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VPNs are one of the most widely known tools for protecting digital privacy. People in different countries use VPNs daily. To be exact, more than 31% of all internet users rely on VPN services. So what do VPNs exactly do to secure the users’ privacy on the web? Read on to find out.
What VPNs really do 🤔
VPNs mask the IP address 🛡 An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique number that identifies people on the internet. It’s assigned to users by their Internet Service Providers (ISPs, for short). Websites analyze the IP to figure out the user’s region. Why do they need it? Well, many online services are geo-restricted, meaning they don’t support some countries. VPNs connect users to servers in other countries and changes their IP to the servers’ one. Masking the IP address allows access to geo-blocked websites.
VPNs encrypt connection 🔒 Usually, the data travels from the user’s device to their ISP server without protection. As a result, the ISP knows what websites the user goes to, what they do online and can log this information. In some cases, ISPs can sell it. VPN services use encryption to secure users’ online traffic. When the VPN is on, the ISP will get the data, but they’ll only see a cipher they can’t use in any way.
In the case of our VPN, ClearVPN, we use the highest-standard encryption, AES-256 (read more on it below), to securely hide our users’ information. We also maintain a strict no-log policy by not collecting, storing, or sharing our users’ data in any way.
VPNs hide apparent location 🌍 As we’ve said before, an IP address points to the user’s location. The VPN tunnels the traffic through a different server and gives the user a new IP. This changes their location (as websites see it) to the desired country.
VPNs make ad tracking harder 🙌 Advertisers need the IP address to record users’ actions on websites. Combined with cookies, it allows presenting people with optimized ads. As VPNs hide the actual IP, it becomes harder for advertisers to track users’ online activities. ClearVPN lets users protect themselves from tracking with just a tap. Our special shortcut (that’s how we call ClearVPN’s pre-made VPN solutions) changes the users’ IP and connects them to the closest available server. This way, it becomes harder for advertisers to log users’ actions online while their connection speed stays fast.
What VPNs Don’t Do 🗿
VPNs don’t guarantee full anonymity ☹️ Although a VPN encrypts the web traffic and changes the IP address, it doesn’t mean that the users will be 100% anonymous on the internet. Human error is still the most significant source of danger, and no VPN can save from that.
VPNs don’t protect from viruses 🧑💻 VPNs are not anti-virus software and should never be used instead of one. Although some VPNs can block sites with possible malicious content, they can’t protect from viruses in files users download from the web. That’s why it’s essential to have an anti-virus tool. That’s true even if you’re on Mac. Malwarebytes’ 2021 State of Malware Report saw malware on Macs (mostly backdoors, data stealers, and cryptocurrency stealers/miners) increased by more than 61% this year.
VPNs can slow down the internet 😑 Encrypting data and then sending it to a server on the other side of the planet earth does take some time. Luckily, modern VPN speeds are so fast that an average user won’t likely feel any difference. It’s possible to stream Netflix and play Fortnite over a VPN connection, so the loss of a few Mbps is relatively low.
VPN Encryption Methods 🔐
Encryption isn’t something new. Turning information into cipher was as crucial four thousand years ago as it is now. Today’s encryption is a mathematical algorithm that turns data into a mix of symbols that can be unlocked only with a key. The key is a secret line of code known only to the sender and receiver, and it changes with each session. Modern encryption is so strong that even the most brilliant computers will need a few million years to break it down.
What is the Encryption Industry Standard?🤔 Humans just love having standards in everything, so there’s one in encryption too. Today’s industry standard is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). It has a few variations based on the key size: 128, 192, or 256 bits. Governments and organizations like banks and intelligence agencies use AES-256 for their most valuable data, so do the most secure VPNs.
Here’s how AES-256 works 😎 Let’s say we need to encrypt a text message. AES-256 creates a unique key that consists of 256 bits. With the key, the technique uses a mathematical algorithm that will turn text into a cipher. This way, the “I love oranges” text becomes “wixEJfcdh+dfbZZ8TJn9QQ==.” Quite uneasy to guess, isn’t it? You can try encrypting your messages on this website. AES-256 doesn’t only encrypt text. As any information, including images, videos, and audio, can be represented as code, they get encrypted too.
VPN Protocols 💻
“Wait, what? Isn’t encryption enough for a VPN to work?” — Well, the encrypted data still needs to travel from the user’s device to the VPN server. And get back. That’s why VPNs utilize special protocols that rule out the transit of information. Let’s look at the most popular VPN protocols:
PPTP or Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol was one of the earliest VPN protocols. It was created in 1999 by Microsoft, it was prevalent in the first VPNs, but it lacks essential features and has many security vulnerabilities compared to modern protocols.
L2TP or Layer Two Tunneling Protocol is a better version of PPTP. It doesn’t provide any encryption on its own but is usually accompanied by IPSec (a type of encryption). It’s not perfect, but if there’s a choice between PPTP and L2TP, the second will be much better.
SSTP or Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol is secure but not open-source. Microsoft owns this technology, and although there are versions of SSTP for Mac and Linux, it’s still primarily a Windows protocol.
IKEv2 or Internet Key Exchange version 2 is a relatively new VPN protocol developed by Microsoft and Cisco. It doesn’t support as many platforms as the other ones and works mainly on Windows and iOS. IKEv2 is good at re-establishing a VPN connection if the user suddenly loses connection.
OpenVPN uses the most robust encryption out of all the other protocols — AES, which we talked about earlier. It’s also open-source, meaning developers can understand how it works very well and adapt it to their needs. Compared to other protocols, it’s the best choice for security.
WireGuard is a new VPN protocol designed to be an alternative to OpenVPN and IKEv2. Its most significant benefit is a faster connection time. It uses strong encryption, but it’s not considered as secure as OpenVPN.
In the case of the ClearVPN, we use both the OpenVPN protocol powered by AES-256 encryption and our custom protocol based on WireGuard for faster connections.
What VPNs do protect from 😎
As a summary, let’s boil down to what VPNs really secure their users from:
VPNs protect from ISPs collecting data 💳 VPNs encrypt users’ incoming and outcoming traffic, which stops the ISPs from profiling and tracking their online activities.
VPNs protect from being fined for torrenting 💰Most peer-to-peer software uses the IP address in their file-sharing technology and makes it visible to everybody on the internet. While using P2P isn’t illegal, uploading a copyrighted file via the network is. Governments and ISPs often look up for torrenting activities from their IPs. If they catch a user uploading a copyrighted file, they can sue them. VPNs hide the actual IP together with users’ online activities.
VPNs protect from targeted ads 🍪 IPs and cookies are the bread and butter of digital advertisement. As the VPNs hide the user’s actual IP address, they’ll see less targeted and location-based ads while browsing.
VPNs protect from geo-blocks 🌍 Many countries restrict access to certain websites by providing the ISPs with the “blacklist” of undesirable resources. VPNs help users bypass this restriction by encrypting their information, and the ISPs will only see the cipher.
VPNs protect gamers from DDoS attacks 🎮 In online games, some players want to win no matter the cost. That’s why they can DDoS their opponents. A successful DDoS attack will slow down the internet connection or even completely shut it down. The IP is enough to launch such an attack. With a VPN, the actual gamer’s IP is hidden, and any online game is safe from DDoS.
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George Soros Buys Millions’ Worth of Stocks Linked to Bill Hwang’s Archegos Collapse: Bloomberg
George Soros reportedly snapped up stocks that took a hit amid the collapse of Archegos Capital Management in March.
What Happened: Billionaire George Soros’ investment firm Soros Fund Management bought shares of CBS Corporation (NASDAQ:VIAC), DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS INC (NASDAQ:DISCA) and Baidu Inc (NASDAQ:BIDU) as these stocks were at a discount after Bill Hwang’s Archegos Capital Management collapsed, Bloomberg reports.
Soros bought $194 million in ViacomCBS shares and $77 million in Baidu shares, the report said. The firm also bought $46 million worth of Vipshop Holdings Ltd (NYSE:VIPS) shares and $34 million of Tencent Music Entertainment Group’s (NYSE:TME) shares.
A person familiar with the fund’s trading told Bloomberg that the company didn’t hold the shares before Archegos’ implosion.
Why It Matters: Hwang ran a family office that imploded in March and caused massive losses at a few big banks when Archegos couldn’t meet margin calls. Archegos had more than $20 billion of capital and total bets exceeding $100 billion.
Hwang was very successful with his family office until he began to overutilize leverage, or borrowed money, to chase higher returns in the market. The problem with this strategy comes when investments start to lose money, and the banks lending the investor money begin to get nervous and initiate margin calls.
Subsequently, shares of Archegos investments ViacomCBS, Discovery and others temporarily crashed during the Archegos unwinding.
Image Credit: CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons
How one founder’s startup journey began with dropping out of school to work with Drake
This week’s episode of Found features Courtne Smith, founder of NewNew, a social app where people pay to vote on your decisions. The platform takes the concept of social polling to the next level, essentially allowing everyone to monetize their choices by turning them into a kind of social stock market where others can purchase shares to accumulate more or less decision power based on what they’re willing to spend.
Courtne’s path to NewNew was immediately preceded by the creation of Surprize, a social trivia and prize-giving app that leveraged crowdsourcing to pick and award its prizes. But long before that, the Toronto native made a bold decision — encouraged by, of all people, her pastor father — to drop out of school and go work for Drake the very outset of his career as his personal assistant.
We talked to Courtne about making that risky deviation from a relatively traditional and safe path, and about how she eventually moved on from many years of working with Drake during his rise to global success: Another counterintuitive decision to go from something that was already working out well, to pursue something unknown. Courtne tells us about her overall entrepreneurial drive, which has always stemmed from a desire to create something game-changing, and about how when it came time to attract investors for her ventures, she opted not to leverage her deep-pocketed connections and instead sought capital on the merits of her ideas alone.
We had a great time chatting with Courtne, and we hope you have just as much fun listening. And of course, we’d love if you can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us direct feedback either on Twitter or via email. And please join us again next week for our next featured founder.
CBDCs Are Not That Stable And May Eventually Kill Bitcoin, Says Financial Expert
In early Sunday trading, BTC prices had fallen to their lowest levels for over 11 weeks, hitting $46,700 before a minor recovery.
The last time Bitcoin dropped to these levels was at the end of February during the second major correction of this ongoing rally. A rebound off that bottom sent prices above $60K for the first time in the two weeks that followed.
Later today, Bitcoin is going to close another weekly candle. In case the candle closes at those levels, this will become the worst weekly close since February 22nd, when BTC ended the week at $45,240, according to Bitstamp. Two weeks ago the weekly candle closed at $49,200, which the current lowest week close since February.
Second ‘Lower Low’ For Bitcoin
This time around, things feel slightly different and the bearish sentiment is returning to crypto-asset markets. Since its all-time high of $65K on April 14, Bitcoin has made a lower high and has now formed a second lower low on the daily chart, which is indicative of a larger downtrend developing.
Analyst ‘CryptoFibonacci’ has been eyeing the weekly chart which also suggests the bulls could be running out of steam.
$BTC Weekly Chart.
— CryptoFibonacci (@CryptoFib) May 15, 2021
The move appears to have been driven by Elon Musk again with a tweet about Bitcoin’s energy consumption on May 13. Bitcoin’s fear and greed index has dropped to 20 – ‘extreme fear’ – its lowest level since the March 2020 market crash. At the time of press, BTC was trading at just under $48,000, down 4% over the past 24 hours.
Market Cap Shrinks by $150B
As usual, the move has initiated a selloff for the majority of other cryptocurrencies resulting in around $150 billion exiting the markets over the past day or so.
The total market cap has declined to $2.3 trillion after an all-time high of $2.5 trillion on May 12. Things are still high on the long term view but losses could accelerate rapidly if the bearish sentiment increases.
Not all crypto assets are correcting this weekend, and some have been building on recent gains to push even higher – although they are few in number.
Those weekend warriors include Cardano which has added 4.8% on the day to trade at $2.27 according to Coingecko. ADA hit an all-time high on Saturday, May 15 reaching $2.36, a gain of 54% over the past 30 days.
Ripple’s XRP is also seeing a resurgence with a 13% pump on the day to flip Cardano for the fourth spot. XRP is currently trading at $1.58 with a market cap of $73 billion. The only other two cryptocurrencies in the green at the time of writing are Stellar and Solana, gaining 3.7% and 12% respectively.
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VIVO Clinic Unveils New Travel Information Portal
Leading PCR test provider VIVO Clinic has launched a travel information portal to assist with international trips to and from the UK.
BIRMINGHAM, England, May 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — During the pandemic, travel has been severely restricted. Now that the Government has launched a traffic light system designation for every country, UK residents are once again beginning to book holidays for the future.
The travel information portal is a comprehensive resource that provides relevant travel information in one place.
Travellers can browse countries based on the current traffic light designation and live popularity.
When viewing specific countries, travellers can see:
- Which tests are required before, during, and after their trip
- Current restrictions in that country
- Weather, currency conversion, and time difference
- Up to date Covid-19 statistics for that location
- Flight and hotel availability
Commenting on the new system, Will Andrews, CTO at VIVO Clinic says: “International travel is set to bounce back in a big way, but understanding current restrictions and requirements can be confusing, and planning a trip can involve a time-consuming slog through many resources.”
The system automatically aggregates hundreds of data sources to provide information for 330 countries.
“We are incredibly proud of our travel information portal and hope that it will simplify international travel so customers can book trips confidently and safely.”
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