Simple Step-by-Step Browser Hijacker Removal | 100% Effective

Were you redirected to a website you did not want to visit? Are you constantly bombarded with pop-up ads? Is your homepage different and you didn’t change it? You might be the victim of browser hijacking. It’s not only annoying; it could also damage your computer.

Yet another type of cyber-attack, browser hijackers grab your sensitive online data, like passwords or financial details and introduce malicious programs.

How Browser Hijacking Works?

Browser hijacking is unwanted software that enters your device’s system and changes your web browser settings.

They can go unnoticed while you install software that appears to be safe, such as browser toolbars or add-ons. Another common tactic is when attackers try to trick you into allowing additional downloads when you accept a site’s terms and conditions. Attackers can also trick you into installing malware that will further create more problems, and you end up with a severely damaged PC.

Malicious apps or programs can come as a technique based on bundling. For instance, while you download an app, additional and totally useless software is included in the installation process without any indication of it during the setup. Regardless of the method, the possible results of browser hijacker include:

      • overpacking your browser with unwanted advertising;
      • replacing a home page or research page (with one the hijacker wants you to access);
      • grabbing banking information and other sensitive data;
      • recording of all your internet activity.

Here’s a list of a few browser hijackers on Windows:

      • Conduit Toolbar – a web publisher allowing users to create custom toolbars, web apps, and mobile apps for free.
      • Coupon Saver – a rogue application claiming to save money by providing discount coupons for various online shops; updates of the application promote fake search engines.
      • GoSave – a browser add-on guaranteeing to save time and money by displaying special offers and discounts while browsing shopping websites.
      • Babylon Toolbar – a free translation software add-on covering dictionaries and glossaries.
      • CoolWebSearch – a software that gets installed on your PC while you download other free programs or apps.
      • RocketTab – a bundled software that gets into your system while you download other free programs online.
      • Ask Toolbar – a search tool bundled and offered along with other products during download or installation.

Common browser hijackers on Mac:

      • Bing Redirect
      • Yahoo Redirect
      • Search Baron
      • Safe Finder
      • Trovi
      • Weknow.ac

All of these are fake search engines that redirect your home page of the browser due to a malicious program or browser extension installed on your Mac.

Common Ways Browser Hijackers Get on Your Computer

The unwanted software can infect your PC through several means. Here’s where browser hijackers tend to hide:

      • Shareware – commercial software initially shared for trial use at little or no cost with usually limited functionality.
      • Freeware (not free software) – any copyrighted software, application, or program that may be freely downloaded, installed, and used.
      • Adware – software that displays advertisements for products or services to entice you to click or make a purchase.
      • Spyware – monitoring software that gains access to your device without your knowledge and records your every move.
      • Browser extensions – special toolbars that you can add to your browser for a simpler online navigation, letting you control how websites load and behave.

Is a Browser Hijacker a Virus?

A virus is a program that can infect another program or active content data file (such as Word Documents), because of running or opening an infected program or document.

Although not typically referred to as a virus, a browser hijacker can be included in the virus category, as it is also called a browser redirect virus. Since it redirects the browser to other, usually malicious website, is more similar, and often compared with a malware infection.

tweet explaining the dangers of adware

Twitter, How browser hijackers get into your system as an adware

How to Tell if You Have a Browser Hijacker

Here are the most common indicators of browser hijacking:

      • Your mouse starts moving on its own.
      • Passwords for your online accounts no longer work.
      • You start seeing several pop-up ads on your screen asking you to buy a product or visit a website.
      • Your online searches redirect you to sites you didn’t plan to visit and don’t make any sense to you.
      • You notice unfamiliar charges or payments on your credit card.
      • Sensitive or confidential data is missing or misplaced.
      • Scareware pop-ups are saying you need to take immediate action to update your virus protection or purchase a new one.
      • You receive a message on your screen demanding payment for your system to work again.

How to Get Rid of Browser Hijackers

On Windows

  1. Uninstall Unwanted Programs. Scan your Control Panel for suspicious programs and/or ones you do not recognize.
  2. Install Antivirus Software. Aside from protecting your devices from malicious threats, antivirus programs will “search and destroy” any potential threats. CyberGhost Security Suite for Windows not only provides you with reliable antivirus software, but also a VPN.
  3. Reset Your Browser to Its Default Settings.
Chrome:
  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Click on the 3-dot menu and choose Settings.
  3. Scroll down and open Advanced.
  4. From the bottom, click Reset.
Mozilla Firefox:
  1. Open Mozilla Firefox.
  2. Click on the 3-line menu and open Help.
  3. Select Troubleshooting Information.
  4. Click Refresh Firefox.
Edge:
  1. Start Edge.
  2. From the 3-dot menu click Settings.
  3. Choose Clear Browsing data and then Choose what to clear.
  4. Click Show More and check all the boxes.
  5. Click Clear and restart Edge.

On MacOS

If your homepage or search engine was changed without your permission, here is how you can restore it:

On Safari:
  1. Go to Safari > Preferences.
  2. Click General.
  3. From the Homepage section, change it back to your preferred address.
  4. Check Safari Extensions.
  5. Click the Extensions tab on the toolbar.
  6. Click on the extension name to view details, permissions, or uninstall it in the large view box.
On Chrome:
  1. Go to Chrome > Preferences.
  2. From the settings page, find the Search engine section.
  3. Choose Manage Search Engines.
  4. Click to delete any search engines you do not wish to have.
  5. Back from the main settings page, go to On Startup section.
  6. Choose Open a specific page or set of pages, and enter the homepage address you want.
  7. To manage Chrome extensions, go to ⋮ > More Tools > Extensions.
  8. Click Details > View in Chrome Web Store every extension and check their sources.

You will also need to check all recently modified applications. In System Information, you can see all your applications, including hidden ones that run in the background.

  1. Go to Apple Menu > About This Mac.
  2. Click Overview and select System Report.
  3. Expand the Software section, and then click Applications.
  4. From the ‘Last Modified’ column, arrange applications by the latest date of modification.
  5. If you find any active malware, copy its location address.
  6. Go to the specific folder address and remove the malware.

How to Prevent Browser Hijacking

Browser hijacking can be prevented very easily. Here are 5 tips on how to do so.

1. Don’t Forget to Update Your Security Software

Disregarding software updates is generally not a good idea. Aside from continuing to be protected from viruses and bugs, these updates prevent browser hijacks can can further expose your sensitive data.

2. Beware of Free Programs

You know the saying ‘there is no such thing as free lunch?’ Well, the same way goes for free programs. Free programs may hide malware or other threats. Always double check to make sure the free program is a legitimate one before downloading it.

3. Avoid Suspicious Websites at All Costs

Check URLs for any misspellings as this is a sign of a malicious or fraudulent website. Also, make sure the connection is secure and look for the S in HTTPS. When in doubt, don’t click.

4. Clear Your Cookies

Browser cookies are not good for your digital privacy and security. Some cyberattacks can hijack cookies and enable access to your browsing sessions.

Try out CyberGhost Cookie Cleaner – a 3-in-1 cookie, history & cache cleaner! It clears any website storage and will improve the speed of your browser.

5. Look Out for Any Phishing Scheme

Don’t click attachments or links from unknown senders. Suspicious email links and attachments could take you to malicious websites created by cybercriminals.

 

FAQ

How do I get rid of browser hijacker in Chrome?

To remove browser hijacker in Chrome, remove suspicious Google Chrome extensions, fix the Google Chrome shortcut target, change the homepage and your default search engine.

How do I get rid of browser hijacker in Safari?

To get rid of browser hijacker in Safari, uninstall any extensions you don’t recognize, set your homepage to your preferred start page, and set the engine you want to use.

What is a browser redirect virus?

A browser redirect virus is when your browser is redirected to a site other than the one you want to access, such as tech support scams, unwanted programs, advertisements, or dating sites.

What is a control hijacking attack?

A control hijacking attack is when a cybercriminal takes control of your device and manipulates the entire execution flow of a running program. The attacker usually exploits a program error or a memory vulnerability.

What is blind hijacking?

Blind hijacking is a type of session hijacking in which the attacker does not see the target host’s response to the sent requests; in a man-in-the-middle position, the cybercriminal adds malicious injections in data packets but is blindly guessing the victim’s and the server’s responses. Blind hijacking can be used to change or reset a password.

 

Did you ever deal with an unexpected browser hijacker? What did you do to remove it?

Let me know in the comments below.

How to Prevent Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Nobody likes being taken for a fool. But that’s exactly what happens with man-in-the-middle attacks (MitMs).

While targets of MitMs are usually financial apps, SaaS businesses, or e-commerce sites, cybercriminals could attack any website that requests a login. So, anyone can be a victim.

Let’s find out more about this kind of cyber-attack and how you can stay away from it.

What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack?

A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when a cybercriminal hijacks communication between two parties to secretly eavesdrop or modify their traffic.

Experts revealed that only 13% of all businesses took MitMs precautions in 2020.

As one of the oldest forms of cyber-attack, MitMs aim to steal login credentials or personal information, spy on you, sabotage and corrupt communications. The details captured during an attack could be used for identity theft, unapproved fund transfers, or unauthorized password changes.

Man-in-the-middle attacks are facilitated by:

      • Physical proximity to the intended target
      • Malicious software or malware, leading to Man-in-the-Browser attacks

These MOs are old tricks that allow the cybercriminal to see the information you enter as you navigate the web.

Six Types of Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

MitM attackers operate in various ways. Here are the most common ones:

1. IP Spoofing

Data transmitted over the internet is broken into multiple packets. Each packet has a header mentioning the source IP address (aka the sender) and the destination IP address (the receiver).

IP spoofing occurs when the cyber-attacker gets disguised as a destination and modifies packet headers. This way, the user thinks they’re accessing a website, but they’re actually on the attacker’s website.

2. DNS Spoofing

DNS spoofing, also known as DNS cache poisoning, happens when attackers trick users into connecting to a fake DNS address that leads to a different website. For instance, you might think you’re accessing Google, but it’s just a replica of Google.

Again, the attacker captures your information, including the username and password you enter on the faked website.

3. HTTPS Spoofing

Attackers craft HTTPS websites that look like legitimate sites with valid authentication certificates. It’s just the URL is a bit different or has a typo.

The URL might look like https://www.apple.com, but the ‘a’ in “apple” is a Cyrillic “a.” This is a valid Unicode character that appears just like an Arabic “a” with a different Unicode value.

Unicode is a universal character encoding standard defining the way characters are represented in text files, web pages, and other documents. Unicode supports 1,000,000 characters from all languages around the world.

4. SSL Hijacking

Plenty of websites today are encrypted and secure. You can spot them by the HTTPS label in the address bar. With SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) hijacking, the attacker downgrades an HTTPS connection to HTTP. When victims connect to a server, the attacker intercepts the request and creates an independent, legitimate connection to the server through HTTPS protocol.

Thinking they’re communicating with the legitimate party, the victim continues typing information and sending it to the attacker.

5. Email Hijacking

Cybercriminals most often do this when they target email accounts of banks and other financial entities. Once they gain access, they can see company-customer information exchanges.

Then, they spoof the bank’s email address and send their own instructions to customers. As a result, customers may end up sending money to the attackers.

6. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping

MiTM attackers can set up Wi-Fi hotspots that seem legitimate. For instance, they use names similar to a nearby business.

When you connect to these fake Wi-Fi networks, the attacker monitors your online activity and captures information you enter, like credentials or payment card information.

The Warning Signs of a Man-in-the-Middle Attack

Just like plenty of other cybercrimes, man-in-the-middle attacks have become sophisticated over the past years. But there are still a few red flags you can pick up on. Here is what you should look out for:

Unexpected or Repeated Disconnections

Attackers forcibly disconnect users so they can grab the username and password when the user reconnects. Moreover, when sites seem to load longer than usual, it could be a sign you are redirected via DNS spoofing.

Try to monitor unexpected or repeated disconnections so that you can spot this potential risk.

Strange URLs

If anything in the address looks odd, it could be a DNS hijack. For example, you see https:\\www.go0gle.com instead of https:\\www.google.com.

Moreover, if the site takes longer to load than usual, this could be because you’re being redirected via DNS spoofing to a different site.

Sudden Switches from HTTPS to HTTP

If you notice a website switches suddenly from HTTPS to HTTP, this could be a case of an HTTPS spoof attack. Additionally, it’s a good idea to double-check any weird details, such as buttons on a site that aren’t working or features that disappear.

How to Prevent a Man-in-the-Middle Attack

  1. Use a VPN to encrypt your connection, hide your IP address, and protect your digital life. What’s more, reliable VPNs also keep you safe when you use public Wi-Fi networks.
  2. Keep an eye out for phishing attempts. Read every email carefully, look for details that look out of place, and don’t click on any link!
  3. Make sure you keep your software up to date.
  4. Rely on a password manager to encrypt and protect your passwords. For example, with CyberGhost Password Manager, you can easily create strong passwords and store them safely.
  5. Use multi-factor authentication wherever available. Simply knowing your password alone won’t be enough for attackers to get access to your accounts.
 

Were you ever the victim of a MitM attack? What do you do today to protect yourself?

Let me know in the comments below.

The Origins of Privacy and How it Became a Human Right

What is privacy for you?

For some, privacy means having their bedroom and doing whatever they want in their personal space. For others, it’s the freedom of stepping outside without any surveillance cameras watching them.

Everyone’s idea of privacy is a bit different, but internet privacy is just an extension of life.

While today’s conversations circle around the ideas of “I have nothing to hide” or “Privacy is dead”, we need to dig deeper into the origins of the concept.

When did people become aware of their need for privacy? And what did they do to claim this right?

Let’s find out how the notion of privacy came to be.

Privacy started as an architecture concept

Privacy has historical roots in philosophical debates. The most well-known is Aristotle’s distinction between two spheres of life: the public sphere associated with political life and the private one of the domestic life.

This is something we can all relate to nowadays. Your home is your castle. And you want to feel like a king. But did you know that individual beds are rather a modern invention?

In late Medieval times, the bed was one of the most expensive items in a home. A single large bed was the place for social gatherings, and guests were invited to sleep there with the entire family and some servants.

The connection between privacy and physical space became clearer with America’s colonization in the 1600s. The ownership or possession of land in the New World ensured a secure base for the privilege of privacy privilege. The home itself became the essential place of privacy.

So, the idea of privacy was strongly linked with the sanctity of one’s house.

The way houses are built considering family members’ private spaces has evolved tremendously. Today, in most cultures, a secure home is one that can keep strangers away. Plus, what you do in your own home is none of anyone else’s concern.

The definition of privacy evolved through the years

The first definition of privacy goes back to the late 14th century.

The word privacy derives from Old French privauté, which meant ‘a secret, secret deed; solitude.’

A century later, the definition was extended to ‘seclusion, state of being in retirement from the company or the knowledge and observation of others,’ while in 1814, privacy was commonly considered to be ‘a state of freedom from intrusion or interference.’

In 1891, privacy was described for the first time as a human right. The American lawyers Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis named it ‘the right to be let alone.’

In 1967, the notion of privacy reached a new milestone. Public Law professor Alan Westin published ‘Privacy and Freedom’ – a book in which he explained privacy is the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.

Today, privacy advocates and researchers agree that privacy is an individual’s need to selectively control others’ access to the individual self to achieve the desired level of physical or psychological privacy. In other words, privacy is a form of solitude, intimacy, anonymity, or reserve.

How privacy invasion came to be

Most of us believe eavesdropping, snooping, looking over the shoulder are recent schemes. In reality, they go a long way back, with 1624 believed to be the year of the first-ever recorded invasion of privacy.

After finding incriminating letters written by two men, the governor of the Plymouth colony, William Bradford, learned about a plot against the small colony’s leadership. The two men denied the conspiracy accusations. But the governor asked them to read the content of the letters aloud.

The men expressed their anger for having their private correspondence read by someone else. But they had no legal grounds to defend themselves.

A few years later, in 1710, America’s first privacy law came along with the Post Office Act, which banned sorting through the mail by postal employees.

During the 14th and 18th centuries, people went to court for eavesdropping or opening and reading personal letters.

In 1789, the Constitution of the United States came into force. The document made a more precise point regarding the violation of peoples’ personal space.

Here is what the 4th amendment of the US constitution states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The controversies of wiretapping

Wiretapping is a method of secretly listening to telephone conversations through mechanical means. The practice has been deemed a violation of the right to privacy.

In some US states where wiretapping equipment was not regulated, the technique has been used for blackmail and business espionage purposes.

In the 1928 Olmstead v. United States case, the police used wiretapping equipment to get evidence. However, the complaint was not accepted because there had been no actual entry into the houses, and no items were taken. The judges had no search and seizure amendment to apply.

Forty years later, the country adopted an amendment that allowed wiretapping to be used to provide evidence in court.

Cue the Katz v. the United States case. The feds used electronic listening devices attached to the outside of a telephone booth frequented by Charles Katz, suspecting he was violating gambling laws.

Fueled by Alan Turing’s success with the Enigma project, more publications about privacy started shortly after the Second World War in the United States.

Some newspapers paid a great deal of attention to the concept of privacy and the developments of techniques invading privacy, in particular, the computer – seen as primarily responsible for privacy invasion.

Just think! This was around 30 years before the invention of the world wide web.

The internet and privacy aren’t BFFs

Since the 1990s, significant parts of our lives have progressively moved online. And the internet has had a groundbreaking impact on who we are and how we communicate.

Emails, instant messages, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, video chats, forums, blogs, social networks, shopping sites, and many more are all just one click away now.

But with all the perks came the increasing loss of privacy. Over the years, the internet turned from man’s best friend to a necessary evil.

“Privacy is dead; get over it.” Rumor has it Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, said this a few years ago. He also stated that “privacy is no longer the social norm.” We can only assume what he meant. But one thing is sure: although it may not be absolute, privacy is something people still need and crave.

Most of today’s technology subjects users to tracking, surveillance, or data collection. We are all subjected to:

      • Video surveillance
      • Biometrics technology
      • Data mining
      • Location identification systems
      • Keyloggers
      • Wireless networking
      • Web tracking
      • Machine learning
      • IoT devices
      • Web scraping

Here is why Laura Brandimarte (professor of Information Systems) believes digital privacy is connected to self-determination and freedom from discrimination:

I think people have, in general, become more aware of privacy and security risks because of the attention the media has recently given to these issues, especially in the digital world. However, people may not necessarily understand what is at stake for them. More generally, the public has started to consider the privacy risks associated with digital transactions more seriously, even though, sometimes without properly understanding the consequences of certain choices. The importance of digital privacy has almost become self-evident. Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear about a data breach occurring or a system vulnerability being exploited. With the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we have witnessed how the misuse of personal data (originally collected via Facebook through a seemingly harmless personality test, but then used to create detailed profiles of people) allowed for the distribution of microtargeted political ads during the campaigns of recent democratic elections, potentially putting democratic processes at risk, and exposing them to external influences. Systems of surveillance, using face recognition for instance, are deployed without proper protection of law-abiding citizens’ rights not to end up in enforcement authorities’ databases – not to mention the dangers political or religious dissidents might incur in authoritarian countries. Algorithms using vast amounts of data are being used to predict where crimes are more likely to happen, without considering the discrimination this entails towards minorities and specific ethnicities. These are only a few examples of why digital privacy matters.
      Laura Brandimarte | Eller College of Management, University of Arizona

PhD, Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems

Get to know Laura Brandimarte here.

 

               

 

Still, not all is lost. We can start building a better digital universe.

Take it from Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Here’s what he stated in 2019:

‘…citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart. If we don’t elect politicians who defend a free and open web, if we don’t do our part to foster constructive, healthy conversations online, if we continue to click consent without demanding our data rights be respected, we walk away from our responsibility to put these issues on the priority agenda of our governments.’

It’s time you protect your privacy

When privacy advocates say we are close to becoming surveillance societies, it’s not an exaggeration.

Your information is more important than you imagine, and it makes up your digital world, from your browsing activity to your shopping habits or financial transactions. There are a lot of personal details you share with companies every single day.

Increasing your level of privacy starts with a few simple steps. For example, it’s time you use a VPN. It’ll help you stay anonymous and protect your digital identity.

What’s more, try a privacy-friendly browser and ditch your worries of being tracked. Plus, see how you can stop devices from recording your every move. Check out more tips on how to stay safe online.

 

What does digital privacy mean to you? And why does it matter?

Let me know in the comments below.

How to Delete Your Gmail Account Permanently

Gmail is one of the most used email providers out there. But it also has one of the most controversial business practices when it comes to data and privacy.

And since Gmail has been involved in some privacy scandals, it’s no wonder people are trying to cut ties with the industry giant.

So, if you want to delete your Gmail account, we’ve prepared just the guide for you.

Before you delete your Gmail account

This might not come as a surprise, but Gmail is part of Google, one of the companies that pioneered data mining.

Whenever you use Google’s free services, the company gets vast amounts of information about you, and it uses some of it to better target you with ads. And since advertising accounts for over 70% of Google’s revenue, this practice isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

If you want to put a stop to invasive practices and delete data-grabbing accounts, Gmail is a good place to start.

Before you begin, you might want to keep a copy of the information you generated. You can export it from the Google products you use, such as your:

        • Email
        • Documents
        • Calendar
        • Photos
        • YouTube videos
        • Registration and account activity

To get your archive:

  1. Go to https://takeout.google.com/
  2. Make sure Gmail is checked on the list of Google products that have your data.
  3. Click on ‘Next Step.’
  4. Choose the file type you want your data saved as and how you want to receive that file.
  5. Select ‘Create export.’
  6. When your archive is ready, Google notifies you. This process could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.

Now that your information is in your hands, you can go ahead and delete your Gmail account.

How to delete your Gmail account permanently

Even if you delete your Gmail account, Google still has your data. The only consolation is you’ll no longer be feeding the algorithm.

Here’s how you can delete your Gmail account permanently.

  1. Go to your Google Account.
  2. On the left navigation panel, click ‘Data & personalization.’
  3. On the ‘Download, delete, or make a plan for your data panel,’ click ‘Delete a service or your account.’
  4. On the ‘Delete a Google service panel,’ click ‘Delete a service.’
  5. Confirm by typing your password.
  6. Next to ‘Gmail,’ select ‘Delete.’
  7. Follow the steps on the screen.

With this, all your emails and settings will be deleted, and no one else will be able to sign up for your Gmail handle.

However, this doesn’t affect your Google account. That one’s still active, and you can use it to access other services, like Google Play.

Gmail isn’t your ally in the fight for privacy

Trading privacy for convenience has been Google’s M.O. since the beginning. And Gmail is no different.

However, it mostly came under scrutiny when Google admitted its mail servers automatically scan emails to filter spam, weed out malware, and deliver contextual ads.

Over the years, privacy advocates have criticized this advertising practice, but they’ve also highlighted the fact that the company:

        • Has an unlimited data retention period
        • Lets third parties monitor you
        • Combines user information across Google services

The company has also been the subject of lawsuits because of these ever-growing concerns over user privacy.

2004
Thirty-one privacy and civil liberties organizations wrote a letter asking Google to suspend its Gmail service until the privacy issues were adequately addressed. The letter also urged Google representatives to clarify its policies regarding data retention and data sharing among its business units.
2010
Google launched Google Buzz, a now-defunct social network that was linked to Gmail. The platform immediately drew criticism for publicly sharing details of users’ contacts unless the default settings were changed.
2011
Former Gmail user Kelly Michaels of Smith County, Texas, sued Google, claiming that its Gmail service violates users’ privacy by scanning email messages to serve relevant ads.
2012
A few California residents have decided to file two class-action lawsuits against Google and Yahoo in Marin County Superior Court. The suits claim that the company illegally intercepts emails sent from individual non-Gmail and non-Yahoo subscribers to individual Gmail and Yahoo subscribers without their knowledge, consent, or permission. What’s more, they say the interception takes place before the email reaches its intended target.
2014
Gmail launched a new feature, where users can email people with Google+ accounts even though they do not know the recipient’s email address. Marc Rotenberg, President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the feature “troubling”, and compared it to the Google Buzz initial launch privacy flaw.
2014
A federal judge refused to dismiss a potential class-action lawsuit brought by Gmail users who objected to its practice of analyzing the content of all the messages on its network and selling byproducts to advertisers. Those suing Google said it violated federal wiretap laws.
2014
Google denied a security vendor report that Gmail users on Apple iOS could have data intercepted because of a missing security component in the app.
2017
Google announced that it would phase out the scanning of emails to generate contextual advertising and rely on personal data collected through other Google services.
2017
Google’s AI got smarter in recognizing Gmail aliases. When you search for an email address in Gmail, it now shows all emails associated with that specific address and any aliases. These results are pulled from the to, from, cc, and bcc fields or anywhere in the email.

Despite the backlash, Google made its case by claiming that Gmail users should not expect privacy, liking the sentiment to Smith v. Maryland. This 1979 Supreme Court decision upheld the collection of electronic communications without a warrant.

Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery. Indeed, ‘a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.
Google filing

Yikes.

Gmail – the inevitable evil?

This timeline of privacy mishaps is concerning. But unfortunately, Google Business is an attractive enough package that some people have to use Gmail in a professional or academic setting.

And while you won’t be able to mitigate Google’s data-mining practices, there are a few things you can do to lessen the impact Google has on your online privacy.

  1. Do not associate the Gmail account with your personal social media accounts, bank accounts, or gaming accounts.
  2. Do not use Gmail to sign up for any services outside of those required for work or school.
  3. Use a VPN. It’s a great way to improve your digital anonymity and security.
  4. If possible, only use Gmail services on your work phone or laptop. Don’t log in to the services on your personal devices.
  5. Likewise, only use your work phone when activating two-factor authentication (2FA).
  6. Check the permissions Gmail has on mobile devices and adjust them accordingly.
  7. Encrypt your Gmail emails to minimize what third parties can access.
  8. Learn to spot phishing emails to protect your data from scammers and other malicious parties.

While this isn’t 100% foolproof, it’s a start.

 

Do you plan on deleting your Gmail account? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

How to Increase Your Internet Speed in 10 Easy Steps

Slow internet is the worst!

Even studies show that wonky Wi-Fi connections are the number one modern-day inconvenience!

And it makes absolute sense. Waiting for downloads to finish, videos to buffer, or games to stop lagging is far from ideal.

But you can get your internet connection in the fast lane with a few quick adjustments, and I’m here to tell you all about them.

So let’s get tweaking!

10 easy ways to boost your internet speed

    1. Reboot your router.
    2. Find the best spot for your router.
    3. Do a check-up on your internet cable.
    4. Get yourself an ethernet cable.
    5. Buy a Wi-Fi extender.
    6. Block your ISP throttling.
    7. Update your router firmware.
    8. Switch your router to a different band.
    9. Choose another Wi-Fi channel for your router.
    10. Get a new, better router.

First, let’s measure your internet speed

Before we go into the nitty-gritty of increasing your internet speed, we need to establish your baseline.

What happens when you go online?

If:

        • Your internet connection crashes a lot;
        • Your web pages take a long time to load, or you just get plain HTML versions;
        • Streaming services buffer your shows to the point where you can’t watch them anymore.

Then it’s time to run a speed test.

 

There are many speed test providers out there, but they all provide you with three essential details about your internet connection:

        • Your ping
        • Your download speed
        • Your upload speed

And if these words don’t mean much to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain everything to you.

Your ping

In real life, when someone says they’ll ping you, it means you can expect a message from them shortly after. And it’s not much different for computers or other gadgets. Ping is the time it takes for data to leave your device, reach a server, and then come back to you. It’s measured in milliseconds (ms), so the lower the ping, the better your internet speed.

How is your ping response time doing?

While ping matters in almost everything you do online, it’s crucial for gamers in live matches, as it helps them understand if they’ll experience dips in responsiveness during gameplay.

Your download speed

Don’t let the words here trick you. Your download speed refers to how fast you can get any data off the internet; it’s not exclusive to files you click Download for.

It’s measured in megabits per second (Mbps), and the higher your download speed, the faster your internet connection.

When you go online, you’re constantly downloading something, even though you might not be aware of it.

Visiting a web page? You’re actually downloading data to display it. Reading your emails? Nah, you’re downloading them first. Streaming a movie? You’ve guessed it; you’re downloading data all the way. And it only goes up as you increase the resolution and the quality.

How does your Download Speed compare?

Your upload speed

Just like with download speeds, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to uploads as well.

Your upload speed is all about how fast your internet connection allows data to be sent from your device. It’s also measured in megabits per second (Mbps), and the higher it is, the faster you can upload data.

All this matters the most if you specialize in live streaming from home or you’re dead set on having video calls with a 4K camera.

How good is your upload speed?

However, take these values with a grain of salt, as they’re all estimates based on stable network environments. Calculating exact bandwidth requirements depends on plenty of other factors, from the type of content you upload to the encoder you use.

Before you run your speed test, make sure:
        • The only software running is your browser
        • You deactivate your VPN in case you use one
By turning off all downloads or uploads and trimming down your connection’s overhead, you’ll get a more accurate reading in the speed test.

Ok, now that you’re all up to speed (pun intended), you’re ready for your test.

Compare your numbers with your plan

Welcome to the moment of truth.

How do your internet speed test results compare to what you should be getting from your internet service provider (ISP)? Because whether or not your numbers can be improved depends entirely on them and your subscription.

For example, if you’re on a 15Mbps plan, you won’t be able to get faster connections, no matter how many tricks you try.

The rule of thumb in the industry is that getting 70-80% of your contractual speed is acceptable.

For below-average speeds, contact your ISP to see if they have any technical issues in your area.

 

However, if everything’s ok with your ISP, but your internet is still a slow poke, it’s time to put on your detective cap and see what’s going on. I’ll be the Watson to your Sherlock as we investigate increasingly tech-y tips and tricks.

troubleshoot your internet speed step by step

As you can see, your router is a prime suspect.

Your router is the networking device that lets all of your wired and wireless devices use the internet connection at the same time and allows them to talk to one another.

Don’t confuse it with the modem that only connects your home network to the internet.

Often, your ISP will give you one box that serves as both your modem and router. However, they’re still different technologies. Not all modems include routers, and not all routers have modems, but you need both for internet access.

 

Now that we’ve cleared this up, let’s begin!

1. Reboot your router

Let’s begin with the oldest trick in the IT support handbook: turning it off and on again. And, believe it or not, there’s a special recipe for this.

How to reboot your router:
  1. Turn it off from the power button on the back.
  2. Unplug it from the power outlet.
  3. Wait for 15-20 seconds.
  4. Plug it back in.
  5. Turn it back on.

While you’re at it, make sure you don’t accidentally push the reset button, this is not what we’re after.

As bulky as it seems, your router has less memory than a smartwatch, and resetting it would delete all your settings, customizations, and passwords.

 

So, reboot ✔️, reset ❌.

2. Find the best spot for your router

One of the most important decisions for the quality of your signal is where you place your router. And chances are you might have to offset a bad start.

When technicians come into a house to set up an internet connection, they’re not looking to optimize your connection; they just want to place the modem where the line enters the property. And that’s usually along the wall in the corner of the house.

But that’s far from ideal for you. Instead, here’s what you should do.

Pick a central location in your home

place your router in a central place in your home

Routers send their signal out in all directions, so corners are not their sweet spot. A good chunk of your internet will literally go out the window.

To optimize everything, move the router towards the middle of your house, considering various floors.

Place your router up high

You should put your router up high to maximize coverage. This could mean a bookshelf or someplace on a wall near the ceiling.

Just make sure it has plenty of empty space around it, and nothing is covering it.

Adjust the antennas

If your router has any antennas, now’s the time to adjust them, as they help direct the signal. Ideally, you don’t want them all pointing in the same direction, so experiment with various setups according to your needs.

Keep your router away from other electronics

To get the best speeds, try to position your router away from other electronics or large metal objects that could interfere with the signal.

Avoid the kitchen and the microwave in particular. It usually emits a strong signal in the 2.4GHz band, the same your router uses to operate.

But more on this later on.

3. Do a check-up on your internet cable

check your cables for damages

If you ever accidentally stepped on a cable and misshaped it forever, you already know they’re not the most durable thing. And the same goes for your internet cable.

So, with your detective cap on, check its integrity. Look for bends, punctures, and tears, as they could all affect the speeds you’re getting.

On the ocean floor, internet cables are the mercy of sharks and other fish. In your garden, pests and pets could sink their teeth in them, so check for bite marks as well.

If you find anything out of the ordinary, call your ISP and let them know. They’re usually the ones to replace damaged cables.

4. Get yourself an ethernet cable

Improve your internet speed by using an ethernet cable

Wi-Fi is great and highly convenient.

However, cable connections like ethernet are faster and more reliable since they get the signal directly to your device rather than relying on over-the-air transmissions.

If you can, connect your essential gadgets like your laptop or your PC to the internet via an ethernet cable. You’ll get a considerable speed boost when gaming, streaming and downloading large files.

Adapter to connect an ethernet cable

If you want to do this for gadgets that don’t have an ethernet jack (and most of them don’t), you’ll find plenty of adapters on the market.

comparison of Wi-Fi vs. ethernet connection

5. Buy a Wi-Fi extender

Wi-Fi Extender for power outlet

You might know these nifty devices as Wi-Fi extenders or Wi-Fi repeaters. The name says it all: they extend the coverage area of your Wi-Fi network. Sometimes, they’re so efficient they can effectively double it.

If you live on a large property or in a multi-story house with a patchy Wi-Fi signal, you should consider getting yourself a Wi-Fi extender.

When choosing a range extender, it’s crucial to pick one that matches your router’s specs. For example, the D-Link AirPremier DAP-2360 can extend your router’s coverage, but only in the 2.4 GHz wireless band. For 5 GHz connections, you need something like TP-Link AC1750.

However, keep in mind that a Wi-Fi extender can’t help you increase your router speed.

6. Block your ISP throttling

buffering while streaming is very annoying

Your ISP plays a big part in the speeds you get online. But here’s an ugly truth: sometimes, the sloth-like speeds you experience are intentional, and that’s called throttling.

Bandwidth throttling or ISP throttling happens when your service provider decides to regulate network traffic and minimize bandwidth congestion. Obviously, it’s good for them and bad for you when you want to stream or download something, especially at rush hours.

Throttling limits both your download and upload speed and turns going online into a headache.

How to tell if your ISP throttles your connection

One of the easiest ways of testing whether your ISP intentionally messes with your internet speed is to make a comparison.

        • First, run a regular speed test, and write down the numbers.
        • Then, rerun the same speed test, but this time do it while you’re connected to a virtual private network (VPN).

If you get better speeds with the VPN, there you have it; your ISP is messing with your connection. Keep reading for more details on this technology.

However, the devil’s in the details with this one.

ISPs don’t throttle all the traffic all the time. They usually slow down intensive activities like streaming or torrenting during peak hours (think 7 pm to about 11 pm). So that would be a good time window to do your speed test.

And if it’s any consolation, throttling doesn’t only happen to you; everyone in your area is affected.

Rule out data caps

Before you can make a clear throttling verdict, you need one more piece of information: are there any data caps mentioned in your service agreement? Because they would also decrease your internet speed.

Many ISPs limit how much high-speed data you can use in a billing cycle, and everything that goes over the limit translated into some throttling. As you might expect, this tends to happen more towards the end of a month.

If data caps restrict you, you should be able to monitor your usage from your account on the ISP’s platform and make sure you don’t go overboard.

How to stop throttling with a VPN

No more isp throttling with a VPN

If you want to put an end to ISP throttling, what you need is a VPN.

Short for virtual private network, this piece of software hides your IP address and, more importantly, it encrypts your connection. A good VPN stops your ISP from successfully inspecting your traffic. And if they no longer know whether you’re streaming or torrenting, they can’t impose any speed restrictions anymore.

And if it looks like a VPN would increase your overall privacy and security online, you’re not wrong. Reliable VPNs protect you from all sorts of snoopers and hide your digital footprint. They’re what you need to shield yourself from Big Brother.

7. Update your router firmware

If your usual interactions with your router are just the occasional reboots, now’s your chance to change your ways.

Your router firmware is the preinstalled, embedded software that manages routing protocols, administrative features, and other security mechanisms.

Regular updates are essential in ensuring everything runs smoothly. And your router needs them as well, especially since it handles ALL your information.

Router manufacturers typically roll out software updates several times throughout the year. But there’s a big catch to them. As a user, the onus is on you to find, download, and install them. If you haven’t done this in a while, you can expect to be rewarded with a speed boost at the end of the process, so it’s well worth it.

 

While some routers offer desktop or mobile apps, most use a web interface for updates.

  1. Download the firmware update from the manufacturer’s website. If it’s archived, unzip it.
  2. Log into your router’s web interface. Open a web browser, type your router’s IP address into the address bar, then hit enter.
  3. Type the username and password your ISP provided for you.
  4. Look for the section where you can update the firmware. Depending on your model, you can find it in the Administration, System, Setup, Advanced, or Tools area.
  5. Upload the newly downloaded firmware file.
  6. Wait for a few moments for the process to complete, and you’re good to go.

For specific details, you can check the manufacturer’s website or contact your ISP’s Customer Support.

8. Use all the bands of your router

If you were hoping for some music, I have some bad news for you: this isn’t about tunes.

A wireless band, or frequency band, is how your wireless data is transmitted. These are radio waves that carry your data to and from your router. Currently, two of them are in use:

        • The 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) band
        • The 5 GHz band

The 2.4 GHz band is the default for Wi-Fi networks and plenty of wireless devices, but they can make the airwaves rather crowded. So multiple-band routers were launched to fix this problem.

For example, dual-band routers give you access to both bands. It’s like having two separate networks in one device, maximizing speed. These are usually easy to spot since they have at least four antennas.

Tri-band router take it up a notch and broadcast on three separate bands:

        • One 2.4 GHz band
        • Two independent 5 GHz bands

You should go for one of these babies if you live in a household with over 30 internet-connected devices, and you don’t want them competing for band length and speed anymore.

How to choose between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands

What best to use the the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands for

One of the main differences between the two bands is the speed they can provide, with 5 GHz the winner that allows you to send and receive data faster.

But, because the 2.4 GHz band transmits signals at a lower frequency, it’s able to cover more ground and penetrate walls and other solid objects.

2.4-vs-5-GHz comparison

Most dual-band routers are plug-and-play, so you shouldn’t have any problems setting up your networks. For more details, check out the manufacturer’s website or contact their Customer Support department.

9. Choose another Wi-Fi channel for your router

Let’s play a little game: did you get your router from the ISP or bought it in the past five years? If that’s the case, congratulations! Your device is more than capable of detecting the best Wi-Fi channel and picking it automatically, so you can skip this section.

However, if you’ve had your router as your trusted companion for more than five years now, it’s time for a lesson in how to optimize radio transmissions.

So, as we’ve just detailed, routers operate on two bands: 2.4 and 5 GHz.

Within these Wi-Fi frequency bands, there are smaller bands which are referred to as Wi-Fi channels. A Wi-Fi channel is the medium used by wireless networks to send and receive data.

Optimize your 2.4 GHz router

Generally, the 2.4 GHz band has 11 channels, but some of them overlap. So, the more wireless networks operate on the same channel, the more interference they experience, leaving you with not-so-great speeds.

Illustration of router channels on a 2.4 GHz router

The recommendation here is to go for the sweet spot of channels 1, 6, or 11, as they’re the ones with the least overlaps. But that’s just the theory. In reality, depending on the other wireless networks you have nearby, one of those channels might be a better option than the others.

 

For example, let’s say your router uses channel 1, but your next-door neighbor is on channel 2. In this situation, to keep your throughput from plummet, move at the end of the spectrum. Channel 11 will help you avoid all interference.

Before you jump on that, consider architecture as well. Interior walls, especially brick ones, are great for weakening signals and stopping interference. But that’s not the case for paper-thin walls or layouts where there are lots of windows, and that’s when you should consider switching to a different channel.

Here’s how you do it.
  1. Use a Wi-Fi scanning app to find the less congested channel. Microsoft’s WiFi Analyzer or Network Analyzer on macOS should do the trick.
  2. Log into your router.
  3. Open Wireless Settings.
  4. From the Channels section, pick your Wi-Fi channel.
  5. Apply your changes and enjoy the extra speed.

Channel selection is not something you have to worry about with 5 GHz routers, as 23 out of the 45 channels they offer are non-overlapping.

Eventually, as everyone upgrades their hardware, picking the right channel will most likely become a thing of the past.

10. Get a new, better router

replacing your router can give your internet a boost

Well, there you have it: the nuclear option.

If you’ve tried everything on the list but nothing seemed to improve your speed, it might be time to face the fact that your router is past its heyday. The general lifespan of a router is considered to be about five years, but it all depends on its maintenance, usage, and developments in technology.

How to tell when it’s time to change your router

Because it’s not like your router goes belly-up once it reaches the five-year mark, here are the signs you should be looking for considering how you’ve maintained and used it and whether or not its technology has now become obsolete.

Did you take good care of it?

Routers have little to no moving pieces inside, but they still need your care and attention.

Ideally, they’re placed in dry environments, away from direct sunlight, and their cables aren’t fumbled with to avoid premature wear and tear.

However, there’s not much you can do to fix poor quality. If your router was cheap and you’ve started noticing loose ports or frayed cords, it’s time for a change.

Has your router been overused?

If there are multiple users hooked at your router all the time and they’re doing data-heavy downloads, the device might overheat.

The band-aid solution is to give it a rest from time to time. Easier said than done in the context of the pandemic, right?

Does it still fit your coverage needs?

Different routers have different coverage areas. So if yours has been with you for years and years as you upsized and moved houses, it might not do the trick anymore and fail to cover large areas.

Is the tech inside now outdated?

A lot of times, it simply doesn’t matter how much care you take of your router; fast technological developments can end up making it obsolete. And wireless network standards and data speeds make considerable jumps in short periods of time to improve user experience.

To give you an extreme example, even though it might still work, a router launched before 2009 uses different standards and simply can’t offer you the same internet speed as a new model.

If you have a router that passed the five-year threshold, it might not be able to keep up with current internet speeds and give you all the juice you need for gaming, streaming, and working from home. Not to mention it won’t do a 5G connection any justice.

If your current router:

        • Hasn’t been properly maintained;
        • Has been overused;
        • No longer serves your coverage needs;
        • Or has outdated tech inside.

It’s time for a newer model. And I can guide you through that buying decision as well.

What to look for in a new router

Routers vary significantly in functionality, price, and performance. And some work better than others at boosting your internet speed. The consensus is that what you pay for is what you get. If you go for cheaper options, you risk more issues along the way and a shorter lifespan.

Price tag aside, here are some of the details you should pay attention to when shopping for a new home router.

5G support

5G is the 5th generation mobile network. It’s the new global wireless standard after 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. You might remember some of them, but one thing’s for sure: things have improved a lot since it all began in the 1980s!

5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect everyone and everything. So, it paves the way for mind-boggling speeds, smoother, more realistic video streaming, and gives us all the ability to connect multiple smart devices to the same router.

comparison of 4G and 5G networks

There’s only one conclusion here. If you live in a country that started rolling out the 5G tech, look for a router that supports it. The 100x traffic capacity will most likely astonish you.

Multiple-band support

To refresh your memory, modern routers are dual-band and tri-band, and they’re the equivalent of having two or three networks in one device.

You should pay attention to this feature, especially if you have many IoT devices at your place.

Computational power

When you hunt for your new router, here are three little words to look for: quad-core CPU. It will give you all the computational power you need to go online seamlessly.

A quad-core processor is a chip with four independent units called cores that read and execute central processing unit (CPU) instructions such as add, move data, and branch.

Here are some of the best routers available at the moment.

Best routers for fast internet

Mesh capabilities

For impressive speeds, you might also want to consider getting a mesh router, the latest in home networking technology.

A standalone router uses a single device to give you Wi-Fi coverage in a limited area. However, mesh routers use two or more connected devices to offer you multiple Wi-Fi signal sources, all on the same seamless network. It’s like having 3-5 separate routers in your home.

In this category, the most popular and budget-friendly option is the Google Nest Wi-Fi router. It blankets your whole home and gives you fast internet while eliminating buffering in spaces up to 120 square feet.

It’s time to pick up speed!

Well, that was it: our top ten most effective ways to improve your internet speed!

If you went through them, you now have probably a nice checked-off to-do list.

 

You covered a lot of ground, and your reward should now be a blazing-fast internet connection!

A checklist to speed up your internet  

What’s your favorite trick for increasing your internet speed? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

How to Permanently Delete Your Tinder Account

Online dating apps have become the go-to place for people who want to hook up. And whether they’re looking for a fling or a serious relationship, Tinder is one popular destination.

Tinder makes finding a match based on your preferences look easy. All you have to do is swipe right for ‘yes’ and left for ‘no.’

However, you may have decided this is not the right app for you. Maybe you rarely get a Tinder date. Or you’ve already found your boo and don’t need Tinder anymore.

If you’re more privacy-oriented, you might be ready to break up with the app over the security flaws that allowed people to take over accounts and access any photo from the database.

If you believe it is time to delete your Tinder account, we’ve prepared the complete guide on how to do it.

How to delete your Tinder account

Here’s what you need to do to leave Tinder in the past.

To permanently delete your Tinder account from the app:

  1. Open the Tinder app.
  2. Click the profile icon at the top left of your screen.
  3. Tap the “Settings” icon in the middle of the screen.
  4. Select “Delete Account” at the end of the “Settings” menu. Here you can choose whether you want to deactivate your account or permanently delete it. Choose Delete my account.
  5. Give your reason for leaving.
  6. Confirm that you want to delete your account.

You can also delete your Tinder account through the browser website.

  1. Open the Tinder homepage on your browser of choice.
  2. Log in and click on My Profile.
  3. Go to your account settings.
  4. Select “Delete Account.”

Mission accomplished!

Once you’ve deleted the Tinder app, your profile will still be visible online. But the less you use the app, the less you will appear in people’s searches. According to the company, if you have an inactive account for more than 7 days, your profile will be gone forever.

However, they’re not so keen on letting your data go. Based on their privacy policy, Tinder will hold on to your data for another three months.

Tinder’s privacy and security blunders

While it sometimes fails to land you a proper date, Tinder certainly seems to succeed in getting your data. And the app collects a lot more of your information than you might expect.

Information overload

In 2014, it was revealed that Tinder does not just rely on the information you share, but also on data about “your use of the service,” like your activity and location.

This information is used to present you with targeted ads and can also be used in any other way Tinder may choose to, including selling it on to third parties.

Photo exposé

In 2018, security experts revealed Tinder didn’t encrypt its pictures database! All users’ photos were transmitted over HTTP (aka an insecure web protocol when you’re entering sensitive data). This meant anyone using the same network could access these photos.

Learn more about the difference between HTTP and HTTPS.

Security weaknesses

The works of a Tinder algorithm go like this: if two people swipe right on each other, it’s a match. When users swipe left, it means they are not interested. So, chatting with someone you said no to isn’t a possibility.

However, by exploiting the same HTTP vulnerability, cyber attackers could have added viruses or spam to a user’s photostream.

Catfishing

Another common risk with Tinder, as with any other dating app frankly, is catfishing.

Find out how to stay away from online dating scams.

Catfishing happens when users try to fool you into thinking they’re someone they’re not. They do it to steal your personal information or even your finances.

If someone is too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, your potential match made in heaven proves to be a scammer.

Keep your exposure to a minimum

While good things still happen in the digital world, and honest and trustful people find true love, it is always better to be cautious and keep your eyes open for any kind of risk.

Use a reliable VPN to protect your online identity. You get to hide your IP address and encrypt your connection so, you don’t expose your digital whereabouts.

As an extra tip, if you’re an iPhone user, switch to Secret Photo Vault to protect your snapshots.

After all, photos are sensitive personal data that you don’t want to end up in the wrong hands.

 

Did you use or are you still using Tinder? Did you consider deleting your Tinder account for security reasons?

Let me know in the comments below.

CyberGhost VPN’s Transparency Report

January, February, and March 2021

If 2020 seemed never-ending, the first three months of 2021 have whisked right by. And you know what that means: it’s time for our Transparency Report covering the first quarter of the year!

Let’s take a look at the requests we registered in January, February, and March 2021 at CyberGhost VPN.

Our January, February, and March numbers

24,074

This is the number of DMCA complaints, malicious activity flags, and police requests we got since the beginning of 2021.

The figure marks a 35% decrease in requests compared to our previous report.

But this number changes nothing for us.

Because we have no data to show, we have not complied with any of these requests.

As part of our commitment to protecting online privacy, we have a strict no-logs policy in place. We keep no records of our users. Not their online activity, not their browsing history, not their digital footprint.

We’re also headquartered in Bucharest, Romania, a country famous not only for Dracula but also for its privacy-friendly laws. So, we’re under no obligation to store any data on our Ghosties, and we have nothing to share with the authorities.

Romania also strays away from any surveillance alliances, like the 5 or 14 Eyes, so we’re under no legal obligation to participate in any intelligence-sharing efforts.

Now that this introduction is out of the way, let’s investigate what happened in the first months of 2021.

DMCA complaints

21,531

DMCA complaints are copyright infringement claims. They are consistently the most common type of request we receive.

Various entertainment companies can file a DMCA notice on behalf of copyright holders. They do this when something has been shared and distributed using one of our IP addresses.

January
February
March
6,922
5,787
8,822

DMCA complaints make 89% of all requests we received these past three months. The situation was similar in the last quarter of 2020 when DMCA complaints made up 90% of requests.

Malicious activity flags

2,518

The name is self-explanatory, as this type of inquiries generally signals abusive behavior originating from CyberGhost VPN IP addresses.

This can include anything from DDoS attacks to spam emails and anything in between.

January
February
March
970
700
848

Malicious activity flags make up around 10% of the requests we got. It’s just a tiny increase compared to the 9% in our previous report.

Police requests

25

We generally get police requests from various law enforcement agencies and police departments from around the world. Representatives contact us after they’ve traced back an IP address to one of our data centers. They’re usually looking for logs to help with their investigations.

January
February
March
3
17
5

As usual, police requests make 1% of all requests we receive. That’s on par with what we had every quarter in 2020. However, compared to our previous report with 11 police requests, the incidence has more than doubled.

The bigger picture

Transparency Reports have become a tradition for us. Ever since 2011, when we became the first VPN company to publish such a document, we’ve been pushing them out regularly.

In 2019, we decided to take it a step further with a quarterly transparency report, right here on the Privacy Hub. Here’s where you can check the latest editions:

For the bigger picture, head to the dedicated Transparency Report section on our website.

New year, new goals

We, the team behind CyberGhost VPN, have always focused on building the best tools for you to protect your digital privacy.

And now, we’re more focused than ever. Because we know that, in the age of digital surveillance, you need more than a VPN. In the age of constant data breaches, you need more to protect your digital identity.

This is why we’re continuously expanding our arsenal of privacy and security tools. The latest addition is our Password Manager.

Life’s better with a password manager, that’s for sure. And we’ve cut no corner in developing the safest and easiest to use tool for you to manage and store your passwords.

With CyberGhost Password Manager, you can:

      • Store all your essential passwords in an encrypted, super-secure, and hacker-free place
      • Generate unbreakable passwords quick and easy
      • Instantly log in to your online accounts
      • Import your saved passwords
      • Store an unlimited number of credentials
      • Track every change you make to your passwords
      • Filter credentials based on title or date
      • Better organize, find, and use passwords by assigning tags

Going forward, we have plenty of ambitious plans. So ambitious that we had to grow our team, and we’re ready to tackle new challenges and continue improving our products.

And don’t worry! We’ll share all exciting new details with you, so make sure you keep an eye out for them. 😉

 

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

Disclosure on UK’s Browsing History Tracking to Mark a New Surveillance Era

The United Kingdom has been the testing ground for surveillance techniques for quite some time. Now, according to recent disclosures, the country might enter a new Big Brother era.

Over the last two years, the UK police and internet companies have been secretly collaborating, testing surveillance technology. As part of an ongoing trial, the technology logs and stores the web browsing activity of any individual living in the country.

The UK’s surveillance law, also known as Snooper’s Charter, appointed at the end of 2016, allowed these covert operations.

While they are no longer a secret, one cannot assume they will not be further developed and applied if the initiators (the Home Office and the National Crime Agency) conclude the tests are a success.

If so, the UK will become the first Western country to use surveillance tools at a large scale, as authorized by the law.

Let’s find out more about the UK’s general state of surveillance.

Two ISPs were involved in the surveillance

No officials made any public statements about the surveillance trial. Instead, it was included in a 168-page annual report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO), published in December 2020.

The trial is ongoing, and the IPCO mentioned they would decide if they’ll expand it to cover the nation once they have a complete evaluation of the results.

Two internet services providers (ISPs) – whose names are still unknown – were involved in these tests. They created internet connection records (ICRs) to show which websites a person visits, when and how much data they download, and their IP addresses.

The ISPs didn’t record what pages or precisely what content people accessed online. However, the collected metadata can reveal significant and essential details, such as:

      • Health information
      • Personal interests
      • Political views or affiliation

The ISPs themselves are prevented from saying if they were involved. The Investigatory Powers Act bans revealing the existence of a data retention notice to anyone else. The Act, supported by a judge’s consent, lets the UK’s secretary of state order internet providers to keep their records for up to a year.

UK’s history with state surveillance

United Kingdom’s history regarding the use of electronic surveillance goes back to World War II and the evolution of signal intelligence.

When the war was over, the UK established Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The country used it in several intelligence programs as part of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance.

In 2013, Snowden’s revelations didn’t just uncover NSA’s (America’s National Security Agency) secret surveillance operations. His discoveries also showed GCHQ was involved in mass surveillance procedures described by the media and privacy activists as highly violating peoples’ civil liberties.

Still, in 2014, the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that even if GCHQ collects and analyses data in bulk, its practices do not translate into mass surveillance.

In January 2018, a UK Court of Appeal ruling concluded the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) was illegitimate. DRIPA was a previous law covering state surveillance which has been expanded upon with the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016.

The court ruled that the legislation contravened British people’s rights by collecting internet activity and phone records. It also concluded public bodies should not be allowed access to this kind of personal details with no suspicion of ‘serious crime’.

Yet, as most privacy advocates believe, with Brexit underway, UK government might persist with indiscriminate snooping:

The UK government has been pushing for the ability to access people’s internet connection records for many years, and it is no surprise to see UK agencies like the Home Office and the National Crime Agency moving forward with trials to access and utilize the treasure trove of consumer data being logged by ISPs thanks to the Snooper’s Charter. The lack of EU oversight caused by Brexit could now result in serious concerns for the British public, whose internet connection records and metadata may be harvested en masse by a large cross-section of agencies without the need for a warrant.                                                  Consumers need to be aware of the potential for their internet habits and metadata to be analyzed, and they must seek to protect their privacy at all times by leveraging a VPN to encrypt the internet traffic and prevent ISPs from tracking their online habits. Internet connection records have the power to reveal startlingly precise details about people and their daily lives and habits, and it is extremely concerning that the UK may now move forward with its surveillance regime. Analyzing people’s communications metadata and internet habits is an extremely invasive practice that has never been proven to aid with national security, and it can have serious effects on people’s privacy, their ability to express freedom of speech, and their right to freedom of association.
Ray Walsh, Digital Privacy Expert | ProPrivacy

The surveillance systems currently used in the UK

From a political point of view, discussions about privacy are always tied with the way governmental authorities can balance individual and social interests. The authorities usually claim that the more privacy you lose, the more security you gain.

The United Kingdom has started to enforce surveillance systems in the early 1990s in response to IRA bombings in Birmingham in 1974. After the September 11 US attacks, the London Underground terrorist attacks, and the 2012 Olympics, more surveillance tools were deployed.

Between 2016 and 2018, Metropolitan police had deployed facial recognition software in central London. Around 420,000 CCTV cameras were operating at the time in and around the city. With its 470,000 cameras, London became the second-most monitored city in the world after Beijing.

Simultaneously, the South Wales police started to use automated facial recognition technology to search for people in crowds. Civil rights organizations sent written submissions to the court arguing the tool is racially discriminatory and contrary to data protection laws. They found that the South Wales force captured the biometrics of 500,000 faces, most of them not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the use of automatic facial recognition (AFR) technology by South Wales Police was unlawful.

Other facial recognition software operating in the UK:

      • Yoti has been rolling out its facial analysis software in over 25,000 convenience stores to estimate customers’ age.
      • Facewatch software can recognize known criminals and has been tested by several high-street retailers; the software is included in over 500 stores across London. Facewatch has signed data-sharing deals with the Metropolitan Police and the City of London police.
      • Budgens stores and supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Marks and Spencer all have cameras using facial recognition; the stores use the cameras for crime prevention and even estimates the age of those buying alcohol or cigarettes.

Privacy advocates’ concerns are regarding the overlap between government and private companies that don’t follow any transparency guidelines. Moreover, private companies can use people’s data as they see fit, and no one has control over them.

There is currently no ethical or regulatory framework for the private use of surveillance technologies.

UK laws governing the use of biometrics, including facial data, focus primarily on DNA and fingerprints.

These laws have not been updated since 2012.

What’s in store for UK’s spying tactics?

Before GDPR, the United Kingdom adhered to the European Union’s Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.

In 1998, the UK complied with the EU’s Data Protection Directive 95/46/ without once including the word ‘privacy’ in its pages.

In the context of Brexit, key elements of data privacy and protection still remain unclear.

For instance, the UK has to accept the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over data and privacy and on how the system works.

But currently, the British legislation still provides UK authorities with the significant legal power to impose surveillance. Plus, international agreements like Five Eyes leave the door open to legitimate spying, including gathering mass data sets.

Or as Amnesty International stated:

It’s not being done with any grounds for suspicion, it’s being done to find the grounds for suspicion. It’s a huge rollback of our liberty.

Keep your data private

Sadly, nowadays, you can’t expect someone else to take care of and protect your data. You need to handle data security yourself.

Regardless, it is not a complicated task. Here are some simple recommendations:

 

What’s your take on surveillance programs? Do you believe they should be allowed and used without people’s consent?

Let me know in the comments below!