ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship

Our friends at ExpressVPN are offering students a chance to speak out about privacy this summer.  The ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship will award $5,000 cash prize to the winner.  That’s just the beginning as the winning entry will also be shared with a worldwide audience.  This is your chance to have your voice heard on the future of privacy for the next generation.  The winning entry will earn a $5,000 scholarship with 5 runners up winning a free year of VPN.  Visit the ExpressVPN scholarship page for more details.

ExpressVPN Privacy Scholarship

High school students, undergraduates, and graduate students in the United States or United Kingdom are eligible to submit an entry for the ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship.  Those interested will want to write a 300-400 word essay. The ExpressVPN team has offered a prompt to help you get started.

  • If you had the combined powers of all the world’s leaders, what would be your 10-year plan to ensure the next generation has the right to privacy?

New to the topic of online privacy?  If so I still encourage you to give thought to the prompt and write an essay.  This is a great opportunity for students to share your thoughts on where we’re headed and how privacy, or a lack thereof, will impact our lives in the future.  Just remember to follow the guidelines listed on the ExpressVPN scholarship page to be eligible for an award.  You will want to submit your essay by Friday, August 31st.  The winners will be announced on Saturday, October 13th.  Best of luck!

Vacation Safely with VPN Protection

Are you getting ready to travel this summer on vacation?  Perhaps you’re already on the road.  Either way you’ll probably connect to some unsecured Wi-Fi networks along the way.  Don’t risk your privacy while traveling.  Personal VPN services can help protect your privacy by encrypting your Internet connection.  Whether on the road or at a local coffee shop.  In fact I used a VPN to write this blog post while visiting the Grand Canyon.

VPN for vacation

Last summer I traveled with six adults, two kids and a countless number of iPad, iPhone, Android, laptops and other devices.  We visited the Grand Circle which means a lot of time on the road.  Staying in many different cities.  Some places had better Wi-Fi connections than others.  If you can’t get an Internet connection at all then a VPN won’t help.  When you do though a VPN will encrypt your data and protect your online privacy.

During our trip west last summer we traveled over 2,200 miles.  Along the way we visited Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and the Canyonlands.  Some of the most amazing views and scenery I’ve ever seen.  The arch above is Mesa Arch from Islands in the Sky.  Part of the Canyonlands outside Moab, Utah.  If you ever get a chance to visit this area of the United States I highly recommend the hiking trails throughout the parks.

Protecting your Internet connection while on vacation is easy with a VPN.  We relied on IPVanish for encrypted Wi-Fi access.  They allow up to two simultaneous connections on a single account.  That can come in very handy when traveling.  Allowing you to protect your laptop and tablet or phone at the same time.  Regardless of where you vacation make sure to protect your online privacy along the way.  Enjoy the summer!

Take Back Your Internet Party & Privacy Panel

South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive is set to start in Austin this week.  You can bet there will be plenty of talk around privacy.  A few years ago the audience was greeted by a stream from Edward Snowden that pointed out the need for developers and everyone to focus on privacy.  That wasn’t the only privacy related event in Austin.  Privacy will once again be a hot button issue at the conference this year.  What you might not know is that Golden Frog, the company behind VyprVPN is located in Austin.  They will be sponsoring their annual “Take Back Your Internet” party on Friday night that will include a panel of privacy experts.

Take Back Your Internet Party

The Take Back Your Internet party will take place at Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin on Friday, March 9th at 6:00 pm CST.  The party will give attendees an opportunity to network and enjoy some dinner including BBQ, gourmet tacos, and craft beer.  The privacy panel will center around whats next for net neutrality, the declining Internet freedoms around the world, and a discuss of personal data s your personal property.  The discussion is very timely given the recent FCC decision to repeal net neutrality.  Golden Frog has gone so far as to meet with an FCC commissioner in Austin last month.

Here’s a list of the privacy panel participants:

  • Philip Molter – Co-CTO, Golden Frog
  • Drew White – Senior Federal Policy Analyst, TPPF
  • Rachel Wolbers – Policy Director, Engine
  • Joseph Lorenzo Hall – Chief Technologist, CDT

The panel was moderated by Ellen Troxclair, member of the Austin City Council

You will not need a SxSW badge to join the party.  The Golden Frog team only asks that you RSVP for the event.  I would make it a point to arrive at Texas Public Policy Foundation around 6:00 pm so you network and take in the privacy panel.

Join Golden Frog and partners for their 2018 Take Back Your Internet Party.  In the meantime consider taking a few minutes to watch the privacy panel from 2014.

Safer Internet Day USA Livestream

Safer Internet Day is a great opportunity to for kids and young adults to learn more about steps they can take to stay safe online.  Safer Internet Day is recognized in over 100 countries around the world.  Many will be celebrating with events.  In the United States the celebration includes a special day for students at the Omni hotel in Austin, Texas.  The event will include guest speakers, a special guest, and an opportunity for students to get involved.  The theme this year is “Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you” which points to the fact that we all have a responsibility to help keep the Internet as safe as possible.

Safer Internet Day

A number of schools in Pennsylvania will be on site for the Safer Internet Day event at the National Constitution Center.  For those of us who are aren’t in the area, the organizers are making the event available via a livestream.  You can watch the event live starting at 9:30 am EST.

Here’s a look at the agenda for today’s event (all times shown in CST):

9:30 a.m. – Doors Open & Exhibits

10:30 a.m. – Welcome Remarks

10:50 a.m. – Keynote Speaker: FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

11:25 a.m. – Youth & Tech Industry Issues in Perspective

1:00 p.m. – Student Activity

1:30 p.m. – Announcing the What’s Your Story? Video Contest

1:40 p.m. – A Teen Who Doesn’t Just Play Games — He Builds Them

2:00 p.m. – Event Wrap-Up

2:30 p.m. – Program Close

Whether in attendance or watching via livestream I encourage teachers and parents to get involved in Safer Internet Day.  Many times our kids know as much or more about technology as many parents.  That can be good in some cases but it also means that new obstacles are in their path that we didn’t have to deal with when we were young.  Understanding the threats and steps you can take to promote a safer Internet is well worth the effort.  Cheers to the students at the event in Austin.  Have a great time and stay safe online.

Data Privacy Day : Protect Your Data

Sunday,January 28th, is Data Privacy Day in the United States.  That might sound like an oxymoron given the Snowden revelations and continued news of our growing lack of privacy.  That’s all the more reason to wake up and start paying attention to your data.  Understand what happens to your personal information when you visit sites, use services and download apps from Internet giants like Google, Facebook, iTunes and Amazon.

Data Privacy Day

You can learn more about Data Privacy Day on StaySafeOnline.org.  They have a full list of events happening across the country that deal with making your data privacy a higher priority.  That’s really what it’s all about.  At least as a beginning to understand the kind of information and just how much data is being stored as you browse the web, use search engines and talk to your friends on Facebook.  Not to mention your mobile apps.

The second image above reads “Terms and Conditions May Apply“.  This is a documentary released in 2013 that examines how free services are gathering your personal data with your approval.  Because let’s face it no one reads the terms and conditions.  After watching the documentary you might think twice before sharing so much personal information online and trusting sites that carry the big brand names.  It’s an eye opener.

  • If something online is free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product

Give that sentence some thought next time you log into Facebook to share your activities and family photos.

Since we spend most our time reviewing VPN services it would only be right for us to read the terms and conditions along with privacy policies closer and share the details of what we find.  We’ve started through the list of top VPN providers and will be sharing our findings throughout the year.  Trust me it’s insanely boring to read legal speak but it’s also revealing to see how many companies are tracking your online activities.

Introducing ExpressVPN Privacy Research Lab

The ExpressVPN development team has always been focused on user privacy. Now they are taking things a step further with a new initiative to help users test the privacy of any VPN service. The ExpressVPN Privacy Research Lab has developed a series of privacy testing tools that you can use. Best of all they have decided to open source under the MIT license so others can review the code. Paul Bischoff conducted a series of initial testing for Comparitech. His insightful article includes the testing results for a number of leading VPNs.

ExpressVPN Privacy Research Lab

We have not had a chance to use the new privacy testing tools from ExpressVPN yet. Before jumping in we wanted to share the news so you can try out the privacy tools as well. From what we read on the ExpressVPN website and the initial results from Comparitech, we look forward to incorporating the new privacy tools into our testing. Speed and reliability are important but strong privacy is the end goal of using a VPN for most users.

Here’s a quick list of leaks that the ExpressVPN privacy tools will help you test:

  • IP address leaks
  • IP traffic leaks
  • DNS leaks
  • WebRTC leaks
  • Bittorrent leaks
  • Leaks resulting from unstable network connections
  • Leaks resulting from VPN servers being unreachable

The new privacy testing tools were developed in Python so you’ll find that they support a wide range of devices. You can download the new tools from Github to test your current VPN service. Please share any feedback with ExpressVPN so that they can continue to develop the testing tools. Share your impressions with us @VPNSP.

How KRACK WiFi Hack Impacts Your Privacy

Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACK) hacks use a vulnerability in WPA2 WiFi encryption to spy on your Internet traffic when connected to WiFi networks. Since most modern WiFi networks use WPA2 encryption the vulnerability spans millions of devices around the world. The problem spans from routers to phones and a wide range of iOT devices. Whether you are connecting to WiFi from your favorite hangout using your iPhone or connecting to a hotel network on your laptop, the KRACK hack puts everyone at risk.

Whack a mole

The news of the KRACK vulnerability broke a few hours ago. You can expect fixes to be released in the days and weeks to come. The problem is a big one since the researchers that discovered KRACK, Mathy Vanhoef of imec-DistriNet, and KU Leuven, found that the security flaw let’s hackers attack all modern WPA2 protected WiFi networks. This means that any device that supports WiFi is very likely impacted by the issue.

The KRACK researchers found that Android, Apple, Windows, Linux, and other platforms are all affected by the attacks. This means that you should be very careful when connected to WiFi networks. In time vendors like Linksys and other router manufacturers will release patches. The attacks go much deeper though since millions (perhaps even billions) of iOT devices are also vulnerable to the attacks. What can you do to protect yourself from the attacks? For now the best answer is to use a VPN like IPVanish.

It helps to understand KRACK a little better to protect yourself. For starters you should assume that all WiFi networks are vulnerable at the moment. The attack requires the hacker to be nearby to intercept your data. The first step to protect yourself is to make sure and install updates on all your devices as soon as they become available. As always, you will want to make sure that any website you log in to or share information on uses SSL encryption. Look for HTTPS in the site address or a lock symbol on most web browsers. The final and best step to protect your privacy is to use a VPN. This will encrypt all of your data as it passes over vulnerable WiFi networks. This is the best solution to protect your privacy until the patches are released.

StrongVPN Net Neutrality Promotion

On Wednesday, July 12th the Internet will come together in protest of the direction the FCC is headed in terms of net neutrality. This is a hot button issue that has come full circle since Trump took office in January. The Internet has gone from net neutrality regulations to a government stance to end net neutrality. These are the same rules that help keep ISP’s like Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and AT&T from slowing down or blocking access to websites. The FCC is accepting comments and received feedback from over 3.5 million Internet users in 2015. That helped lead to the strong net neutrality rules that are now in jeopardy. Make sure your voice is heard.

StrongVPN Net Neutrality promotion

StrongVPN will be joining in on the net neutrality efforts on Wednesday and is offering a promotion around the event. You can save 50% off any StrongVPN plan (monthly, quarterly, annual) in addition to their normal term discounts. The special is live and will remain active through July 17th. Sign up during the #StrongForNetNeutrality promotion and benefit from unlimited VPN access from just $2.91 a month.

StrongVPN promo price

The coupon code for the StrongVPN Net Neutrality promotion is DAYOFACTION but you won’t need it. The StrongVPN team has taken care of everything for you. Simply visit their StrongForNetNeutrality page and sign up for any plan to save 50% off. As you can see above, the discount brings the price of unlimited VPN and smartDNS down to $5 a month, $12 a quarter, or just $34.99 for a full year of access. Please take a moment on July 12th to make your voice heard and let the FCC know that we all care deeply about the future of the Internet.

Snowden Live in Theaters Tongiht

The new Oliver Stone movie “Snowden” is set to release in theaters on Friday, September 16th. For those who want more than just the movie experience, Fathom Events is hosting “Snowden Live” on Wednesday. The event will start with an early screening of the movie and end with a live interview of Edward Snowden. The live Snowden Q&A from Moscow will start shortly after the film ends. Snowden Live is set to start at 7:30 PM EST. The movie is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Q&A seesion is expected to last around 45 minutes.

Snowden Live

Just over three years ago, in the summer of 2013, Snowden came forward with the revelations of the NSA spying efforts against Americans. We have learned more about the full extent of surveillance in countries like the United States (NSA) and United Kingdom (GCHQ) since Snowden came forward. The US government immediately went after Snowden for treason. They went as far as grounding the plane of Bolivian President, Evo Morale, in suspicion of Snowden being on the plane. In the end Snowden was granted asylum in Russia and has been living in secret with his girlfriend in Moscow ever since. He would like to return to the United States when he feels a fair trial is possible. Perhaps the movie will help pressure officials to make that happen.

The team at ExpressVPN have put together an infographic detailing five ways Snowden changed the world.

ExpressVPN Snowden infographic

Tickets to Snowden Live are on sale through Fathom Events and Fandango. It looks like the cost is around $17 for the early screening of the movie and live Snowden Q&A afterwards. Those who miss the Wednesday event can catch “Snowden” in theaters starting on Friday, September 16th.

Netflix Forces Users to Choose Between Privacy and Entertainment

May 27, 2016 update: the OpenMedia campaign has nearly 50,000 signatures now.  In an effort to draw attention to the cause and hopefully a reaction from Netflix, OpenMedia is driving around Silicon Valley with this message:

OpenMedia Netflix message

In an attempt to discourage users from streaming content in other countries, Netflix has taken a hard stance on the usage of VPN.  Over the weekend they went a step further and are now blocking most VPN users from reaching the service.  We can debate whether or not it’s acceptable to switch Netflix locations.  That’s a business decision that has been made.  The biggest issue is the collateral damage.  The approach Netflix is taking puts them on the wrong side of user privacy.  The problem is that you can’t access the service when connected to a VPN in your own country.  In doing so Netflix is forcing users to choose between privacy and entertainment.  That’s not acceptable under any circumstance and users are starting to voice their opinion.  OpenMedia has launched a “My Netflix My Privacy” campaign to help give users a voice.

My Netflix My Privacy

I encourage all Netflix users to sign the petition.  This will give the OpenMedia team the power necessary to take the message directly to Netflix.  Anyone who remembers Flixter knows that Netflix is not beyond changing course if enough users voice opposition to their strategy.  Regardless of whether or not Netflix chooses to block users from switching regions, the company needs to keep user’s privacy in mind.  There has to be a better solution than their current approach of blocking VPNs outright.  Perhaps Netflix could compare the billing address with the country you are connecting from.  If the two match then don’t block access, even if the IP address is known to belong to a VPN service.  If enough users voice their criticism then Netflix will be more likely to change course.

The use of encryption to help protect your online privacy is growing in importance every day.  As a long time Netflix customer I will be cancelling my account until I can use a VPN from my home country to access the service.  There are plenty of other entertainment options available.  I won’t trade my privacy for a few laughs and I encourage you not to either.  Let Netflix know that you stand behind the need for privacy by signing the My Netflix My Privacy petition and sharing the issue with others so their voice can be heard as well.