Remote Work: Think Before You Click

A Work-from-Home Online Security Checklist

As employees around the globe adjust to working from home, hackers are working to steal sensitive company information.

These cybercriminals know that most personal computers do not have the same security features as a company network.

Cybercriminals are profiting from uncertainty about coronavirus and the relative uncharted territory of remote-office communications amid this unprecedented global pandemic.

Maybe you think that someone cracking your password isn’t much of a threat, but the issue definitely affects your entire company.

Think of your password as the key to your company’s front door — once a hacker has your log-in name and password, they can impersonate you to access your computer network or commit other types of online fraud. After all, a cybercriminal’s goal is to get into your corporate computer system by whatever means possible.

If you have been asked to work from home during the next few weeks or months, here are important tips to remember as you spend more time inside and online:

✔ Safeguard log-in credentials. Be leery of any emails from your company’s HR department requesting your log-in credentials. Certainly use the same caution across the board anytime you’re asked for your bank account information, passwords, or Social Security number, as this request could be coming from a cyber-criminal. A legitimate business will never call you or email you directly for this information!

✔ Double- and triple-check before you open attachments. Don’t click on email links or attachments from anyone you don’t recognize. The links or attachments might have ransomware, which can infect your device and steal your information. But even when you do know the sender, take an extra few seconds to ensure that nothing seems off — does the sender’s email have obvious misspellings or bad grammar that seem atypical? Does the message not seem like something your friend or colleague would typically say overall? If so, it’s possible your friend has been hacked.

✔ Spot domain spoofing. When possible, input website domain names yourself versus clicking on a website on a search engine or via an email. A spoofed URL is a common form of phishing in which an attacker appears to use a company’s domain to impersonate a company or one of its employees.

✔ Turn on auto updates. Up-to-date antivirus software can definitely halt the spread of malware — remember to use this on your personal computer as well as smartphone and/or tablets.

✔ Use a VPN. If your company doesn’t already offer its employees a virtual private network, now would be a great time to start using one because it encrypts everything you do online. A VPN like CyberGhost provides you with a secure way to access the internet and do your work from home, all while keeping your connection private. A VPN will also hide your IP address, making it impossible to be tracked online.

✔ Stay on sites that use HTTPS encryption. In general, you want to avoid any website that starts with “http://” — it means there is no encryption without the extra “S”. In fact, using CyberGhost as your VPN will force all your web traffic to HTTPS pages when available.

✔ Look out for certificate errors. This sort of error warning is a potential red flag that something is wrong with the website.

✔ Be on high alert. While it’s always wise to be cautious, during a pandemic you must take extra steps to avoid falling victim to online fraud. Look for anything that seems unusual, suspicious, or raises any doubt in your mind — better safe than sorry!

Fake News: Phishing and Email Scams Explode in the Age of Coronavirus 

Corona virus is a global pandemic that has spread quickly and paralyzed much of the world. Unfortunately, that’s not the only threat we face.

Cyber-criminals are using this pandemic to spread malicious activity and fake news relating to the outbreak of the virus. Although countries are taking steps to fight corona virus misinformation, the threats remain rampant. 

What is fake news?

Fake news is a type of news consisting of hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media.

Over the past few weeks, for example, the messaging service WhatsApp has had reports of fake news, with some claiming to have “cures” to slow the spread of the virus:

In recent weeks, WhatsApp users throughout Africa and Asia reported a stream of text messages and voice memos in private channels that pitch fake coronavirus cures. Some of the recirculated texts wrongly list garlic, salt water, and a type of tea as natural remedies for the outbreak, even though no treatments exist.”

The Washington Post

Some of the fake news reportedly spreading on WhatsApp include graphics with Unicef branding, even though Unicef has said that the graphics are not from them.

Fake news is dangerous because spreading false hope about cures that do not work could lead to devastating health effects. Moreover, false information ranges from dangerous to downright stupid (consider that CNN found that 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona beer “under any circumstances” because of coronavirus). 

Emails claiming to offer coronavirus cures have been circulating that ask for money. It seems obvious but you shouldn’t hand over your credit-card information, or wire money, when someone emails you about an “exclusive” cure for coronavirus.

To be abundantly clear, there is definitely no link between the virus and any alcoholic beverage and there is also no known cure, so don’t wire anyone money!

But you knew that, right? But do you know how to spot fake news?

5 ways to spot fake news

  1. What is the news source? Look for dedicated, reliable news outlets (ABC, CNN, BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc.), not a special interest blog or forum. And a dedicated fake news site will completely fabricate stories for the sake of website traffic.
  2. Look at the author. Who wrote the news article? If you are reading an article without a byline, that could be a red flag that the article is fake. 
  3. Check the publish date. Sometimes a fake-news writer will take a true story, add some new controversial details, and link something that happened a long time ago to present events. This sensational modification will help the fake news spread quickly, and most times, people don’t fact-check when the events of the story took place. 
  4. Pay attention to fake domains. Another home to fake news can be found on fake domains and phony news sites. Always pay attention when looking at URLs — for example, look closely at the differences between https://abcnews.go.com and https://abcnews.com.co. 
  5. Research photos. Does the story you’re reading have a photo associated with the news, and is that photo real or Photoshopped? Sometimes fake news will embed deceptive, edited photos, like these examples of misleading pictures that went viral. 

If you want to know more, here you can find an article dedicated to how to spot fake news.

How to report and flag fake news

How do you report these deceptive websites and slow the spread of fake news? Here’s a step-by-step guide to report fake and misleading articles on various platforms.

Facebook

  1. Click on the “•••” button on the top right of the post.
  2. Select “Hide post.” The post will vanish from your screen and be replaced with a brief message. This is where you can choose to “Report post.”
  3. Finally, hit “Mark this post as false news.”

Twitter

To report a single tweet:
  1. Find the tweet you wish to report.
  2. Click on the “V” icon in the top right corner of the tweet.
  3. Select Report from the drop-down menu.
  4. Choose an option that best describes the issue you have with the tweet.
  5. Then, provide more info about the tweet and why you think it needs to be removed.
To report an account:
  1. Go to the account you wish to report.
  2. Click on the gear icon (web and iOS) or three dots icon (Android).
  3. Select Report from the drop-down menu.
  4. Choose an option that best describes the issue you have with the account.
  5. Provide more information on the reason for reporting the account.

Instagram

  1. Head over to the Instagram post you wish to report.
  2. Click on the three dots icon at the top-right of the post and click Report.

Google

  1. Take a screenshot of the site or article and save it.
  2. On the Google search results page, scroll to the bottom of the screen and click Send Feedback.
  3. In the dialogue box, upload the screenshot and describe why the site/article needs to be removed.
  4. Click Send and let the Google team do the rest.

What is phishing?

Now you know how to spot, report, and hopefully stop the spread of fake news!

But do you know how to prevent getting fooled by the new phishing scams that prey on coronavirus panic?

The key to protecting yourself against phishing emails is to be on guard. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the most common phishing messages may say they’ve noticed suspicious activity or log-in attempts; claim there’s a problem with your payment information; want you to click on a link to make a payment; or say you’re eligible to register for a government refund.

But the trouble with COVID-19-related phishing emails is that they often look legitimate and prey on your health worries.

Some of these fake phishing scams ask for charity donations for studies, doctors, or victims that have been affected by coronavirus. (Note that if you do want to donate to a charity of your choice, always type the charity’s URL yourself into your web browser, never access it from an email link!)

Do you want to know more about how to detect phishing emails? Here you can find an article about 5 ways to spot a phishing email.

We would also like to recommend you to review your passwords and create more secure ones. If you need some advice here you will find 5 tips for creating a secure password.

Don’t get fooled

There are a few types of fake coronavirus emails in circulation that impersonate healthcare and government organizations. These emails appear legitimate but actually contain malicious phishing links or dangerous attachments.

Some phishing scams pretend to be from the World Health Organization, offering “new” information about the virus in exchange for clicking on a malicious link or asking for a user’s login credentials. In one example, a scam email asks users to click a link in order for them to see the WHO’s “safety measures” about COVID-19.

In another WHO-related phishing example, cybercriminals asked for a user’s email details. According to security researchers at Sophos, “the crooks were hoping that because their website looked exactly like the real thing – in fact, it contained the real website, running in a background browser frame with the illicit popup on top – you might just put in your email details out of habit.”

Yet another threat comes from emails claiming to have an “updated” real-time map of coronavirus outbreaks in your area, with the goal being to get you to click on their malicious link. While Johns Hopkins researchers are maintaining a legitimate, real map on their website, the fake health map circulating via phishing emails is NOT real.

At first glance it seems convincing: like the real map, it includes a tally of confirmed cases and total deaths and cites Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering as its data source.

But this fake map contains malware that can:

        • steal credentials, payment card numbers, cookies, and sensitive browser-based data
        • seek out cryptocurrency wallets
        • take unauthorized screenshots
        • save a victim’s public IP address
        • gather information, including the OS system, architecture, hostname, and username

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued guidance warning citizens to use caution in handling “any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink, and be wary of social media pleas, texts, or calls related to COVID-19.”

In any case, for all your web activities is always highly recommended the use of a Virtual Private Network to protect your data and your privacy.

In these trying times, we must not only protect our own physical health but also take extra steps to protect our online security too. Use caution and be aware, Ghosties!

Your Digital Rights are Under Attack

Stand up for yourself on World Day Against Cyber-Censorship

This week we’re rallying around something you can’t necessarily see or feel, and something you definitely can’t taste, but it’s absolutely something you can’t live without. This juggernaut is called the internet, and every March 12 we pause to reflect on our digital rights.

World Day Against Cyber-Censorship was started by the team at Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit that safeguards the right to freedom of information. They gave rise to this online event as a way to celebrate free expression on the internet. Depending on your location, the idea of “free expression on the internet” may seem like either a birthright and not something you think much about or a challenging problem you struggle against every day.

But what is censorship, anyway?

Censorship is nothing new — it’s the suppression of information by a government, school, private institution, or corporation. But internet censorship is still the wild, wild west because no one quite knows how far it will go, or how bad it will get.

There’s certainly no global consensus about how to maintain transparency online but that’s because the reality is, not all nations are created equal. Many countries face censorship or other assaults on their digital rights — one study by Freedom House, a think tank and research nonprofit, found that 26 out of 65 countries assessed in 2019 experienced a deterioration in internet freedom.

Since 2010, Reporters Without Borders has also published an “Enemies of the Internet” list (more on that below) and awarded a Netizen Prize to recognize a cyber-dissident who has contributed to promoting free expression on the internet. The winners tend to be bloggers and individuals hailing from countries with the least press freedoms (Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Eritrea, China, Vietnam, Sudan, Syria, Djibouti, Laos, and Cuba).

Think about the fact that more than seventy percent of imprisoned journalists were arrested for activities conducted on the internet.

Are you a journalist? Reach out and be safe — we offer our service for free to organizations that actively fight for a free and secure internet. Find more details here.

Seven out of 10 imprisoned reporters were arrested for their online activities! The question then becomes how the average person’s internet activities are being censored and/or otherwise monitored, and the steps necessary to stay safe online.

Some say internet censorship is a good thing — primarily it’s praised for stopping the spread of so-called “fake news” and limiting access to harmful activities. But who gets to decide what is acceptable or unacceptable? After all, many governments censor online material to block political information and control its citizens.

As a response, some current forms of internet censorship are making the Dark Web go commercial! The BBC, ProPublica, Facebook, the Guardian, and the New Yorker are just some outlets that have launched sites to make their news available in countries where media is restricted. These special websites do not track cookies or keep logs.

Governments often use censorship for political purposes—if there is a lack of information sharing in society, then it is easier to manipulate outcomes. In order to circumvent these barriers, journalists and news outlets have begun to normalize the use of the dark web to reach populations traditionally barred from knowing the truth. This solidifies the idea that the dark web is indeed going commercial.

Some of the countries cited by the Georgetown study seem like no-brainers (think: China, Syria, North Korea) but did you know that the United Kingdom and United States are also among the countries with the highest level of internet censorship and surveillance? Yes, that’s right, since 2014 and with no sign of moving off its list, the U.S. and U.K. are there alongside others like Cuba, Vietnam, Bahrain, and Turkmenistan!

When Reporters Without Borders initially added the two countries to its Enemies of the Internet list, it cited “intolerable” mass surveillance methods while asking “how will so-called democratic countries be able to press for the protection of journalists if they adopt the very practices they are criticizing authoritarian regimes for?”

Both the United Kingdom and United States are also part of something called the “Five Eyes” alliance, working with intelligence agencies from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Some privacy advocates think the Five Eyes intelligence-gathering methods violate online privacy rights because too much data is collected. For example, if Australia has information about a person, that information is accessible to the other four countries (and possibly even more countries).

The trouble with online censors

Censorship is a tricky business. For example, Internet Service Provider filtering in the United Kingdom means internet users there are prohibited from accessing a range of websites by default, including topics such as sex education, advice on sexual health, support services for rape and domestic abuse, and addiction and recovery services. As one researcher told the Independent, “sometimes these are American companies that have slightly different cultural values to us,” but significant underblocking has also been reported (hello #NSFW).

Across the pond, while the U.S. government doesn’t censor online content, it does abide by the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech, among other inalienable rights.

But here’s the thing about mission creep: while the First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, any social media channel or website also legally has the right to filter news and decide what kinds of expression to carry. Indeed, the San Francisco-based nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international digital rights group, has suggested that just because companies can act as judge and jury doesn’t mean they should.

As the free speech experts from EFF point out, “for every high-profile case of despicable content being taken down, there are many, many more stories of people in marginalized communities who are targets of persecution and violence. The powerless struggle to be heard in the first place; social media can and should help change that reality, not reinforce it.”

But what about social media from, say, China? Consider that wildly popular app TikTok has 1.3 billion users around the world. TikTok is a China-owned company and as such, has been accused of censorship. Try searching for #hongkong on the platform and instead of seeing political news, TikTok users find “playful selfies, food photos and singalongs, with barely a hint of unrest in sight.”

From a “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” point of view, consider that the average TikTok user is part of the highly impressionable age range of 13-24.

The Washington Post quotes Rohan Midha, managing director of U.K.-based marketing firm PYMB, who calls TikTok “a massively untapped platform that organizations can use to change the perceptions of a massive audience [and] users are quite young, so you can reach a young demographic who it might be easier to shape their perceptions outright.”

Delete, ignore, delete, ignore

Surely there are other social media outlets besides TikTok shaping the younger generation’s perceptions without censoring the digital flow of content, right?

Unfortunately, the complicated internet censorship issues we face are not just something affecting state-run countries that can’t deviate from socialist core values. Have you ever asked yourself what stays online and what gets deleted on various social media channels, including Facebook or Google?

If you haven’t, maybe you should. When we think about World Day Against Cyber Censorship, we must ask who it is that’s controlling what we see online.

Let’s take a deeper look at the top-five most-downloaded apps of 2019:

      • Facebook Messenger
      • Facebook
      • WhatsApp Messenger
      • TikTok
      • Instagram

Notice anything interesting? One of those things is not like the other — specifically, China-owned TikTok is the only app not owned by Facebook.

Oh, good, you think? Not so fast. In case you haven’t watched it, the Sundance-favorite documentary The Cleaners is a powerful and disturbing look at how tech giants hire third-party companies to remove “objectionable” content. The moderators who are outsourced by these tech giants are the gatekeepers who choose whether to “delete or ignore” so-called objectionable pictures or videos. For example, the documentary showcases, albeit anonymously, the Manila-based Facebook screeners who are the digital janitors who ignore or delete about 25,000 posts a day.

The LA Times said this award-winning documentary was “disturbing on several levels,” while Variety called it “a thorough record of how our obsessive online culture has sunk to the low point it’s at today. Don’t expect any idea how to claw back out.”

As the film warns, the danger is that we might lose democracy because we’re willing to give it up.

Maybe it shouldn’t be so shocking we’re witnessing a decline in internet freedoms when you realize most Americans would give up their privacy for less than the cost of a grande Starbucks. One study shows that GDPR-savvy, privacy-conscious Germans would want to be paid about $8 per month in exchange for having Facebook share their personal information and ad preferences, whereas Americans would be satisfied with $3.50/month for the release of that same personal information.

Given the importance of data in the digital economy and the amount of data people share, that’s an alarmingly low number.

Protect your digital freedom

People are looking for alternatives and ways to be able to surf safely and anonymously. This is why millions of people around the world are taking matters into their own hands and using a virtual private network to get around online censorship. A VPN like CyberGhost masks Internet traffic and hides your IP address, making it impossible to be tracked online. Romania-based CyberGhost abides by a strict “no logs” policy and has no legal obligations under global intelligence agreements around the world.

What’s the future for freedom of expression in our digital age and how can you take action?

Here are some steps you can take to stay in control:

        • Use a VPN. A VPN is good for many things but when it comes to avoiding censors, a VPN will hide your IP address, effectively making it impossible for governments and advertisers to track you online. Hiding your IP address provides you with total online anonymity and a chance to experience true online freedom.
        • Clear your browser history. Even with a VPN hiding your IP address, it’s still recommended to clear your browser history so there’s no log of your internet activity.
        • Use HTTPS, not HTTP. Be vigilant about using encrypted websites, both on public networks and at home. This means you want to stay away from any website that starts with “http://” — it means there is no encryption. In fact, using CyberGhost as your VPN will force all your web traffic to HTTPS pages when available.
        • Avoid “free” wireless hotspots. Never conduct or send sensitive data on public WiFi — including passwords, social media profiles, bank account numbers, or other sensitive information.
        • Consider a different search engine. Let me Google that for you: DuckDuckGo; Bitclave; Gibiru; and StartPage are some great search engines that do not track or store a user’s personal information. (Unlike Google, which knows a lot about you!)

The fight for digital freedom of expression and limiting censors’ influence in our lives is more essential than ever.

CyberGhost VPN’s Transparency Report October, November, December 2019

October, November, December 2019

We’re now in 2020, Ghosties, and you know what that means.

New year, new opportunities for updates, extra features, and network expansions. And lots of vision perfect puns.

We’re planning on releasing a lot of goodies this year, so make sure you stay tuned.

But first thing’s first.

Let’s finish what we started in 2019: our quarterly Transparency Reports.

The final piece of the 2019 puzzle

In 2011, we published our first Transparency Report.

Since then, we’ve always aimed to be as transparent as possible with what we’re doing behind the scenes.

Hitting publish on our Transparency Reports became a tradition we now hold dear.

In 2019, we decided to try something different: updating our numbers quarterly.

You can read our previous editions here:

Without further ado, here are the stats for October, November, and December 2019, aka Q4 2019.

Our Q4 numbers

46,420

Quite a busy time before the holidays, huh?

This time around, we got a 77.9% percent increase in requests coming our way!

Let’s break it down and look at our:

      • DMCA complaints;
      • Malicious activity flags;
      • Police requests.

DMCA complaints

22,352

DMCA complaints are copyright infringement claims.

So, various companies filed DMCA notices when copyrighted material has been shared illegally using a CyberGhost VPN IP address.

This type of request adds up to roughly 48% of what we received these past three months.

October
November
December
6,367
4,229
11,756

With more time off and bad weather in some parts of the world, you might get an idea why the number of requests in this category skyrocketed in December.

Looking at the bigger picture, DMCA complaints increased by 4% in Q4 compared to Q3.

Malicious activity flags

24,047

We usually get this kind of notice when abusive or suspicious activity is detected as coming from one of our IP addresses. This includes behavior ranging from DDoS attacks to automated spam emails, botnets, scams, or suspicious login attempts.

Malicious activity flags represent about 51% of all the requests we got in Q4.

But you can see the numbers slowly decreasing month by month.

October
November
December
10,362
7,767
5,918

In Q3, we got 4,737 such inquiries, with a 407% increase in Q4. Some people must have ended up on Santa’s naughty list.

Police requests

21

Various law enforcement agencies and police departments from all over the world send us such inquiries. Typically, if they trace back an IP address used for illegal activity back to our datacenter, they will ask for more details for their investigation.

Usually, they’re after the original IP address of the perpetrator. Other times, they want some sort of activity logs – we have none.

Less than 1% of all the requests we receive are from the police.

October
November
December
2
2
17

Here, there’s only a slight increase from our Q3 statistics, from 16 to 21.

Our mission continues in 2020

Privacy is something we never took lightly.

That’s why we have a strong No Logs policy, don’t collaborate with the authorities, and only use the highest security standards on both our apps and VPN servers.

It’s also why we’re headquartered in Bucharest, Romania. The data privacy legislation really suits us here.

Data Protection Law, E-Privacy Law, and E-Commerce Law are all strictly regulated in Romania to ensure privacy. We also have a public authority, the National Authority for the Supervision of Personal Data Processing, which regularly verifies all companies operating in Romania, to make sure they are GDPR-compliant.

In this judicial climate, we are never under any obligation to keep logs on our users’ activity.

What’s more, we are outside the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes surveillance alliances in this country. This gives us the power to refuse to cooperate with any foreign law enforcement agency.

We’ve been protecting digital lives for more than 15 years now, and we’re very proud to have over 36 million users all around the world.

In 2020, we’ll continue enforcing our policies, regularly updating our products, and publishing our quarterly Transparency Reports.

So, make sure to keep an eye out for news from us.

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

Introducing our updated CyberGhost VPN app for Linux

Now with WireGuard® support

Linux-loving Ghosties, we have some excellent news for your: our updated CyberGhost VPN for Linux app is here!

And it now comes with WireGuard® capabilities. 😉

Hello, WireGuard®!

WireGuard® is a free and open-source software application and communication protocol that implements virtual private network (VPN) techniques to create secure point-to-point connections in routed or bridged configurations.

This is a fairly new VPN protocol, still labeled as a work in progress. It aims to marry the security of the OpenVPN protocol with the speed of (the now easier to block) IPsec.

When it comes to encryption, WireGuard® is all about the strictest security standards. It also comes with some extra benefits like faster speeds, more user-friendliness, and less power usage.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Here at CyberGhost VPN, we’ve been paying close attention to the development of WireGuard®. And we must confess, we’ve been impressed with the protocol’s performance.

So, we’ve decided to integrate it and get involved.

Our team will be performing code reviews and adding to the functionalities in the near future.

All because we want to give you the best possible VPN protection, no matter your device or OS of choice.

What else is new in the app

You can now find five additional distros and distro versions in our CyberGhost VPN for Linux app:

      • Fedora 31
      • Mint 19
      • CentOS 7
      • Kali
      • PoP!_OS

Using something else?

Leave a comment below and let us know. We’ll plan our development accordingly. 😉

Update your app

To get the latest version of our Linux app, head to My account.

From there, configure a new device and select the app version that corresponds to your Linux distribution.

Then run the ‘install.sh’ installer and that’s it. 🙂

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

“WireGuard” is a registered trademark of Jason A. Donenfeld.

Internet Privacy in the Wake of the Hong Kong Protests

China has been making headlines in the past few years.

Be it for exponential economic growth, US sanctions, or the biggest mass surveillance network, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) never fails to either impress or shock the audience.

China’s Great Firewall has been often mentioned online as the symbol of a modern-day dystopia and a self-sufficient censorship apparatus.

Few of us, outside of China, can really understand the intricacies of Chinese internet. But we do know that their network has developed into a significant spying and monitoring tool.

The digital totalitarian state now boasts more than 800 million internet users that it tightly holds under its control. China has also blocked the use of VPN and Social Media.

But this power might be spreading and impending freedom in Hong Kong as well.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s been happening in the area lately, and why it matters.

China: one country, two systems

To understand the relationship between China and Hong Kong, we need to start with their history.

It might sound peculiar, but Hong Kong has been a British colony for a long time.

The Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire in 1842, ending the First Opium War. So, from 1842 up until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by a governor appointed by the monarchy of the United Kingdom.

In 1997, the UK agreed to let Hong Kong return to Chinese sovereignty. This didn’t happen willy-nilly; conditions have been clearly stipulated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The declaration ensured that Hong Kong would have its own “mini-constitution.” Its official name is the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Here are the most important points from it:

        • Hong Kong is a special Administrative Region within the People’s Republic of China.
        • Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy in the executive, legislative, and judicial sectors.
        • Only permanent residents of Hong Kong have the right to vote on state matters.
        • Hong Kong’s capitalist system as a UK colony will not be changed for 50 years.
        • Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religious belief, and freedom of association will remain unimpeded as they were under British rule.
        • Arbitrary or unlawful arrests, as well as torture, are prohibited.
        • Citizens have the freedom to join trade unions and to strike.

These all sound pretty democratic, right?

Well, just to put things into perspective, think about this.

China’s Constitution describes the state as “a socialist state under the people’s democratic dictatorship”. It also places great emphasis on socialist law as a regulator of political behavior, but not so much on individual rights and duties.

As you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot of compatibility between the two constitutions. And it shows.

The people of Hong Kong haven’t had much experience with the censorship and control that governs over China’s internet.

This has been a waking call for the people in Hong Kong since the protests have started.

China’s long surveillance history

In some parts of the world, we’re used to the news of an upcoming protest circulating online. A Facebook event, a trending hashtag on Twitter, or just an influx of memes on Reddit are now common ways of spreading and reacting to the news.

But some governments try to be one step ahead. And this is especially true for China.

China paved its way for surveillance acceptance way before many other countries.

Let’s take it back a notch.

How it all started

Going as far back as the Ming dynasty in 1069, Chinese people were well familiar with the Baojia system.

Baojia was a community-based system of law enforcement. Basically, your neighbors and friends kept a close eye on you. You, in turn, kept a close eye on them. Anything out of the ordinary was to be rattled out to the authorities.

In the 1940s, when Mao Zedong rose to power, he took advantage of this pre-existing surveillance mindset and established his system of informants that would be the ears and eyes of the Communist Party.

The Social Credit System

In modern-day China, surveillance has even been integrated into the digital world. Under Xi Jinping’s rule, the aim is to “purify” the country of any “disruptive behavior.”

Today, China seems to have aced keeping track of its citizens using behaviorist social science and the Social Credit System. This is the national reputation system developed by the Chinese government.

What’s scary about the Social Credit System is how well it works and how accurately it can classify an individual.

But this might not come as a surprise if you think about how much time and planning went into it.

In 2009, the Social Credit System began its trials.

Then, in 2014, it launched a national pilot, with eight credit scoring firms: Sesame Credit, Tencent, and Baihe.com were amongst them.

In 2018, efforts were centralized under the People’s Bank of China.

Initially, the aim was to keep track of people who were not “on time” with money. This criterion was to be used to establish a citizen’s trustworthiness. This was later paired with an extensive mass surveillance system.

With CCTV cameras decorating the streets nationwide, constant monitoring of social media accounts, and government spyware pre-installed on any commercial device; privacy is now something virtually inexistent in China.

Each action captured by this pervasive surveillance network adds to Social Credit Scores.

For example, some things can get you in trouble and lower your Credit Score:

        • jaywalking,
        • eating while using public transport,
        • not sorting waste,
        • cheating in video games,
        • drunk driving,
        • failing to pay bills on time,
        • identity theft,
        • being religious.

The list of offenses is much longer and considers factors like age, location, employment status, and even pet ownership.

Other things can improve a Credit Score, such as donating blood, doing volunteer work, reading the teachings of the Communist Party, and so on.

One thing’s for sure: this score is affecting livelihoods, causing travel bans, reducing career perspectives, or the chance of finding love online.

According to the National Development and Reform Commission of China, 26.82 million air tickets and 5.96 million high-speed rail tickets have been denied to people who were deemed “untrustworthy” based on their score as of June 2019.

And this is only the beginning.

The Chinese government seems hell-bent to make sure nothing escapes their watchful eye.

Total digital Chinese surveillance

It’s not just real life that’s under intense scrutiny in China.

Nothing online is safe, either.

Behind the Great Firewall

In 1996, the Chinese government passed two online censorship bills.

The first bill requires all internet service providers in China to be approved by the government.

The second one regulates what can be labeled as “harmful content” and “malicious online activities.”

And no, it’s not about spreading ransomware or showcasing violent images. Instead, you are prohibited from harming the state or the party’s interests.

With such a broad definition, it’s no wonder the national internet infrastructure had to be contained within the government’s reach.

This is how the Great Firewall was born, featuring a complex system of blocking, filtering, and DNS poisoning in place. Now, all content that is deemed undesirable is blocked by default.

Any “mistakes” made on domestic websites are filtered and removed within hours.

Popular websites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube are replaced by their domestic counterparts, Weibo, WeChat, and Youku. These are constantly monitored and reviewed to make sure that the national regulations are well enforced.

Oh, and any international companies doing business in China also need to conform to these laws.

The golden age of WeChat

China passed its national security law in 2015. Now, all data collected on users is readily available to the authorities, at any time, for any reason.

This massive trove of data and government overreach shape the profile of each citizen. And that’s because the Chinese government took data mining to a whole different level.

You might already be familiar with the fact that corporations like Google or Facebook collect data on users and later turn into profit, with some disregard for personal digital privacy. But China managed to nationalize this business model.

Let’s take Tencent, for example.

The Chinese conglomerate holding company Tencent launched WeChat back in 2011.

The product started as a simple messaging app, much like WhatsApp. But it rapidly grew, adding more and more functionalities. Today it looks like the love child of Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Expedia, Venmo, Paypal, short-form podcasts, and even food delivery apps.

WeChat is now deeply embedded in everyday life. After all, it’s super convenient to have all your digital needs crafted into one single app.

But there is a price to be paid.

The CCP has access to all data generated through WeChat.

It all starts with a real name and phone number, both required for registering a WeChat account.

But then, if you order goods or food through WeChat, you’ll also give out your address. Hailing a cab means that you’re providing location data to the places you frequent. Any payment adds to your history of transactions and can help determine your habits, your interests, and your hobbies.

Yup, it’s exactly this type of data that decides your status and affects your chances of getting a job, a house, or a loan.

“But maybe, just like me, Chinese people have nothing to hide!” you might think. But you need to take context into account.

The digital systems governing lives are vulnerable to attacks and can become weaponized. And China is the country where even your complaints can get you into trouble.

This is what a Chinese man discovered for himself in 2019 when he was interrogated after complaining about police forces on QQ and WeChat.

So, now you might understand a bit better why the people of Hong Kong don’t want the CCP’s influence and policies shoved into their daily lives.

A recap of the Hong Kong protests

It all started in April 2019, with the introduction of a new bill. It would have led to criminals being deported to mainland China for conviction.

The official name was “The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill.” But that’s quite a mouthful, so we’ll just refer to it as the “extradition bill.”

The extradition bill

So, what’s the deal with this proposal?

Well, in early 2018, Chan Tong-kai, a 19-year-old Hong Kong resident, murdered his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, while the two were staying in a hotel room in Taipei, Taiwan.

After getting back to Hong Kong, justice could not be served. Even if Chan confessed to the crime, there is no agreement between the two regions to facilitate extraditing or charging him.

So, the pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong stepped in and pushed for a 2019 extradition law and put an end to any “legal loopholes.”

If you’re into law, you can read the whole deal here.

John Lee, the Secretary for Security, proposed the bill. He was quickly met with resistance from Taiwan’s authorities. The Law Society of Hong Kong also questioned the bill favoring extradition over meeting proof requirements.

What’s more, the people of Hong Kong considered this to be too much Chinese influence and started fearing unfair trials for criminals.

Because China and Hong Kong have different definitions for “political criminals,” there was this suspicion that China might mistreat journalists and activists if they were to be extradited.

The same went for “dissent.” So, the bill could be abused to prosecute those who criticized or even questioned the CCP’s policies.

Protests erupt

In June 2019, Hong Kong citizens started protesting the government’s plans to pass the extradition bill. One of their locations? The airport.

As a result, the people of Hong Kong were now making news all around the world.

Activity on community forums like r/HongKong soared. Memes and hashtags like #StandwithHongKong helped further spread information.

Coordinated social media efforts also shed light on police brutality, like when a nurse at an anti-government rally in Tsim Sha Tsui was shot with a beanbag round, which caused her a lose an eye.

And because social activism sometimes pays off, protesters managed to get the bill got suspended.

Five demands

However, the people of Hong Kong still feared that the bill might be revived.

The protests escalated, now with a new set of demands attached.

Protesters called for “Five demands, not one less!“. They wanted:

        • For the protests not to be characterized as a “riot;”
        • Amnesty for arrested protesters;
        • An independent inquiry into the alleged police brutality;
        • The implementation of complete universal suffrage;
        • A complete withdrawal of the extradition bill.

In September 2019, the bill was finally completely withdrawn.

But the citizens of Hong Kong kept protesting. After all, they had four more demands to be met.

At the same, the authorities started cracking down on the protesters in attempts to contain the situation.

A cat-and-mouse game

The more the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds, the more people would take to the streets.

Minors also joined the protests, sparking controversies.

On the one hand, parents were criticized for letting teenagers attend potentially violent rallies.

But, on the other hand, the police were also accused of searching and arresting underage citizens. For more details, you can turn to this news about three teenagers who were taken by the police, leaving their parents with no way of getting in touch with them.

Even more violence in the streets

On October 1st, 2019, the PCC celebrated its 70th anniversary. In Hong Kong, that was one of the most brutal days of protest.

An 18-year old was shot while the people of Hong Kong fought off the police.

A pro-Beijing lawmaker was stabbed in the streets. Another protestor was shot by a policeman.

Protests reached a new level in November when the government banned protesters from wearing face masks.

The mask ban was a red flag for protesters. They toppled smart lamp posts, suspecting they might be used for spying, as the Chinese government continued to crack down on Hong Kong’s people.

The events also turned violent more often, with shots fired indiscriminately, targeting even foreign journalists.

Tear gas also became an often occurrence at the protests.

A 15-year-old boy was struck on the head by a tear gas canister in Tin Shui Wai.

Police were even shooting live fire rounds at unarmed protestors.

However, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, refused to call out the human rights abuses.

Moving forward

It’s uncertain what the future holds for Hong Kong.

It’s 2020, and the protesters are still in the street, fighting the authorities.

One thing’s for sure, though.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration designated 2047 as the date for the complete overtake of Hong Kong by China. This no longer appears to be a realistic deadline.

The people of Hong Kong have made it clear: they reject the nationalistic and dictatorial regime of the CCP, even if the Chinese government seems hell-bent on restoring what it perceives to be the one true country.

Lam’s extradition bill sparked the demonstrations. But now they’re a push for democracy.

Digital life in the times of the Hong Kong protests

As you can imagine, the CCP kept a close eye on the Hong Kong protests.

They tried to identify protestors.

At the same time, demonstrators were willing to find out the names of brutal police officers.

It was maybe the first time people here grasped the importance of anonymity and privacy.

A Telegram leak

Telegram, the cloud-based instant messaging and voice over IP service, played an essential role in helping organize and shape the protests.

However, things took a turn for the worst when a bug leaked users’ phone numbers.

Per reports, an attacker can add tens of thousands of sequential phone numbers to a phone’s address book. The attacker then connects to a Telegram channel where protests are being organized and syncs their contacts with the Telegram app. A state law enforcement agency, or intelligence service, can then force local mobile telcos to disclose the names of the persons behind those phone numbers. In the case of the Hong Kong protests, Chinese officials could get a list of people who organized or coordinated protests via Telegram.
Catalin Cimpanu for Zero Day on August 23, 2019

Protesters now knew they had to be more careful in protecting their digital anonymity.

Turning to Bridgefy

After the Telegram issues, the people of Hong Kong turned to mesh messaging apps to bypass China’s deep surveillance network tracking.

As the threat of an internet shutdown grew, people chose Bridgefy, a developer-friendly SDK that can be easily integrated into Android and iOS mobile apps to make them work without the internet. It renders China’s online tracking systems useless.

Barring human rights

In the meantime, Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog received more than 4,700 complaints about doxxing since the social unrest began in June. According to a report, about 30% of the cases concerned government and police supporters, and 10% were filed by the anti-government protesters.

Even the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, was also denied entry to Hong Kong, despite having visited freely beforehand. But this time, he wanted to present a report on how the Chinese government is trying to undermine the international human rights system.

Fake news on the rise

As a state with a functioning and well-funded propaganda apparatus, the CCP was quick to push their fake news of the events.

A good way to tell if the news piece you’re watching if influenced by the Chinese authorities is to pay attention to the vocabulary used:

        • Protestors are referred to as “rioters.”
        • Tourists in Hong Kong are often described as foreign spies.
        • There is often the mention of “US influence” or “US actors.”
        • There is more focus on the police and the People’s Liberation Army.

The bigger picture

In November 2019, US President Donald Trump made a political statement by signing into law an act supporting the protests in Hong Kong. The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” passed in Congress with bipartisan support.

This was a critical stance to take against Chinese interference and dominance.

But, the truth is a lot of governments have been inspired by China’s Great Firewall.

The Russians are experimenting with their own alternative to the global internet.

China has also massively invested in Uzbekistan’s network infrastructure. Let’s just say, people doubt it’s for a purely philanthropic reason.

Ecuador is a developing country that felt mass surveillance technology would help propel them socially. China’s CCTV network has been named as the main inspiration for this project.

Also, let’s not forget that Xi Jinping showed interest in oil-rich Venezuela. Beijing publicly stood by Maduro’s government, even after suffering financial losses.

This made many question China’s motives. While speculations range from oil to merely being a nuisance to the US, the Venezuelan opposition also claims that China might be aiding Maduro in cutting off internet access.

The race of digital supremacy

China’s rapid tech development in the tech industry didn’t go unnoticed by foreign investors.

Major Chinese tech companies, among which Huawei, Hikvision, Dahua, and ZTE, proposed to supply artificial intelligence surveillance technology in Western countries, helping the creation of smart cities. Germany, Spain, and France have already signed deals.

But privacy activists are worried all data this technology generates will end up straight into the hands of Beijing officials.

And if you are quick to dismiss these claims, you should know that China invests heavily to expand the CCP influence abroad. For example, Freedom House published a research paper on how Chinese propaganda, content curation, and censorship has spread beyond East Asia.

Here’s what China is doing:

        • Chinese state media outlets like People’s Daily, CGTN, and China Daily, are active global social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram and often use misleading taglines and partake in deceptive promotional ads
        • In countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, TV packages that include international options like the BBC World Service cost more than basic packages with local channels and Chinese state media.
        • In 2017, Chinese tech giant ZTE signed an agreement with state-owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) to expand digital television services, particularly to rural and remote regions.
        • Huawei is the company that led the transition from analog to digital television in Cuba.
        • WeChat is expanding in much of Asia, attracting non-Chinese speakers in countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, and India.
        • In Canada, WeChat censors deleted a member of Parliament’s message to constituents praising Hong Kong’s protesters.
        • In Peru, there has been little to no serious media coverage related to environmental and labor controversies that have periodically affected Chinese operations in the country’s extractive industries.
        • In Australia, most Chinese publications are pro-Beijing. Likewise, in New Zealand, a long-term effort by the CCP to influence Chinese media coverage and local communities have had a profound impact on the local 2017 elections.
        • When Xi Jinping visited Papua New Guinea in 2018, local and international journalists were barred from covering his meeting with eight regional leaders. They were told instead to use reporting by Xinhua or video from CCTV as the basis for their coverage.
        • The satellite firm Eutelsat of France cut its transmission of NTDTV to China, apparently in exchange for the opportunity to broadcast Xinhua’s English news channel in Europe.
        • TikTok, another app from China, emerged as one of the most downloaded applications worldwide in 2019. About 60 percent of the app’s monthly active users reportedly reside in the United States.

Mobile is eating the world

China is also one of the most important players in the smartphone market.

Among the seven most sold smartphone brands globally in the past two years, five of them are produced by the Chinese tech companies Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, vivo, and Realme.

ZTE has also sold tens of millions of smartphones around the world over the past years.

Since most of these are significantly cheaper than their Apple and Samsung counterparts, it’s no wonder that their popularity and demand increased.

However, many have questioned China’s involvement in the mobile technology sector. The main concern is whether these devices can be used for surveillance and data mining.

In early 2018, six US intelligence agencies issued a warning, urging US citizens not to use commercial products offered by Huawei and ZTE. Lawmakers also considered a bill that would ban government employees from using Huawei and ZTE phones altogether, in the name of national security.

UK’s National Cyber Security Centre also had similar findings and advised telecommunication companies in the country to avoid products and services offered by ZTE.

Samantha Hoffman is an analyst of Chinese security issues at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. In her paper, Engineering Global Consent: The Chinese Communist Party’s Data-Driven Power Expansion, she explains how data can easily be misused by the CCP.

If you go back to even the late 1970s and early 80s, the way the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) talks about technology is as a tool of social management. It’s a way of not only coercive control, but also sort of cooperative control where you participate in your own management. It’s this idea of shaping the environment, shaping how people think, how they’re willing to act before they even know they’re making a choice. That’s the party’s idea.
Samantha Hoffman in an interview with The Guardian

So, digital data is important to the CCP. Your digital data is important to the CCP.

A checklist for your digital privacy today

Since you can never really know who is trying to sell your data and which platform is owned by a Chinese company, it’s essential to protect your digital life.

Online threats are always lurking, but if you are currently in Hong Kong, you’ll also have the CCP’s tactics to worry about.

Here’s where you should begin:

        • Use a VPN to protect your online anonymity and to stay safe of government surveillance.
        • Safeguard all your accounts with complex passwords. You can use a password manager. This will also make it easier to change your password frequently.
        • Use two-factor authentication whenever it’s available.
        • Always use https:// connections. Some security apps like VPNs have this feature, but extensions like HTTPS Everywhere are also available.
        • Keep your OS and software updated. Make sure always to install security patches.
        • Avoid social media channels that collect your data and sell it to third parties, since they could easily compromise you.
        • Be careful to check out tracking cookies featured on websites and delete them regularly.
        • Read the Terms & Conditions of any service, app, or site you are using to check what you are getting into.
        • Pay attention to what permissions your apps request. Keep an eye out for any suspicious permission.
        • Be cautious about what you share online. Don’t post personal information.
        • Don’t open suspicious email. If you do so by accident, make sure not to click on any links or download any attachments.
        • Use an antivirus.
        • Pay attention to any misspelled URLs. This is called typosquatting and is often used by scammers who are trying to impersonate a legitimate company.
        • Never give credit card details or passwords. No reputable company will ask for these as proof of your identity.
        • Check shortened links to see where they are leading you to.
        • Use an ad-blocker to avoid clicking on suspicious ads.

While these actions might not keep you 100% safe from malicious intent, they will keep most threats at bay.

Even if you’ve heard of calls to boycotting Chinese products, you might not be able to avoid them completely especially since it takes a lot of digging to find out which Chinese companies masquerade behind shady ownerships with loose privacy policies.

So, make sure you do your due diligence to protect your data online.

Don’t give up hope

The abuses of the Chinese authorities might seem like something out of a movie, but they’re a reality the people of Hong Kong got a taste of.

But they’re choosing to fight and try to uphold democratic values.

Freedom of expression lies at the core of a free and open society. And privacy is key in preventing government overreach.

Whether you’re a tourist in Hong Kong or a local, make sure you take care of yourself. Keep your private life out of the CCP’s hands and be mindful of how your online activity could be traced back to you.

Stay safe, Ghostie!

Network updates: we are no longer supporting PPTP and L2TP

starting January 17th, 2020

Cybersecurity has been a big talking point in 2019. Mostly for all the wrong reasons.

Data breaches have risen to an all-time high, hackers are getting more ingenious, and good cyber hygiene is now essential to both people and companies.

Here, at CyberGhost VPN, we always strive to keep our Ghosties safe online.

And we will always put all our efforts into making the internet a more secure place for everyone.

That’s why we’ve decided to stop supporting two VPN protocols: PPTP and L2TP/IPSec.

What are PPTP and L2TP?

Glad you asked. 😉

PPTP stands for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, predominantly supported by Microsoft devices..

Created back in 1999, it had a good life for some time. But it didn’t keep up with ever-developing network infrastructure and increased network capacities.

It’s now an obsolete protocol, with plenty of known vulnerabilities.

L2TP is another blast from the past. It stands for Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol..

And if you want some more acronyms thrown at you, I can tell you that this previously popular VPN protocol combined the best parts from PPTP and L2F.

L2TP is still widely supported on most routers and devices. But it has its vulnerabilities.

Because we need to be responsible here and protect our Ghosties, we will no longer be using these protocols.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re using the latest version of our VPN software, nothing will change for you. Our apps are already configured to adhere to the highest security and privacy standards.

So, what’s next?

Getting rid of these two obsolete protocols was just one of the steps needed for building the VPN of the future.

Our team has been working hard to improve your experience with CyberGhost VPN.

This year, we’ve expanded our server fleet. A lot.

We’re now giving you access to over 6,300 VPN servers in 90 countries and 112 locations. You’ll never be getting subpar speeds, no matter where in the world you are.

Also, we’ve added even more streaming servers, so you will never miss your favorite shows.

And now, we’re making sure that not even a misconfiguration can jeopardize your anonymity online.

But we also have other goodies in store. We’ll soon be announcing a massive server infrastructure update. New VPN protocols are on their way, too.

So, make sure to keep an eye out for our updates.

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

How to learn a foreign language with a VPN

 

The effort.

The frustration.

The lack of real progress.

The constant agony of “Ugh, I knew that word!”

If all these sound familiar to you, you must have likely, at some point in your life, tried learning a foreign language without a private tutor.

But you know what? There’s a simpler, better way to learn a new language.

And it involves a VPN, out of all things.

Read on to see if this is what could turn into a polyglot.

The two styles of learning

If you’re after picking up a new skill, you have two options:

        • The classic, formal way
        • The fun, non-formal way

Now, when I say classic, think of sitting in a classroom with a book full of grammar exercises in front of you.

This is called formal leaning, and it’s what most schools use as the standard learning technique.

However, non-formal learning is a more modern concept. The idea of an unsystematic learning method has been around since the ‘60s. You might know it as “learning in the community” or “learning through experience.”

In the case of new languages, non-formal learning is learning through immersion.

It’s like how some people say they learned English by playing online video games or by catching movies without subtitles. (Thanks, Hollywood!)

Now, of course there are pros and cons to both sides. But we’re not here to debate this.

Your building blocks for learning

The foundation of the language learning process has two components:

        • Listening
        • Speaking

But, before you can talk, you need a first contact with the language. This helps you get familiarized with the pronunciations and tonalities of words.

Or, you know, at least grasp where a word starts, and another begins.

Then comes the fun part. Grammar, vocabulary, and endless hours repeating words and phrases. It’s very fun, right? Right??

That would be the traditional way.

However, some renowned polyglots do claim that formal learning might not be enough.

Think of this scenario.

Let’s say you learned German in high school. And things were great; you could speak the language effortlessly and write messages to natives. So, you decided to slap “Fluent in German” on your resume.

But time went by, and you started pursuing different paths. Five years later you’re in an airport, and someone asks you for directions in German.

You’ll be shocked to find out you’ve forgotten a lot of words.

And it makes sense. Our brains are wired to forget, lest we go insane.

“Use it or lose it” is particularly true when it comes to your foreign language vocabulary.

Studies have shown that there is no innate aptitude for language learning, but rather it heavily relies on your exposure to the foreign language.

So, you need to stay in touch with a language as frequently as possible if you don’t want it slipping away from you.

Entering the realm of VPNs

A VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. It works as a private point-to-point tunnel that is protected by encryption, and that’s why it became known as a tool for security and privacy.

For the past decade, millions of people worldwide have resorted to using VPNs to protect their digital life and keep their internet traffic away from prying eyes.

The internet was meant to be borderless. The dream was for digital information to be accessible to anyone. But governments, authorities, internet service providers, and copyright holders often stood in the way of such noble goals.

A VPN (well, a good one, at least) is built to bypass censorship and restrictions. As a result, you can access anything, anytime, anywhere.

And this is why a VPN is of great help when learning a foreign language. With it, you can immerse yourself and:

        • Unblock streaming channels
        • Download movies
        • Read books
        • Listen to the radio
        • Use language-learning apps

Let’s take a closer look at this matter.

Unblock streaming channels in your desired language

We all learned our mother tongues by listening.

Applying the same principle should work wonders for foreign languages, as well.

One way of making sure you are consistently reminded of words and phrases is watching TV?

But let’s be clear on this one.

Solely watching foreign television doesn’t make you learn a language. But it helps you enforce what you’re already studying.

Once you have a good grasp of language basics, television can you help you with idioms and new vocabulary.

And while it may not be the most interactive way to gain knowledge, it’s certainly more relaxing than just keeping to grammar books. And combining entertainment and learning has been shown to improve motivation and engagement, especially in adults.

Now, there are plenty of streaming channels available. You can search for a channel broadcasted from a country where the language you’re trying to learn is spoken.

Then you can watch movies and TV shows, listening to native speakers, and enjoying dubbed versions.

However, some streaming services require a subscription.

For example, the German channel ARD has plenty of content that is free to stream, while the French Canal+ channel requires a paid subscription to unblock any content beyond trailers.

Netflix & learn

If you have access to a Netflix account, you might have already noticed that their originals are starting to get more diverse. From a linguistic perspective, at least.

Here are some examples:

        • Osmosis: French TV series
        • Dark: German TV series
        • 3%: Brazilian Portuguese series
        • Jinn: Jordanian Arabic series
        • The Rain: Danish TV series
        • Immortals: Turkish TV series
        • On Children: Taiwanese TV series
        • Persona: Korean TV series
        • My husband won’t fit: Japanese TV series
        • If I hadn’t met you: Spanish TV series
        • Tabula Rasa: Dutch TV series
        • Bordertown: Finnish TV series
        • Amo: Tagalog TV series
        • Baby: Italian TV series

To search for different audio versions on Netflix, use the search engine and filter by audio. Or follow this link: http://www.netflix.com/browse/audio/

You can even add a country code after the last slash. For example:

You can also enable the subtitles to get a better grasp of the written language. Just be aware that they are often subjective and might not be entirely on par with what’s being said.

If you don’t have a Netflix subscription, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of streaming sites out there. Like PopcornFlix, which features a category for foreign movies. 😉

Download movies

If subscription-based services aren’t your thing, that’s fine. There are still good movies and series available for download.

You can start by watching dubbed content you’ve already seen in your mother tongue. Since you’re already familiar with the plotline, it will be easier to focus on the vocabulary and make some progress.

And if you’re a beginner, you can look for kids’ shows. As silly as it sounds, these are the perfect way to get started with the basics.

For starters, all the characters speak slower and more articulate. And typically use a common vocabulary. This makes it easier to learn common idioms, general nouns, or verbs.

As a bonus, kids’ shows are often short. You’ll have no problem staying focused and even taking some notes.

If this sounds interesting to you, turn to Disney Plus. Because they’re so famous, most of their titles have already been dubbed. Just try not to get the songs stuck in your head for days at a time.

Alternatively, you can download subtitles for the movies you already own.

Read books

Movies and shows might be fun, but sooner or later, grammar also comes into play. And while binge-watching can do wonders for your vocabulary, it might not be as effective for grammar knowledge.

Cue in: books!

An excellent way to begin would be a foreign book you already read in your mother tongue.

This way, you can compare sentence structures and word order and get more familiar with the syntax.

Bilingual editions are also great for understanding the language and comparing colloquialisms.

Even if you are at a beginner level, you can try your hand at children’s books or comics. Both feature more visual-oriented content, making it easier to keep up with the story.

Now, depending on where you live, books in foreign languages might not be so readily available in bookstores.

For example, finding a book in Slovak in Hong Kong could be quite a tedious task.

Luckily, loads of books are now available as ebooks, and a continuous large-scale digitization is planned.

Here’s where you can find ebooks:

Alternatively, you can check out audiobooks in different languages:

Here’s the catch, though. These sites are available worldwide, but you’re not guaranteed to see there the same content as people in your neighboring countries. That’s because of copyright restrictions.

The good part is that a VPN can help by changing your IP address. For iTunes, Play Store, and Audible, you need to modify both your IP and the country from your account.

No excuse not to be a book worm now!

Listen to the radio

There’s no escaping the fact that listening is an integral part of learning a language.

And radios are convenient and available on the go. Wherever you are, you can tune in and take in a foreign language.

Here are some examples:

For
Try
French
Italian
Portuguese
Japanese
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Korean
Finnish
Polish
Listening to music also improves your memory. If you put some effort into memorizing and translating, you’ll be rewarded with recognizing phrases faster in the future.

These radios feature music, news, shows, and podcasts to help you get more accustomed to the language and with the culture.

Music can be helpful when learning a foreign language, And it’s not just the listening part.

When we sing songs, we subconsciously try to reproduce the sounds and tones. It’s a good way to try to hide your native accent. Unless you’re all about black metal.

Even your social life might benefit from the radio since weather or sports reports are considered a perfect way to begin small talk in countries all over the globe.

However, just like streaming services, radio stations might also be geo-restricted. But all you need to do is change your IP address with a VPN. Then you’re ready to enjoy all the benefits of passive exposure!

Use language-learning apps

Apps designed for learning foreign languages are somewhat of a new thing. But they’re pretty much straight forward, and not as time-consuming as regular, academic lessons.

Apps have also shown to be effective by reducing performance anxiety among learners. That’s because people feel more comfortable with their mistakes when there is no one else to hear them or read them out loud.

And there are good apps out there. You just need to choose the one most suited to your learning pace and schedule.

While there are very few governments that enact nationwide bans on language learning apps, access might be restricted on local networks. There are several reasons for this:

        • On school and university networks to prevent cheating.
        • On office networks to prevents distractions and increase productivity.
        • On office networks where access to anything except work-related software is restricted.
        • On library networks to prevent using too much bandwidth.
        • On office networks that restrict usage of paid apps (even if they offer a freemium plan).

But we spend more time at work or in our dorm as students than we do at home. So, we’re more often on restricted Wi-Fis that are not our own.

No worries, VPNs to the rescue!

Don’t get lost in translation

It’s unlikely you’ll have a hard time finding foreign content online. But there are some roadblocks you need to watch out for:

Many streaming services and websites are geo-restricted

Copyright holders have the last say when it comes to where the content can be distributed and on which services.

The most famous example is, by far, Netflix. They impose restrictions on certain shows, which is why their catalog is so different from country to country.

Also, streams from national broadcasters, like Finland’s YLE, are meant to be viewed only within the borders of the home country.

Some websites upload content illegally

There are free streaming websites, functioning solely on ad revenue. And while free streaming might sound great, it’s not the same for copyright holders.

So, in some countries, like in the UK, they have pressured government authorities to clamp down on websites, citing copyright infringement. As a result, Internet Service Providers have begun blocking the domains, or subjected infringers to fines.

Streaming copyrighted content is a gray area

In many countries, using IP cloaking software to stream copyrighted content has yet to be regulated. So, no one is sure where bypassing geo-blocks falls on the spectrum of civil or criminal liability.

Case in point: Germany. Here, people are more vigilant since copyright infringement penalties are harsh, but streaming is still widely unregulated.

It’s time for CyberGhost VPN

To bypass geo-restrictions, stay protected from copyright trolls, and ISPs’ traffic sniffing, the best solution is VPN software.

A good VPN will make sure that your connection is always encrypted, so that no one can snoop on your digital life.

However, bypassing geo-restrictions is a trickier matter, since streaming services use VPN detections technologies, meant to block VPN users.

This is why you need a VPN service with servers optimized for streaming, that can effectively keep you flying under the radar.

If you’re looking for a VPN who can do it all in your quest to learn a new language, CyberGhost VPN is for you.

Bottom line

There are many things you can do to learn a new language and immerse yourself in a new culture. And some of them might require the help of a VPN to help you cross digital borders.

Whether you live in an area where exposure to your target language is scarcely available, or you prefer learning by yourself, a VPN can open doors for you.

You can now enjoy geo-blocked content and practice your language skills at the same time at your own pace!

What worked for you when trying to become fluent in a foreign language? Let me know and share your tips in the comments below.