a single identifiable web server.  The darknet is accessed via a plugin which can be installed in your browser and enables you to access an Open Network called TOR available from here.   TOR also allows you to communicate anonymously on the traditional web without being identified although it’s not completely anonymous.

You can identify a Darknet (or Deep Web) address from it’s extension, instead of the traditional html ending – all hidden web sites end in the extension .onion.  You will not be able to access any of these addresses without using the TOR plugin in your browser however.   As mentioned none of these web pages exist on a single web server, but are hosted on thousands of computers anonymously on the TOR network – ensuring that people can post and access information without being traced.

This all sounds fantastic for anyone up to no good and you’d expect to find thousands of terrorist sites and information however there are hardly any, a handful at most.  So why aren’t ISIS and al-Qaeda hosting all their information sites here, why aren’t there thousands of message boards and downloadable how to make bombs pdfs hosted on the Darknet?   Well the answer is not completely certain but it’s likely  the reason is simple – it’s incredibly irritating to use.

Browsing the Darknet is not a a super slick experience, in fact it’s like to trying to use the current web on a 15 year old computer.  The sinister mystery of the place soon gives way to time-outs, broken links and crashing browsers – you can access a site one minute then face a ten minute delay whilst it reloads.  It’s understandable really, after all it’s an open network hosted on thousands of disparate machines on varying quality internet connections, it works but sometimes only just.

Your average terrorist has probably grown up with all the latest technology, he probably has a smart phone that’s much better than mine.  In between listening to anti-west sermons he’s probably streaming Breaking Bad on his Netflix account using a VPN. Crucially they are likely to have as much patience with slow web pages as my children who have been brought up in a household that’s always offered – 30 MB download speeds.  I get irritated with slow web pages, and I remember downloading a newsgroup on 14.8k modem which would often take several hours.

Terrorists are often super active on social media and on the traditional web, the Darknet simply doesn’t function that way – its’ slow and requires a lot of patience sometimes.  The same reason  why people often don’t use TOR for privacy, Smart DNS to bypass filters or VPNs for anonymity in their browsing on the normal web.  These options do hide your web requests for 99% of the time and some of them are free but again very slow to use. Using something like Identity Cloaker provides privacy and has virtually no impact on your normal internet connection speed.

So this is my conclusion – Terrorists Don’t Use the Darknet because it’s a bit rubbish!

 

Do You Trust Your TV? It Could be Spying on You.

Well if you have a new Samsung TV then perhaps you should think twice before answering that question.  Their new generation of Smart TVs have a voice activation feature that allows you to switch on and off, change channels and stuff like that, but it’s possible that this comes at a significant cost.

 

An eagle eyed EFF activist called Parker Higgins, took the time to read the privacy policy of these TVs and discovered a rather alarming paragraph which stated –

Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

So let’s just have a think about this, if you enable the voice recognition function on your shiny new Samsung Smart TV, the bloody thing will not only listen to all your conversations it will also transmit them to a myriad of  third party companies.  Your TV would actually be sitting in the corner of your room spying on you!

Now putting aside my personal dislike of all voice enabled devices, I mean why is talking to an inanimate device preferable to pushing a button, this is a seriously worrying threat to people’s privacy.  For a start you’d have to be permanently on your guard, who knows where your conversations are going to – just some spotty Samsung technical geek  or more likely a selection of marketing companies?   Secondly, it’s not only spying on you the owner of the TV but anyone who happens to be in the room – have they given their permission ?  Should anyone entering your living room be given a disclaimer and need to sign a consent form !!

Samsung have now modified the wording in their policy insisting that the TV doesn’t in fact listen to ordinary conversations.  This is however rather difficult to believe after the initial policy wording,  I mean you’d never put that down in writing if it wasn’t in some way true.  There is obviously little thought being put into the design of these devices, as far as privacy goes – relying on stuffing a few sentences deep in the TVs documentation (which it probably thought nobody would read).

There are other aspects to the technology which makes it even more unlikely that conversations can’t be monitored by the device.  For start the TV is capable apparently of recognising complex requests like –

‘recommend a good Sci-Fi Movie’ or ‘open BBC iPlayer

I mean a TV would have to listen to pretty much everything to pick up and filter requests like that, this is beyond someone like me shouting OFF  in his stupid accent.

What is more that the TV doesn’t have a single microphone, you can’t just huddle in the corner away from the TV whispering – there’s another in the damn remote control.   Cunning move, the TV remote in my house for example it is the singlest most difficult to find device by far.  It routinely turns up in all sorts of obscure locations and I’m sure my children are on some sort of retainer to hide it every time they’ve finished watching.

Well I for one, will not be purchasing one of these things, however unfortunately it will also involve me upgrading my general level of paranoia.  I foresee a future of creeping around electronic stores or checking the backs of friends TV sets when I enter their house  (and of course enquiring about the location of the remote).

Does anyone really need this rubbish !!