Category Archives: VPN

Substratum to Disrupt VPNs or Is the Dream Over?

It’s among the loftiest ideas in blockchain.

Substratum is building the foundation for a new decentralized internet. This is to be an open internet that cannot be censored by restrictive governments.

So, for those using a VPN or Tor to achieve anonymity online and to view blocked content, Substratum brings new hope for the future. Or If you’re a realist, it’s a new alternative to get around the frustrating deficiencies inherent to the web.

Of course, it takes more than great tech to make such a profound change in the internet. And while Substratum has talented people with the software chops, it’s their business ethics that may sink the ship. More on that later.

First let’s get a feel how Substratum works. After all, this project is backed by some game changing vision.

A Decentralized Web Hosting Solution

The established way to deliver web content across the globe is via a hosting service. Small businesses, corporations, and content creators alike rent rack-mounted servers stored in huge facilities, or in the case of many tech companies, operate their own facility.

It’s an effective system run by professionals. However, it’s centralized. This means a website can be blocked by targeting the IP address associated with the site. This is how ISPs, institutions and governments can potentially censor content.

Decentralized hosting has no single point of failure. Thus, specific sites cannot be blocked by simply targeting an IP. So, if one machine contributing to hosting the Substratum network (aka a node) goes down, the role is simply filled by another node. This is an internet hosted “by the people” with their home computers.

How the System Works

To keep their site on the Substratum network, an individual or business pays with Substrate (SUB) tokens. This is obtained by trading another cryptocurrency for SUB, or by exchanging one’s native currency for it.

Users are incentivized to run nodes. SUB tokens are earned relative to computing power and duration that computing power is used to support the network.

A Threat to VPN Services?

Using a VPN service is currently the best way to hide your identity online in terms of speed, effectiveness and user experience.

But free is tough to beat. And the Substratum economy directs all costs to site owners, not users of the network.

So, users seeking to attain greater privacy may gravitate towards the decentralized web over time. And this could put VPN providers in tough spot if Substratum is fast. VPN services are so affordable that many won’t bother to change their habits. However, if SUB succeeds it will take a bite out of their customer base.

Web Hosting Disruption

Substratum creates an interesting opportunity for techies that operate independently from a corporation. Anyone with computing power and an internet connection can contribute to the decentralized network. With the release of Substratum Node v0.5 software, everyone running it will be paid in SUB tokens.

However, it remains to be seen if this system will be profitable enough for hosting companies to participate in any capacity. It’s probable that home users will be undercutting professional web hosts, as new participants in the space will push the value of hosting down.

Thus, if SUB takes off, site owners will now need to think about hosting for both the centralized and decentralized web. Big players using cloud hosting services like AWS or Rackspace may be able to scale back on that and invest some hosting muscle into the decentralized web.

Uncertain Times for Blockchain and Substratum

The cryptocurrency bear market that occurred after the sharp highs of late 2017 to early 2018 took its toll on the psyche of many past zealots. A rain cloud formed over the collective sentiment of blockchain investors. Lower valuations of coins and tokens associated with blockchain projects led to greater scrutiny of the teams involved, and the projects as a whole.

In short, the notion that this would be the team to bring us the decentralized internet was more believable during the boom period. Many were riding high on euphoria when Bitcoin and Ethereum prices went parabolic.

Redditors expressed their disillusionment as the Substratum project couldn’t live up to the stratospheric hype. Substratum leadership has been criticized for promising their community the moon then failing to deliver.

Deceptive Marketing (aka Shilling) on YouTube

Ethereum holders particularly, emboldened by their seemingly perfect investment, were drawn to ICOs and new blockchain projects in late 2017. Substratum took advantage of this by ramping up their marketing activity. Allegedly getting various crypto YouTubers to shill SUB tokens was an especially questionable move. The shadiness was amplified when these YouTubers later became inactive or deleted their videos.

Substratum Delisted on Exchanges

Substratum was delisted on Kucoin in January 2019, and a month later it was also delisted from the world’s most popular exchange, Binance. This was nearly the death blow to SUB trading as almost 97 percent of the trading volume was on Binance.

Members of the Substratum team were accused of engaging in pump and dump schemes with their own coin. This activity would be illegal if it was a public company manipulating their stock price. But since we’re still in the wild west stage in crypto, the most that can be done is to delist tokens associated with unscrupulous projects.

It’s Not Over Yet

Although the hype and enthusiasm surrounding the project has dwindled, Substratum is still an active project with talented team members. And unlike many projects that appeared during the ICO boom, they have a working product.

The issue is, shady trading activities and overpromising have diminished their credibility. It will be a challenge to regain the public’s trust, especially due to the severity of the bear market that multiplied the negative effects. There’s still plenty of time for the tide to turn as the crypto market recovers. However, burned investors don’t easily forget and this turn of events has created many bitter critics.

While many failed projects pulled an exit scam and completely pulled the rug from underneath ICO investors, Substratum did not. So, this is a signal that Substratum is in this for the long haul despite errors in judgement by management.

Substratum tokens were a horrible investment for the many that jumped in during all-time-highs. Nevertheless, if the team manages to deliver a decentralized internet in the future, perhaps this sacrifice was in some ways worth it.

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.

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

Protect Browsing History After Congress Internet Privacy Bill: Time to VPN?

security-breach

The US House of Representatives have passed privacy rules that give your ISP the right to access and even sell the data generated when you use the internet.

This has created a shockwave among Web users, with searches about VPN services that allow you to hide your IP and protect online privacy spiking up as a result.

In the past it was sufficient for ISPs and corporations to know just the basics about you: name, address, phone number, possibly your age. Now they want to peer inside your head and get to know what makes to tick. By studying your opinions, interests, and shopping habits they’ll know exactly what products and services to entice you with, just when you want it most.

And that’s a frightening breach of trust for most of us.

For most the internet is a sanctuary of anonymous inquiry, where we can ask Google questions we wouldn’t dare ask even to our closest friends.

It’s disturbing to imagine world in which our every embarrassing concern, politically incorrect query, and questionable download is being monitored by a tireless sales bot, looking its next hit on our credit card balance.

Unfortunately, it’s likely a minority that will take the steps to protect themselves. Anyone too preoccupied, uniformed or too cheap will be separated from an asset of great value to marketers. Keep in mind this isn’t just an invasion of your privacy, it’s a way of taking more from the consumer without directly raising the cost of internet access.

VPN to the Rescue

To understand how a VPN (virtual private network) can protect your online privacy, we need to examine how it works. A VPN connects users together through a private network so these individuals can access a public network (usually the internet) through it. By making this “virtual” connection routed through the internet from the VPN provider’s private network, the data is encrypted. Any parties intercepting this data won’t be able to read it.

Another advantage is a VPN will hide your IP address: the code used to identify your personal machine and where you are in the world. An ISP of course has all your contact information associated with your computer’s IP. Rather than seeing your true IP the ISP will see the IP of the VPN server so they won’t be able to associate that with your identity.

Recommended services:

Is Your Search Engine Trustworthy?

The ever-improving search technologies offered by Google, Bing and others are nothing short of amazing. However with these new policy changes in effect now is a good time to ask yourself if you trust the company behind your favorite search engine.

If not, you may want to use a search engine that doesn’t track user data like DuckDuckGo or Yippy for your incognito searches.

HTTPS: A Partial Solution

Sites that use HTTPS have a security certificate that encrypts the user’s data directly on their server. Web-based companies that value the privacy of their users have made strides to protect it from malicious entities and now to an extent from ISPs.

When you visit a HTTPS enabled site like Twitter for example, your ISP will be able to see you accessed that site, plus the time and duration of the visit. However, the exact pages you accessed while on Twitter will be hidden to the ISP.

That’s not bad but the issue here is that many sites don’t utilize HTTPS, especially small, independently run sites with limited resources.

Although imperfect, you may opt to use a browser plugin like HTTPS Everywhere to beef up security on such sites with no security certificate.

Hit ISPs Back

Some may see the value in voicing their privacy concerns with their ISP directly. Tell them your concerns about privacy issues. Ask about their policies about selling customer data. Then inquire if you can opt out of it.

If the backlash is great enough there will be market pressure for ISPs to rethink how they handle privacy. Congress may have given them the right to sell your data, but that doesn’t mean they can’t opt out too. Better privacy practices may become a selling feature for ISPs that decide to differentiate themselves from other ISPs unwilling to put their customers needs first.

Photo: Blogtrepreneur