Category Archives: Privacy

Top VPN-Ready Routers for your Home Network

Once the domain of networking specialists in a business setting, routers with VPN capabilities built-in are now accessible to everyone.

There are other options for enabling a VPN at the router level. However none are as elegant for the average home user or small business.

You can buy a router from FlashRouters with business-class DD-WRT firmware installed for you or install it yourself. However going this direction isn’t recommended unless you are comfortable with the added complexity it will add to running a home network.

For most people it makes more sense to choose a hardware solution with simple, intuitive firmware that is VPN-ready out of the box.

VPN-Friendly Brands

Many of the top router brands are lagging behind by failing to add VPN features to their products aimed at consumers. Asus and Synology are the exception. Both are consistently releasing feature-rich routers that allow you to easily connect to a VPN service.

This guide focuses on the brands that offer VPN features across their product line. This empowers you to choose a specific router based on your needs. And to make things easier a “top pick” was chosen from both Asus and Synology camps.

Router You Need vs. One You Want

Accessing the Internet through a VPN uses up more of the router’s resources than a regular connection. Consequently, pay special attention to the CPU specs. A dual core processor running at 800 MHz or greater is recommended. This is to ensure the router CPU doesn’t bottleneck the performance of web-browsing, torrents, and downloads.

You need a capable router if you plan to use a VPN, but if taken too far you’ll overpay for a router with horsepower you’ll never tap into. If you live in a very large house, have a big family and/or ISP offering a bleeding-edge connection speed, going high-end may be worth it. However, you don’t need one of the beefiest models just to connect to a VPN.

Asus Wi-Fi Routers

With competitive prices, a wide selection of routers, and deep VPN capabilities across the board, Asus is a good place to start your search.

AsusWRT is the stock firmware preinstalled on Asus routers. It supports OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP encryption protocols.

Although not as cutting-edge on the software side as Synology, Asus knows hardware. They’ve been a major player in computer hardware since 1989.

Asus RT-AC68U (AC1900) (800 MHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Asus RT-AC3200 (1.0 GHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Asus RT-AC3100 (1.4 GHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Asus RT-AC5300 (1.4 GHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Asus RT-AC86U (AC2900) (1.8 GHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Asus GT-AC5300 (1.8 GHz – quad core with AES-NI) [Amazon]

Top Pick: Asus RT-AC86U

Despite its playful exterior meant to appeal to gamers, this is a serious router. It’s powerful enough to cover very large homes and brings cutting-edge tech to the masses.

Asus boasts blistering data transfer speeds up to 2900 Mbps. The Wi-Fi signal is transmitted dual-band (2.4 + 5 GHz) via the latest 802.11ac MU-MIMO technology. That’s an impressive feat considering the reasonable price point.

Inside there’s a 1.8 GHz dual core processor, 512 MB of RAM, plus 256 MB of flash storage.

Synology Wi-Fi Routers

Synology is primarily known for their excellent NAS solutions. Nevertheless the company managed to impress tech enthusiasts with their first router, the RT1900AC, and they’ve built upon that foundation by adding the powerhouse RT2600AC and then mesh-friendly MR2200AC.

The easy-to-navigate Synology Control Panel allows you to painlessly setup and connect to a VPN service. There is comprehensive protocol support, which includes OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPSec.

This interface is like a sleek mini-OS dedicated to your router. And it’s a fresh yet familiar approach.

Synology RT1900AC (1.0 GHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Synology MR2200AC (717 MHz – quad core) [Amazon]

Synology RT2600AC (1.7 GHz – dual core) [Amazon]

Top Pick: Synology RT2600AC

The RT2600AC is Synology’s flagship. It improves on their first router the RT1900AC in every way. A formidable unit and with four antennas, the gargantuan appearance is matched by good performance.

MU-MIMO and the latest 802.11ac Wave 2 standard is supported, giving the router a top speed of 800Mbps and 1733Mbps on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios respectively.

It’s powered by a dual core 1.7 GHz CPU and has 512 MB of DDR3 memory.

Wrapping It Up

Home users are ready for routers with VPN features, but open-source firmware solutions like DD-WRT may not be ready for them. That’s because technical know-how is still needed to gain the rich feature set.

Asus and Synology have managed to balance ease-of-use with advanced features. So while many are focused on router hardware specs, the importance of superior firmware can’t be ignored.

How to Hide your IP on Nintendo Switch (with a VPN)

Switch is packed with great online features.

Challenge a buddy at Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with online play. Then use the Smartphone app to send him a playful message after running him off the road.

You can also download classic NES titles, or take advantage of cloud storage to protect your save data.

Not bad for $35 USD a year and light-years ahead of the online features included with Nintendo’s previous consoles: Wii and Wii U.

Top Two Ways to Hide your Identity

Sony’s PS4 and Xbox One allow users to hide their IP by adding a VPN in the console’s OS. Nintendo has no built-in features like this.

Luckily there are other methods to cloak your identity when connecting to Nintendo Switch Online. Simply use the VPN features built into your router or a Windows 10 machine.

First, Choose a VPN Service

A VPN (virtual private network) is needed to connect to the Internet anonymously with Nintendo Switch.

This means you’ll need to sign up to a VPN service to complement your Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Luckily VPNs that are both inexpensive and fast are easy to come by these days.

The top VPNs are reviewed here. Don’t pull the trigger until you compare them all to choose the best one for your needs.

Enabling a Switch VPN with Windows 10

Many will find they’re more comfortable with turning on the VPN for Switch via a PC rather than risking configuration woes by doing it with a router.

Note that your Windows box needs to be able to connect to the Internet wirelessly for this approach to work.

  1. Right click on the Start button. A contextual menu will appear. Select ‘Network Connections’ from this menu.
  2. On the left of the new window you’ll notice list of options below ‘Network & Internet.’ Click on VPN.
  3. Make sure you have signed up with a VPN service and have the login credentials needed to connect to it.
  4. Click on the option to ‘Add a VPN connection’ with a large plus sign next to it.
  5. Complete the form with the info provided to you by your VPN service provider. Click the ‘Save’ button.
  6. If your PC has wireless capability you’ll see a ‘Mobile Hotspot’ option at the left of the window. Change the login info and turn it on. If you’re experiencing any issues, try restarting your machine then opening and closing it until it functions correctly.
  7. Click on ‘Ethernet’ then click ‘Change adapter options’ listed under ‘Related settings.
  8. Right click on the VPN connection you created earlier, then click on ‘Properties.’
  9. Click on the ‘Sharing’ tab. Check the box that states “Allow Other Network Users to Connect…” In the dropdown box for network connections select the desired Wi-Fi hotspot (It might be Local Area Connection* #).

Congrats! You’re ready to use your Nintendo Switch online with your IP address hidden.

Users have also successfully connected their Switch to a VPN via a PC with a wired connection, as well as an Android phone. The instructions are cloudy but you can read more in the replies to this post on Reddit.

Enabling a Switch VPN with your Router

Turning on a VPN service with your router is also a great option, especially if you’re a technically adept user.

The precise steps in configuring the router’s software vary depending on the manufacturer. In essence you need to find the correct place to enter your VPN address, username and password so your hardware can route the Internet connection through the VPN.

Every good VPN provider has a knowledge base on their website that steps you through the process of configuring a wide variety of routers to use their service. It’s recommended that you check this first for the most up-to-date instructions.

Here are links to the support pages associated with some of the best VPN services:

Majora’s Mask

Although Nintendo doesn’t officially provide an interface to utilize a VPN, it’s fairly easy to set up anyhow. It’s basically the same process as hiding the IP on a PC.

This guide should provide everything you need to anonymously dominate at Splatoon 2, ARMS, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and other multiplayer titles.

Best Chrome Extensions that Protect Your Privacy

From ad and tracker blocking, HTTPS, advanced proxy to interfacing with the Tor network, the right extensions can turn Chrome into a dream machine.

It’s time to stop passively allowing corporations, shifty sites and shady third parties to feast on any private data they can manage to grab. Now that you’re on to them, arm yourself with some of the following top privacy-enhancing extensions for your browser.

AdBlock

Browsing history, cookies and other various data is exploited aggressively by Advertisers. So that gas barbeque you showed a fleeting interest in will definitely be showing up again in cube ads – haunting you for days. Changing your privacy settings on the most common offender’s sites makes a difference, but who has the time?

Adblockers are the most popular extensions out there and AdBlock continues to be the dominant force in this arena. Big boys in tech have devised methods to force their ads to display even when AdBlock is enabled. However, it’s still a great way to generally declutter your Web experience.

Ghostery

Almost every major site out there uses cookies and tracking technology, and it builds a profile of you based on your activity. Worse, there are suspicious third parties with malicious agendas far worse then just attempting to sell you the latest widget.

Ghostery finds every instance of trackers embedded on the sites you visit. It then gives you the ability to tailor how you handle these trackers depending on the level of trust you have for the site in question.

HTTPS Everywhere

Major sites have made the switch to beefed-up HTTPS security but many smaller operations haven’t caught up. This means ISPs can easily access your browsing on these sites if laws allow in your country.

Big names in anonymity software EFF and the Tor Project have joined forces to give web users a secure experience on every site. Insecure HTTP sites are automatically converted to secure HTTPS thus preventing surveillance, account hijacking, as well as some varieties of censorship.

Proxy SwitchyOmega

SwitchyOmega provides an alternative to digging though the advanced setting section in Chrome, and the chore of filling and clearing proxies in the config dialog of your OS. This is a powerful, timesaving idea for power users, because just one proxy server will often not get you very far, especially the free variety. Enter all your proxy servers IPs, plus port, protocol, then switch between them quickly with a mere click.

Kronymous

Formerly called KroTor, this extension allows you to access the Tor network. It’s a more advanced alternative to the easy-to-use Tor Browser that requires no configuration and works out of the box. Tinkerers will love the extensive options Kronymous provides, plus the ability to continue using your preferred browser, Chrome.

Cupcake

Cupcake aims to make Tor “the onion router” tastier by giving it a pathway into your web browser. A plain, happy or sad cupcake is displayed depending on the status of the proxy, signifying not in use, in use, or disabled respectively. Chrome users that don’t need the extensive options found in Kronymous may prefer this.

Open in Tor Browser

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, not to mention the least likely to break. Open in Tor Browser is perfect for Chrome users that occasionally want to switch to true incognito mode with Tor Browser when viewing sensitive content. The only catch is you’ll need to install a minimal native client for it to open links correctly in Tor Browser.

Graphic: Sean MacEntee

Tor, VPN or Proxy – Which is Right for You?

Records of an average person’s browsing history may not be worth much, but when you add every citizen of the U.S. to the equation, the value becomes millions of dollars.

ISPs want your personal data so they can sell it to the highest bidder (if law allows). Advertisers and titans of Web search want it so they can display products they know you’re interested in. Finally, the government wants access to your activities, incase they find a reason to spy on you.

These players are becoming a bigger threat to your online privacy by the day, and it’s about time you stood up to this menace. It starts by protecting yourself, namely with Tor, a VPN or proxy. There’s no perfect solution, however it should be said they’re not all in the same league either. So let’s look at the pros and cons of each of these technologies.

Tor

What is it?

Known as “the onion router,” Tor is free software that allows you to join their anonymity service. Tor directs traffic though a network of thousands of relays run by volunteers around the world. It makes it very difficult if not impossible for someone to monitor your online usage, and also prevents site owners from seeing your true location.

Tor Browser requires no setup, however it wont hide activities in other apps such as email, FTP, torrent client, etc. Only accomplished tech aficionados should tackle their Expert Bundle which is the standalone flavor of Tor. It allows you to manually configure programs to work with it.

Pros

  • Not only is this free software, but also a free service which is pretty amazing.
  • Tor Browser is really easy to use.

Cons

  • In terms of speed, expect varying degrees of slow. Considering all your browsing data is bouncing around various relays worldwide, it’s understandable why. The other reason is advancements in the network and software are dependent on altruistic contributions, which are short in supply.
  • Since launching in 2002 it has created a reputation for being a favored tool of cyber criminals, spammers and dissidents. Attempts to hide yourself with it can backfire as Tor users are viewed with suspicion; it may be a red flag for someone with power or savvy to monitor what you’re up to.

View Tor Project site.

VPN

What is it?

A VPN extends a private network across a public network. It acts as a fast, secure bridge between your computer and the internet, encrypting your data as you browse the web.

Sites you visit and other prying eyes won’t be able to see your real IP address; instead they’ll see the IP associated with the VPN service. VPNs also allow you to bypass geographic restrictions by allowing you to assume an IP associated with a different country.

VPN access is a service, and just like internet access you’ll be billed monthly to use it.

Pros

  • Paid service so servers are robust, reliable and fast.
  • Quality VPN services have huge networks of servers located around the world.
  • Used for professional applications by IT professionals, so VPN users are generally granted far more trust than Tor or proxy users.
  • Services offer extensive software for use with any OS (desktop or mobile), and with any application.

Cons

  • Need to subscribe to a service with associated monthly fee.

View a comparison of top VPNs.

Proxy

What is it?

Before VPNs exploded in popularity, proxy servers and web proxies were the go-to method for hiding your identity. Similar to a VPN a proxy is a gateway between your home network and a public network such as the internet.

When viewing lists of proxy servers published online you’ll come across three types: anonymous, elite and transparent. Basically the slower the proxy type, the more secure the connection. So transparent is the fastest, least secure, anonymous is in the middle, and elite is every secure, plus even tries to hide the fact you’re using a proxy, but is the slowest type.

Unlike VPNs which allow you to setup one centralized app that will anonymize all your activity no matter which application you’re using; proxies require extensive configuration. You’ll need to learn the the proxy options well in each app as you’ll likely need to change servers often in search of a solution with decent speeds.

Pros

  • Both free and paid proxies are available although most will want a VPN if they choose to pay.
  • Free proxy lists are plentiful, many of which are checked continuously to ensure the list is fresh and that the proxies are indeed online.

Cons

  • Free proxy servers are run by individuals not companies that operate with at least some ethical standards.
  • Free proxies are used and abused by spammers and malicious users so you may find the proxy server IP is banned by the site you wish to use.
  • Each app is configured separately, which can get time consuming and frustrating due to the probable need to change proxy server often.

View a free proxy list.

The Final Verdict

Free proxies and Tor are fine for dabblers. However, if you wish to hide your identity on an ongoing basis you’ll almost certainly lose patience with the unreliability, slow speeds, or hoop-jumping (in the case of proxies) associated with these methods.

The top VPN services recommended here on LetMeBy are fast, trustworthy and generally a better option for nearly everyone. The only downside is you’ll need to pay for it, but since VPNs have come down in the price and are now available for just $5 per month, this isn’t much of a drawback anymore.

Photo: Ed Ivanushkin

Privacy-Respecting Search Engines That Don’t Track Your Activity

Chrome calls it Incognito Mode. In Firefox and Safari it’s Private Browsing, while IE labels it InPrivate. It’s easy to be fooled that your activity is fully hidden when such options are enabled in your browser, but in reality the security changes occur on your end (regarding cookies, history, etc.), while data is still collected by the sites you visit.

The most reliable way to stop search engines such as Google, Bing, Facebook and Yahoo from tracking your usage is to stop using their service altogether.

Undoubtedly private search engines that promise better security have other shortcomings. Say goodbye to a personalized experience based on past activity, plus the ability to login and customize settings for future visits. Of course Google will always be ten steps ahead in terms of their search algorithms. But if beefed-up privacy is what you need it’s a small price to pay, and by sticking with a major search engine for usage you don’t mind being public, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Likely many of these names will be new to you. Maybe it’s about time more users open their minds about search engines and give the small guys a chance.

1. DuckDuckGo

Not tracking their customers’ usage in any way is DuckDuckGo’s calling card. The emerging search engine doesn’t collect your data, store it, or share it. As advertisers are notorious for using data collected from searches, this also means you won’t have to look at annoying ads for the electric lawnmower you just researched two minutes ago.

2. WolframAlpha

It’s a “computational knowledge engine,” and if that means nothing to you, it pulls from a massive database of knowledge and does its best to tailor that data based on your search. So rather than asking Web pages for the answers, WolframAlpha is a solution in itself. No, it won’t replace a traditional search engine for everything, but it sure beats Encyclopedia Britannica.

3. Startpage (by Ixquick)

Startpage trumpets itself as “the world’s most private search engine.” It takes advantage of Google search technology while tossing out the company’s privacy rulebook. There is also a proxy feature to increase anonymity even more; by enabling it none of the sites you visit can see your IP.

4. Yippy

With Yippy you can filter out results that aren’t relevant to your interests by selecting categories, using tag clouds, and sources. This may be a breath of fresh air for users that are tired of sites attempting to guess what you want all the time rather than just asking.

Yippy doesn’t track searches and doesn’t display customized ads either.

5. Hulbee

Grossbay A. G., the Swiss-based software company behind Hulbee, utilizes a data cloud for a more intuitive connection to information and for quicker load times. It manages to provide intelligent, relevant results without probing its users.

By encrypting searches Hulbee protects you against third party attacks and data leaks. It doesn’t leave any tracks when you search on the site: topics, IP addresses and personal information are not stored. And for those put off by the gutter of the Web that can sometimes show its face at inappropriate times, it’s family friendly too.

6. Disconnect Search

With a little help from DuckDuckGo, plus the giants at Bing and Yahoo, Disconnect Search piggybacks on great existing search technology but doesn’t record your IP or your history.

For higher levels of security Pro (blocks trackers and malware) and Premium (masks location, IP with a VPN) services are also offered.

7. Lukol

This one is simple: it’s Google, but with a proxy server added to the chain to hide your identity. Lukol keeps tabs on fraudsters and shady sites, safeguarding you from attacks you might not see coming.

Visual learners will appreciate that results have images pulled from corresponding Web pages next to links.

8. MetaGer

Privacy comes naturally to this German outfit; every search is completed with respect for your privacy. They don’t save your IP, and the fingerprint of your browser. Cookies aren’t used nor are tracking pixels. Data is encrypted though the HTTPS protocol so your ISP can’t see your searches either.

Options to browse with a proxy or through the anonymous TOR network are available to those willing to put in the effort.

Photo: jpbr