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Choosing a VPN service is a serious decision

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There’s a disturbing trend in the past year or so of various VPN companies advertising to the general, non-technical public. It’s great that the general public is starting to become more aware of their privacy online, but I’m not a fan of these companies exploiting public paranoia to peddle their wares. Using a VPN in the first place has potentially grave consequences for your privacy - and can often be worse than not using one in the first place.

It’s true that, generally speaking, when you use a VPN, the websites you visit don’t have access to your original IP address, which can be used to derive your approximate location (often not more specific than your city or neighborhood). But that’s not true of the VPN provider themselves - who can identify you much more precisely because you used your VPN login to access the service. Additionally, they can promise not to siphon off your data and write it down somewhere - tracking you, selling it to advertisers, handing it over to law enforcement - but they could and you’d be none the wiser. By routing all of your traffic through a VPN, you route all of your traffic through a VPN.

Another advantage offered by VPNs is that they can prevent your ISP from knowing what you’re doing online. If you don’t trust your ISP but you do trust your VPN, this makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense if you’re on an unfamiliar network, like airport WiFi. However, it’s still quite important that you do trust the VPN on the other end. You need to do research. What country are they based in, and what’s their diplomatic relationship with your home country? What kind of power the local authorities have to force them to record & disclose your traffic? Are they backed by venture capitalists who expect infinite growth, and will they eventually have to meet those demands by way of selling your information to advertisers? What happens to you when their business is going poorly? How much do you trust their security competency - are they likely to be hacked? If you haven’t answered all of these questions yourself, then you should not use a VPN.

Even more alarming than the large advertising campaigns which have been popular in the past few months is push-button VPN services which are coming pre-installed on consumer hardware and software. These bother me because they’re implemented by programmers who should understand this stuff and know better than to write the code. Opera now has a push-button VPN pre-bundled which is free and tells you little about the service before happily sending all of your traffic through it. Do you trust a Chinese web browser’s free VPN to behave in your best interests? Purism also recently announced a collaboration with Private Internet Access to ship a VPN in their upcoming Librem 5. I consider this highly irresponsible of Purism, and actually discussed the matter at some length with Todd Weaver (the CEO) over email. We need to stop making it easy for users to siphon all of their data into the hands of someone they don’t know.

For anyone who needs a VPN but isn’t comfortable using one of these companies, there are other choices. First, consider that any website you visit with HTTPs support (identified by the little green lock in the address bar on your web browser) is already encrypting all of your traffic so it cannot be read or tampered with. This discloses your IP address to the operator of that website and discloses that you visited that website to your ISP, but does not disclose any data you sent to them, or any content they sent to you, to your ISP or any eavesdroppers. If you’re careful to use HTTPS (and other forms of SSL for things like email), that can often be enough.1

If that’s not enough, the ironclad solution is Tor. When you connect to a website on Tor, it (1) hides your IP address from the website and any eavesdroppers, (2) hides who you’re talking to from your ISP, and (3) hides what you’re talking about from the ISP. In some cases (onion services), it even hides the origin of the service you’re talking to from you. Tor comes with its own set of limitations and pitfalls for privacy & security, which you should read about and understand before using it. Bad actors on the Tor network can read and tamper with your traffic if you aren’t using SSL or Onion routing.

Finally, if you have some technical know-how, you can set up your own VPN. If you have a server somewhere (or rent one from a VPS provider), you can install a VPN on it. I suggest Wireguard (easiest, Linux only) or OpenVPN (more difficult, works on everything). Once again, this comes with its own limitations. You’ll always be using a consistent IP address that services you visit can remember to track you, and you get a new ISP (whoever your VPS provider uses). This’ll generally route you through commercial ISPs, though, who are much less likely to do obnoxious crap like injecting ads in webpages or redirecting your failed DNS queries to “search results” (i.e. more ads). You’ll need to vet your VPS provider and their ISP with equal care.

Understand who handles your data - encrypted and unencrypted - before you share it. No matter your approach, you should also always install an adblocker (I strongly recommend uBlock Origin), stick to HTTPS-enabled websites, and be suspicious of and diligent about every piece of software, every browser extension, every app you install, and every website you visit. Most of them are trying to spy on you.

Related articles:

  1. A reader points out that HTTPS can also be tampered with. If someone else administrates your computer (such as your employer), they can install custom certificates that allow them to tamper with your traffic. This is also sometimes done by software you install on your system, like antivirus software (which more times than not, is a virus itself). Additionally, anyone who can strongarm a certificate authority (state actors) may be able to issue an illegitimate certificate for the same purpose. The only communication method I know of which has no known flaws is onion routing on Tor. 

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pyrho
583 days ago
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Letter to an Israeli soldier

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Israeli army tanks and armoured vehicles are seen in Gaza near the border with Israel July 30, 2014 (Reuters / Baz Ratner)

Starved, besieged, yet unbowed, the 1.8 million people you have imprisoned there can do nothing except endure as your bombs and your missiles rain down, targeting hospitals, schools, civic buildings, homes, police stations and even UN compounds where people had sought sanctuary; still believing, despite decades of disappointment and betrayal, in the sanctity and protection of international law.

Your bombs have sought and found their victims, incinerating and blowing to smithereens young and old alike, at the same time as your government attempts to convince the world that every effort is being made to avoid civilian casualties in what they describe as a military operation to root out terrorism and provide security for its citizens. It is a lie.

Slaughtering children is never done in the name of security. It is done in the name of barbarity.

After the air assault you began your ground invasion, and who could ever forget the pictures of you and your comrades, fully armed and equipped for combat, marching into the night, marching over the hopes and lives of the children who in just a few hours were destined to be blown apart by the guns and the bullets you carry so proudly as a testament to your superior civilization and values. You marched into a part of the world that you have ensured remains cut off from the rest of humanity, a punishment you have inflicted on the people living there for daring to resist by electing a government you do not approve of. But this government refuses to recognize us, you have asserted time and again, revealing a grotesque expectation to be recognized by a people who’ve been systematically expropriated, brutalized, and dehumanized since 1948, when your state was formed.

The whole world is watching you and your comrades – soldier of the “most moral army in the world” – with mounting anger and incredulity that such barbarism can be inflicted by a military superpower on a defenseless civilian population in the 21st century. Even your sponsors and apologists in the West are finding it difficult to provide you with the political support you have always counted on while violating international law as if not worth the paper it is written on. This collusion by Western governments in your crimes is a crime in itself, one that history will not forgive.

So tell us: when will your thirst for Palestinian blood be sated? How many dead women and children will be enough before you decide to end this massacre? Gaza is already in ruins, so whatever happens now you can be satisfied when you return to your family and kiss your children like the brave warrior you think you are.

Meanwhile, the suffering, despair and carnage you leave behind will entitle humanity to ask, yet again, if to be born Palestinian is to be born less than human, condemned by the great powers to be considered children of a lesser god – their history, culture and rights denied?

Yet no matter the calumny and lies employed by your government, by their spokesmen and women, who appear on our TV screens with the confidence of those who claim to act in the name of democracy and civilization, who claim to speak and act in the name of past victims of genocide and mass murder, the Palestinians continue to refuse to play the role chosen for them by you and by your apologists. No, the Palestinians refuse to acquiesce in their own destruction, drawing hope from the truth that no missile or bomb, no tank or military aircraft, could ever come close to matching the power of the human spirit.

In just three weeks something has changed. The world has seen with its own eyes that Israel is not the victim it claims. As they have come out in unprecedented number across the world, people understand that the continued dispossession and misery of the Palestinian people will no longer be tolerated. In their millions around the world, and increasingly within Israel itself, people are declaring that no longer will they stand by and bear witness to occupation, oppression, and barbarism carried out in the name of progress. Too many times in the past the world has stood by, with the names and dates of past atrocities a warning of the abyss into which humanity has sunk before and could sink again unless the world remains vigilant.

Guernica 1937: the Warsaw Ghetto 1942: My Lai 1968: Fallujah 2003: Gaza 2008-09, 2012, and 2014
It is not vengeance the world seeks, but justice – and justice for the Palestinians can only begin when the injustice that has placed a wall around your own humanity is ended. End the siege, tear down the apartheid wall, remove the checkpoints, and free not only those you have imprisoned all these years but just as importantly, free yourself.

You affirm time and again that Israel has the right to exist. Yes, but not as an apartheid state, not as a state which exists at the negation of a people whose only crime is that they continue to exist on land which you have long since decided belongs to you. No matter how many tanks, fighter jets and missiles you may possess in your vast arsenal of weapons, the refusal of this tortured, wretched people to disappear into the night of history weakens you. For it acts as an uncomfortable reminder that when you return to your family each night after doing your duty, you do so with your humanity diminished.

It is why we say to you now that you are living on the wrong side of history – in a cold, lonely place called dishonor.

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pyrho
2311 days ago
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A Softer World

5 Comments and 16 Shares

buy this print
Or share on: facebook reddit
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pyrho
2617 days ago
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popular
2619 days ago
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5 public comments
norb
2619 days ago
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In the "This will never happen" department...
clmbs.oh
Michdevilish
2619 days ago
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Heh
Canada
ravenel
2619 days ago
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Ha! Love it.
ÜT: 40.673477,-73.975108
Technicalleigh
2619 days ago
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lulz
Vancouver BC
jepler
2620 days ago
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“It was all worth it” -- mouseover text
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm

Social Media

14 Comments and 33 Shares
The social media reaction to this asteroid announcement has been sharply negative. Care to respond?
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pyrho
2688 days ago
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x)
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12 public comments
lucasbfr
2685 days ago
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That. :(
Paris, France
mrobold
2690 days ago
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Ooh, I wonder how this sarcasm will play on Twitter.
Orange County, California
ravenel
2690 days ago
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Love it. XKCD, you rock.
ÜT: 40.673477,-73.975108
rosskarchner
2690 days ago
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Somewhere, Rick Sanchez is smiling.
DC-ish
ameel
2690 days ago
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Indeed.
Melbourne, Australia
norb
2690 days ago
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love it! hate that they put facebook/twitter comments on tv. shit enrages me.
clmbs.oh
karlkatzke
2690 days ago
Then why do you still watch it?
Michdevilish
2690 days ago
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thusly
Canada
sfringer
2690 days ago
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Agreed with frame 3
North Carolina USA
adamgurri
2690 days ago
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lol
New York, NY
initio
2690 days ago
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Yep, that's the way it is.
Canberra
kerkenez
2690 days ago
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kıh kıh kıh

Bullet Time Fireworks with a GoPro and a Ceiling Fan

6 Comments and 21 Shares

fireworksfireworks

Just in time for the Fourth of July, Jeremiah Warren created an incredible relatively low-budget “bullet time” rig— with a 240 fps GoPro camera mounted to a ceiling fan —to photograph fireworks. He posted a full writeup showing how to build it on his web site.

fireworks

fireworks

The clever hack about using the GoPro on the ceiling fan is thanks to Mark Rober, who showed how to do it back in May, mostly with smaller-scale subjects.  But Jeremiah has taken the idea and run with it, adapting it for larger-scale photography.

And as you can see, the results are simply fantastic.You can find more videos and the full how-to on Jeremiah’s site.

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pyrho
2697 days ago
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o_o
popular
2704 days ago
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4 public comments
andersoncj
2701 days ago
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=]
shamgar_bn
2704 days ago
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Coolest idea ever! Homemade bullet time effect with a GoPro camera.
Wake Forest, North Carolina
ironpinguin
2704 days ago
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Cool idea!
48.119232, 11.599976
jepler
2706 days ago
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this looks fun!
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
2704 days ago
I got one of these last week. I'mma gonna have to figure this out!

Abandoned Star Wars Film Sets

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Lors d’un voyage en Tunisie, l’artiste new-yorkais Rä di Martino a photographié ce qu’il restait des décors désertiques illustrant la planète Tatooine dans les films Star Wars. De superbes clichés et une série réunie sobrement sous le nom de « No More Stars » à découvrir dans la suite de l’article.

No-More-stars09 No-More-stars08 No-More-stars06 No-More-stars05 No-More-stars04 No-More-stars03 No-More-stars02 No-More-stars00 No-More-stars07
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pyrho
2738 days ago
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