What is a VPN, and what can you use one for?

Connect securely to your network from anywhere in the world, cover your tracks, protect your privacy and watch stuff you’re not supposed with a VPN

VPN (short for virtual private network) is basically a secure link between your computer and another computer somewhere else on the internet. In theory, all communication between your computer and that computer over the internet can’t be eavesdropped on or inspected so as to see what you’re up to.

Having  VPN configured on your network’s server or a network hardware device will allow a user to connect from their laptop or tablet from anywhere in the world there is an internet connection and allow them to access their files, folders and email etc… as if they’re right there in the office.

You can get access to a VPN service out with your company’s network by giving a VPN hosting company a few pounds a month, then configuring your computer or router to send all your internet traffic via them. Most VPN providers have servers in multiple countries, so you can pretend to have your internet connection appear to be in any country in the world.

Evading and confusing the indiscriminate mass surveillance of a nation state is a popular use of VPN services. By using that secure link between you and a computer abroad, ideally in a friendly jurisdiction, you’re able to avoid the government’s tracking of which websites you visit and when. All your ISP will record is that you visited the VPN over and over, because they don’t know where that traffic goes after it leaves your VPN provider.

If privacy is your reason for wanting to use a VPN, make sure you check that your DNS information isn’t leaked, which would result in your ISP knowing which websites you visited.  Ensure that you use a VPN service that doesn’t log your activity, nor is in a country that shares its surveillance data with the UK. There’s no point trying to hide your tracks from your ISP if the VPN provider is logging it and they’re in a Five Eyes country that shares its information with the UK.

Of course, a VPN alone isn’t a foolproof way of evading surveillance, as there are multiple methods the law has up its sleeve to track what you’re up to. A downside of routing all your traffic over a VPN is that you’ll suffer a slower Internet connection due to all your traffic travelling across the globe and back again, even if accessing a local server.

Another less known, but perhaps the most important, reason to grab a VPN account is to protect yourself when using unsecured public wi-fi. Most public wi-fi hotspots don’t use WPA2 encryption so that you can connect to the network without having to enter a password. Without any encryption, anyone also using that same access point as you with nefarious or even curious intentions can see whatever you’re doing. Utilising a VPN encrypts all that information so anyone looking at your data stream will just see gibberish.

Once again, a VPN isn’t perfect, as in that short period between connecting to the wi-fi and your VPN connecting, there can still be unencrypted traffic flowing out of your computer or smartphone, so be aware of that next time you use public wi-fi.

A more consumer mainstream use of a VPN is to get around pesky geolocation of Internet services. Take for if you’re abroad but still wanna watch some iPlayer? Fire up your VPN, set your endpoint to the UK and tune in.

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4 Ways to Protect Against the Very Real Threat of Ransomware

 

Password’s – Seven tips and tricks to keep your digital locks secure

1. Think Length, Not Complexity

A longer password is usually better than a more random password, as long as the password is at least 12-15 characters long.

In fact, a long password that comprises only lower-case letters can be more beneficial than crafting just the right combination of alphanumeric gibberish. Usually all it takes is a password just two characters longer to make up for a lack of other types of characters such as upper-case, numbers, or symbols.

In other words, the time spent making your password look like Popeye cursing would be better applied toward typing two easier to remember letters.

2. Keep It Weird

That’s not to say you should be content with 111111111111111. Longer is always better, but that length yields diminishing returns if you’re not still mixing it up.

We have seen an effort by many people to be more secure by adding characters to passwords, but if these longer passwords are based on simple patterns they will put you in just as much risk of having your identity stolen by hackers.

Avoid common sports and pop culture terms regardless of length. The more common a password is, the less secure it will be, so go with something no one else would (ideally, a random string).

3. Don’t Bunch Up Your Special Characters

Many password input fields now require you to use a combination of upper case and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. That’s fine! Just keep them separated.

Put your digits, symbols, and capital letters spread throughout the middle of your password, not at the beginning or end. Most people put capital letters at the beginning and digits and symbols at the end. If you do that, you get very little benefit from adding these special characters.”

It’s that “most people” part that gets you in trouble. It’s about predictability based on how many people do it. Avoiding front- or backloading your passwords with special characters also gives you a lot more real estate to work with, which creates a bigger bottleneck for anyone trying to break in.

4. Never Double Dip

You’ve followed every password recommendation, down to the last &$@. It would take years for someone to crack. Your password is so good, in fact, and took so long to memorize, that you’ve decided to use it on a couple of accounts.

This is bad!

Even if you have an ‘unimportant’ password and an ‘important’ password tier, it’s very unsafe. It makes it way too easy for a hacker to attack one site and get your password to all the others.”

The main point here, really, is that your passwords are only as secure as the sites to which you entrust them. If you don’t want to pay dearly for someone else’s mistake, limit the potential fallout by using a unique password everywhere. Or, you know, skip the whole thing and use a password manager.

5. Don’t Change Them So Often

Don’t change passwords every month.

Passwords are hard. They should be! But it’s better to go through the trouble of making one good one, and sticking with it, than to expect to be able to turn over that many special characters more often than you do the pages on a wall calendar.

Frequent password changes are largely a waste of time. There’s no evidence that password changes improve outcomes.

6. Take the Panic Down a Notch

You’re right to do everything you can to make your password as safe as possible. But it might also help to remember that most people don’t need a digital Fort Knox. A digital combination lock should do just fine.

Ignore the stories about attackers doing billions of guesses and saying that the average password can be guessed in under a second: your bank is not going to allow an attacker to try 100 billion guesses. For web passwords you mostly have to worry about withstanding a few thousand guesses.

Yes, that’s still a lot of guesses. But if anything, it’s a reminder that if you do commit to password best practices, the bad guys are probably going to move right along.

7. Layer Up

When deployed properly, passwords are pretty good. They’re much better, though, as part of an overall plan of attack. This goes double for those on the admin side of the aisle.

Don’t rely on passwords alone! Passwords should not be considered sufficient for anything other than the lowest-risk applications.

Instead, adding a layer of more robust authentication, like cryptographic credentials, or a biometric identifier i.e a fingerprint scanner.

Adding a layer of protection makes sense, but it also has potential ancillary benefits that aren’t quite so obvious.

By adding [extra authentication], a company could have a less strict password policy, like less characters or requiring password changes less frequently.

Which, hey! As great as an airtight password is, anything that makes them a little easier to achieve is more than welcome.

Top Tools for Remote Workers

There are quite literally thousands of mobile phone apps that can help businessmen and -women to work more effectively. Many of these focus on enabling employees to work remotely, outside of the office, maintaining the flow of business and allowing companies to progress further, quicker.

The following is a list of select apps that you should have in your digital repertoire if you work remotely.

Trello

Trello is an app that enables you to project manage anything, with anyone, at any time. Disconnected email threads, worn-out sheets of paper and out-of-date software can now all be replaced with this highly convenient app that presents your entire project on one organised dashboard. You can tap into this anywhere, allowing you to edit and update tasks, members and photos as the project progresses, keeping you posted always.

f.lux

f.lux is the night owl’s best friend. This nifty app adjusts your screen to match the lighting of the environment that you are in. So if you’re outside the screen will look like daylight and if you are inside then it will adjust according to the lighting of the room. Simply tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have and where you live and let the app do the rest – a dream for the late night worker whose eyes are tired of the harsh computer screen glow.

Buffer

Social media is a powerful business tool when used correctly. Buffer can help you get the best results from it when you’re working remotely and aren’t online all the time. With Buffer, you can schedule your posts so they coincide with peak social media times and reach the most people, letting people know what’s going on with your business as and when it happens.

HipChat

HipChat is a highly efficient and protected means of sharing work within a business. With this app you can, essentially, always be in a room with your colleagues, getting instant answers to your questions and feedback on your work no matter where you all are. You can also bring clients and other third-parties into the room with you to share your ideas and progress, but with the power to control what they see and, consequently, how your business is presented.

1Password

Never again will employees have to waste time chasing up passwords or waiting on the digital doorstep of your company. 1Password lets you store all your passwords, pin codes, important documents and more in a top-security digital vault, to be reached only by whoever is explicitly given access. This crafty little app reduces the risk of passwords being intercepted and ensures people can be fully connected, 24/7, wherever they are.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is the perfect diary for the hardworking employee with wanderlust. It’s hard to keep track of everything that’s going on when you’re moving around a lot, perhaps traveling lightly and without a secretary to act as your spare brain. Wunderlist acts as a sophisticated diary that holds all your to-do lists and reminders in one place. You can set reminders, share your lists with colleagues and access it all from any device, saving you the bother of carrying around diaries and notepads that can get lost or soiled.

Airbnb

Airbnb is a vital app for the worker who travels. Conferences, events and meetings are made so much easier knowing you’ve got a comfortable and hospitable place to go back to. The app consolidates all your previous, present and future trips in one place, which gives you easy access to all of your hosts, providing contact details and maps to get you home quickly. Getting an Airbnb instead of a hotel offers the chance to see a city from a new perspective, as well as ensuring you feel at home wherever you are.

Uber

The Uber app is the epitome of ease. Having the app on your phone saves you any worry about how you’re going to get home after an event or to a conference the next morning, feats that can sometimes be a nightmare in a foreign place. The best thing about this app is that it offers 24/7 service in most major cities.

iDoneThis

This app has a simple premise: letting your teammates know when you’ve done things. This simple objective is actually highly useful and you’ll come to rely on it more than you might think. When you go to bed at night you’ll be fully up to date on where your team’s at, what needs doing tomorrow and how fast the work is moving. Instant status updates mean you can know what’s going on at all times.

Every Time Zone

It’s vital that you know what the time is for all of your colleagues, wherever they are in the world. If you don’t, important meetings and work can be disrupted or delayed and all because people simply got the time wrong. This app presents all the cities that are important to you in order of their time zone, so you can easily find what time 10AM in another country means for you. Daytime sections are colour coded to highlight the best working hours.

Hackpad

Hackpad is basically a single, giant notepad that your team shares. You can all make notes and lists that will go out to everybody else, to be saved and built upon at any time, by anybody invited. In this way ideas can be communicated and developed quickly and simply and at any time of day. Collaboration isn’t then limited to the time space of a meeting, and everybody has an opportunity to give their input.

Workfrom

This is an incredibly handy app for the remote worker who likes to work out of the house. With a layout much like Airbnb, you can search any city for private or public workspaces that have been suggested by the community. Each entry has tips and information that workers will find useful, such as how much seating there is and if it has work-friendly hours, as well the option for photos and community or owner approval.

Cloud App

Cloud App enables you to share your screen with anyone, anywhere. Essentially it means that you don’t need to be in the same room as someone to show them the exciting new thing you’ve just discovered in the depths of the internet, or to illustrate an idea you’ve been trying to communicate. You simply take screen shots, save them to the cloud, and then share the URL so that others can have access to your screen. For fun points (as well as for productive use), there is a new feature which allows you to create GIFs of your screen.

Jawbone Up

This app helps to ensure team members are fit and healthy. Sitting at a computer for much of the day can have a negative impact on our fitness, but this app reminds remote working employees that they need to get up and move regularly – something that can be forgotten when you’re deep in your own hard-working bubble. The app helps to track how much activity you do in the day and how much sleep you get at night, encouraging you to get a good balance of both.

World Time Buddy

This app is useful when you need to know the specific time of a specific place where a colleague or client currently is, which might not be a major city. Where the Every Time Zone app gives you a dashboard view of relevant cities and their time zones, World Time Buddy is more for the now and the specific.

Spotted by Locals

Alongside Airbnb, Spotted by Locals is paramount to experiencing cities like the locals. If you’ve got a bit of time in a city – whether it’s just in between meetings or on a day off – then this app offers you an alternative city guide, where the tourist sites are foregone in favour of a more insider experience. This is a great app for gaining a real experience of a city, rather than one based solely on a few attractions that have very little to do with the modern state of affairs.

Sqwiggle

Sqwiggle lets you feel like you’re in an office with people when you are all, in fact, miles and miles away from each other, maintaining the immediacy of office culture but also allowing for independence and privacy. It’s essentially a live chat programme that you can tap in and out of – or leave on for as long as you are working – with just one click. This can be from your mobile when you’re on the move, your laptop in a coffee shop or from a big screen in an office. Your profile picture can be updated according to your current whereabouts, adding a sense of fun to your status updates and company communication.

These are just a few apps that can help keep your business running efficiently with remote workers. As the corporate climate is constantly evolving and demanding ever more from businesses, it’s good to know that technology can keep up!