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Archive for May, 2012

Watch Your favorite Shows Online, Even outside US

May 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Watching TV is perhaps the much-loved pastime of people from around the world. Everybody loves to watch TV shows, which can be so good that you get addicted to them. Watching your favorite shows on TV is easy when you are at home. All you need is a cable connection to watch them on TV, or an internet connection to watch them online. The good news about online streaming sites is that you can watch unrestricted TV 24-hours a day, no matter where you are in the US.

But once you are outside the United States, you may not necessarily have access to all the sites that stream US TV shows online. Why? Because of the geographical restrictions imposed for certain American programs. Here are a few ways in which you can overcome these restrictions and watch your favorite TV shows even outside the US.

Using VPNs

Use of virtual private networks is one of the best ways to overcome geographical restrictions on US TV shows and watch your favorite programs even when you travel out of the country. When you get a VPN connection from the US, you can stream any content from US online streaming sites as your actual IP address is replaced with an IP address of the VPN in the US. So even though you are outside the country, the website or the service provider will believe that you are located in the US but won’t be able to track your actual location.

Look for free streaming sites

Another way to watch your favorite US TV shows online is to look for sites that allow free access to the videos no matter where you are. These sites may not exactly be legal in the US, but accessing them is easy once you are outside the country. The best part about these suites is that they often stream a number of old and new television programs, including those that have been lost or forgotten over the years.

Using torrents

Using torrents is perhaps the most common way of accessing the videos you want online. BitTorrent sites have movies and also a hoard of television series from the US and around the world. As using BitTorrent is not illegal in all the countries outside the US, installing the BitTorrent client and accessing the videos of your choice would not be a problem at all. However, the process involved in installation and accessing the necessary files can be tedious and time-consuming, especially if you are not so much into technology or software.

Access paid sites outside US

When you are in the US, watching your TV shows on sites like Hulu, Netflix etc can be great because of the quality of videos that are streamed on these sites. But even if you are ready to pay, these sites won’t allow you to access the videos when you step outside the country. Sometimes, you would have already paid for the video and still won’t be able to access them when you have to travel. This is because of the copyright and licensing issues that these sites have to face.

Whatever be the case, the users are the ones losing their money and also a chance to watch their favorite shows, which is not very fair. One way to access these sites is through a paid VPN software, which gives the site an impression that you are in the US. Then again, it is not fair to pay extra to view something that you have already paid for. In such a case, you can always use free VPN services which can easily get you access to these sites.

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Common Mistakes that Lead to Identity Theft Online

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Agreed that the number of cyber criminals and identity theft cases has been on the rise. But did you know that you may be contributing to it without your knowledge. Often, cyber criminals and hackers look for loopholes in software to access valuable information online. But sometimes, the users themselves may be handing over their important files to these criminals by committing a few blunders. Here is a note of such common mistakes that can ruin your computer’s security and lead to identity thefts.

Using links in email to access accounts

One of the first things you should avoid is to click on any links you receive in emails from unknown  people. Clicking on e-mailed links is bad as it is, but it gets worse if you use them to access your accounts. One of the most common threats for financial security online is phishing, which involves sending fake links of your bank’s site. So no matter how authentic the mail looks, you should avoid clicking on links in an email. Even if you do, avoid accessing your account through them, as that would simply be handing over confidential details like your account number, password etc on a platter, to the hacker.

Not updating anti-virus software

The anti-virus or anti-malaware software you use can protect you only to a certain extent. The software used for security work best when they are updated on a regular basis. Even then, not all may have the code to detect and remove the dangerous spy ware that can leak confidential data from your computer to the web.

While tracking online, cyber criminals often look for sensitive information that can be used to their advantage. To prevent them from eavesdropping on your online communication, you should use a secure browser and the best security software, and update it whenever it needs to be.

Using a common password for all accounts

Remembering multiple passwords can be a painful task. But that does not mean all your passwords have to be the same. Lets say that you have one password for everything – for your system login, your bank and credit card account, your email account etc. In case a criminal is able to hack one of your accounts and get your password, the security of all the other accounts would also be in jeopardy.

The smartest way to protect your details is to have unique, complex, yet easy to remember passwords. The safest passwords are the toughest to crack and usually include letters in both cases, numbers and symbols.

Using free software

Everybody would want to save a little money, especially on expensive software. While getting a software for free seems like a great idea, it may not always be the safest. Free software is often just a ploy used by criminals to release malware or spy ware into your computer and gain access to your files. This may not necessarily be the case with all free software, and taking a few precautions when downloading such software should keep you safe. However, if you can afford it, it is best to go for licensed software and stay safe than risk your valuable data for a few hundreds of dollars.

Clicking on pop-up ads

Pop-up ads are attractive and are made to distract you from whatever you are doing on the net. But if you click on them because they look good, or they seem to give an exciting message like “you just won a lottery”, you would only be paving way for a virus to enter your system. As far as possible, it is best that you ignore any such pop-up ads, no matter how much they compel you to know where they lead.

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Fight Against Privacy Pirates

May 29, 2012 Leave a comment

What are the results when you Google yourself? Do you find accurate information or do you find numerous inconsistencies. Both the situations have their pros and cons. If the information is accurate then it will become easy for cyber criminals to locate you and steal your personal information. However, if the information is not accurate, or negative in any way, you could end up with personal  problems  or will find it difficult to progress further in your professional career.

Make yourself obscure

You always have the option of deleting unwanted content from your computer, but the internet does not have a delete button. Once something goes on the World Wide Web, it stays there. However, you can make the unwanted stuff obscure on the net by piling lot of other stuff over it. If you are looking to completely erase your online identity, you should be ready to put in a lot of effort and time. You will have to remove all your social media profiles, websites, blogs, and your contact details from phone books because they end up online as well. Despite all these measures, it is possible that you will end up on some online list. There are tools coming up like the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, which claim to provide online identity protection, but there is no proof of how successful these machines are.

Beware of online trackers

There are numerous online companies that collect your personal data and sell it to earn money. This makes it very difficult to remove your online presence. Now most of these companies provide an opt out option, but the catch is that you have to register with them before you can opt out. In fact, there are companies which may even ask for a copy of your driver’s license before allowing you to opt out. You can use tools which tell you the companies that are tracking you online. Most of these tools are free and you can also use them to block companies which are mining data from your system. This will not remove your personal data from the web, but it will protect it from surveillance and distribution.

Mask your IP address

Your IP address provides a lot of crucial information about your browser, your online activities, and in some cases about your physical location as well. So, it is extremely important to hide your IP address if you want to browse anonymously and avoid tracking online. There are many IP scrambler services available, which make you a general ‘cocoon user’ while you are browsing on the web. When you browse in this fashion, all your cookies can be easily blocked or can be stored in the cocoon, making tracking difficult. If the cocoon is not present, your cookies can be used by different websites and ad networks.

Make sure that you read the ‘Terms of Service’

Data that is published by identity brokers is usually extracted from public records or is bought from companies that got the data from the person. For that latter option to be true, the person must have agreed to the terms and conditions of the company. This is not only true for personal data but  for  photographs as well. By clicking on ‘I Agree’, you actually provide these companies the right to use your personal information.

You might have understood by now that you cannot completely remove  your presence from the online world. However, the above mentioned steps are some of the ways in which you can safeguard yourself on the internet. Always remain vigilant while using any online service and read the terms of services carefully to avoid giving a company the right over your personal information.

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Protecting Yourself from Online Scams and Phishing Attacks

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The World Wide Web has become essential for individuals and businesses alike. However, the growing reach of the internet has also meant an increase in cyber crime. Earlier, internet users were afraid of just hackers, but cyber criminals have evolved over the years. Now there are several other threats as well. Social engineering, phishing, and pharming are some of the threats present today.

Online scams are the most common threats present today mainly because people have started conducting financial transactions online. Cyber criminals target these transactions or try different methods to obtain personal information from you. Phishing is one of the most common methods used by such criminals. Phishing attacks are usually carried out through e-mails where the sender of the mail tries to trick you into revealing information like passwords and credit card details. Following are some steps that should be taken to ensure that you do not become a victim to such attacks.

  1. Always check the URL carefully before clicking on the link. Sometimes, the URL might be only slightly different from the real URL. For instance, ‘trustedbank.com’ might be the real URL, but the the phishing mail would have the URL as ‘trustdbank.com’.
  1. Check the hyperlink, if any, to see where it leads. When you hover over a link for sometime, the address appears at the bottom of your browser. Some attackers hyperlink a different URL to the one mentioned in the mail.
  1. Mails from banks and other established organizations are usually void of any typos or grammatical errors. Presence of such errors should alert you and you should confirm the authenticity of the mail by calling the company.
  1. If the mail is from a company that you have not dealt with before or have not contacted in a long time, it is always advisable to ignore it.
  1. Phishing mails often ask the user for verification of important information through the mail. Any reputable company will never ask for sensitive information through means of electronic communication.

Lottery scams and counterfeit checks

Everyone loves to win a lottery, and fraudsters take advantage of this fact. They might send you mails stating that you have won a contest or a lottery or that you have been short listed for some special promotion. Some of them will ask for your account details or login details, saying that it is required for verification purposes. Avoid such mails at all costs.

However, cyber criminals have gone a step further these days. They will send you the check as well for the said amount, which is often quite substantial. They would ask you to cash the check and send some part of the amount to a different account. The checks are usually counterfeit and and by the time the bank realizes this, the amount has been wired. You will be at a loss in such situations because the bank considers the victim to be the responsible party.

Internet purchase and Craigslist scams

These scams are perpetrated by cyber criminals who present themselves as online buyers interested in your products. The purchaser will generally offer you a higher amount than the selling price of the item. If the purchaser is in a foreign country, it is an indicator that he/she is attempting to rip you off your money. Such scams are also possible when you are being sold an item online. You  pay the amount only to find out that  the product will not be delivered to you.

Social media is a another platform used by hackers to attack you. To stay safe, you can use different tools which allow you to use anonymous social media. More than anything, you need to be vigilant at all times while browsing the net to ensure that you do not fall prey to these scams.

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Local Online Marketing

May 25, 2012 Leave a comment

The importance of local online marketing is increasing rapidly amongst businesses. Many experts believe that local online advertising will see a lot of growth in the coming years, with the introduction of different technologies that can help the companies in this sphere. Geo-targeting based on IP addresses is often utilized by advertisers to reach their target audience. Another tool used is behavioral targeting, which tells you about the online activities of the user.

IP based geo-targeting

When a computer is connected to the internet, the internet service provider or the ISP assigns an IP address to the machine. However, the IP address is in no way related to the geography like zip codes are. So, you cannot figure out the location of a computer using only the IP address. You have to take help of tools that map the IP address to a specific location.

Even though IP based targeting is widely available, it can be quite inconsistent at times. One of the most common reasons for the inconsistency is outdated information. Certain percentage of IP addresses change their location on a regular basis. These addresses can be reissued to any machine on the planet, irrespective of the location. So, it is very easy for a  geo-targeting database to have outdated information.

A lot of organizations have centers in different cities and they map their networks to a central location. So, the tool you use might tell you that the user is from Los Angeles, when in reality, he or she is from Cleveland.

There are ISPs that assign some of their users to a small number of servers. In fact, a few years ago, all of AOL users had their IP addresses pointing to Virginia irrespective of what their real location was.

Search targeting

Local search targeting is employed by companies to target users when they search for different services or places like restaurants or movie theaters. This form of advertising helps companies in presenting offers to customers that are localized and highly relevant. Search based targeting is different from IP based targeting because with search-based marketing, you are going for “what the user is looking for” and not “where the user is searching from”.

Targeting on the basis of profile data

When a user registers online for a site or a service, there are some attributes which make up the registration data for a user. When the user logs in, this data is associated with the cookies or with the audience database used by the company. When the user tries to log into a site that is associated with the data company, the cookies or the database information is matched. Most of the data is usually demographic-related or is about the purchase history. If the site operates in an ethically acceptable manner, the important information of the user is encrypted.

Regional insight

You can choose to go for any of the above methods of targeting, but it is important to analyze how they are performing. One of the ways to analyze the performance is by accessing other servers or by contacting colleagues in that particular region. However, if you do not have these options, then you might find it a bit difficult to understand a local market.

Using a proxy server can be a great way of solving this problem of local market access. A proxy server can easily place you in the location of your choice. You can analyze how your campaigns run in different regions, something which you couldn’t have done using most of the usual methods.

Different methods are employed by companies to get information about what their customers want from them. You might find some of these methods acceptable, while others might raise privacy concerns for you. If you are in the latter category, you can always use proxy servers or similar precautions to stay anonymous  on the web.

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Understanding How Websites Track Your Location Online

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Have you ever realized about the information trail you leave behind while browsing the internet? When you visit a site, it can log in your IP address which can provide a great deal of information about you and your location. Theoretically speaking, an IP address is not related to a geographic location, but it is possible to determine the location of an IP address in most of the cases.

There are various geo-location systems that use large computer databases for figuring out the exact physical location of an IP address. You can actually buy a few geo-location databases, while there are others which are available free of cost on the net. These geo-location systems are quite useful but have their limitations as well.

Different uses of geo-location systems

A geo-location system can be used in several ways by a company, and here are some of them.

Tracking visitors: One of the most important applications of geo-location systems has been to track the distribution of website visitors based on their location. The information about the location of the visitors can be really helpful for the site in making its advertising and marketing plans. There are many sites today, which present different content to different users based upon their location.

Fighting spam: Spamming has become a nuisance for many sites and geo-location is being used extensively to get rid of spammers. Sites can trace the IP address of users who make comments or send e-mails to block the user.

Geo-location is also used by organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to prevent users from transferring media files over the internet. However, most of the times such organizations work with ISPs.

Limitations with geo-location tools

Over the years, the databases used for geo-location have improved greatly in terms of accuracy. Some of the databases can even match the IP address with longitude and latitude details or with the postal addresses. However, there are still a few limitations to these databases.

The biggest problem is that it is not very difficult to match the IP address with the wrong postal code or address. Some of the databases match it with a very broad geographic area, like  the city where the user is. Also, it is not necessary that all the addresses will appear in the database. So it is impossible to map them to a physical location (this happens quite frequently for IP numbers which are not used very commonly on the net).

In the recent years, wireless hotspots have also become very popular. Previously, it was difficult to track these hotspots. But now, there are numerous online databases that have a record of such hotspots. The services can be very useful for those who are traveling, but the only problem is that the database provides you the name of the network and not the actual IP address.

There are many online services that allow you to enter the IP address in a simple form and then look for the physical location. Most of these services use proprietary databases which contain the address, and are dependent upon the web site registrations and the flow of internet traffic. These databases are designed to be used by site owners and can be bought in the form of a downloadable tool.

Avoiding geo-location

Avoiding geo-location tools is necessary if you want to avoid geographical targeting  by companies or if you want to avoid tracking online. The simplest way to tackle sites which use geo-location is to use a proxy server. Proxy servers are simply computers that are situated in different locations. When you connect to the net through the proxy server, your actual IP address is masked with the address of the proxy server.

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Using Torrents Keeps Getting Tougher

May 23, 2012 Leave a comment

You might be aware of the government actions taken against torrent sites in the UK and the Netherlands. Authorities in both these countries have asked their major internet service providers (ISPs)  to block torrent sites. If this was not enough, a Russian company revealed recently that it has come up with software that can stop users from downloading content using torrents. The company called Pirate Pay has the support of Microsoft and has also been working with Sony to prevent torrent downloads. The tool developed by  Pirate Pay pretends to be a bit torrent client, but ends up confusing the connections established in the torrent swarm, which leads to failed downloads.

The main reason for big companies backing such tools is that they believe that internet piracy and downloading worry free torrents leads to a loss of billions of dollars every year. The above mentioned UK ban on torrent sites was a result of British pornographic industry winning a legal battle to ensure that ISPs banned torrent sites like Pirate Bay.

What is Pirate Pay?

Pirate Pay was established as a traffic management software, which could be used by ISPs. However, it was discovered that the tool can also be used for ‘swamping’ various peer-to-peer networks and flood them with false information. The chief executive of the company, Andrei Klimeko has said that it was during the development of the prototype that the true potential of the tool was realized.

Impact of Pirate Pay

The technology has received a lot of praise from Microsoft Russia. In fact, Pirate Pay ended up receiving a million rubles from a seed investment fund that was setup by Microsoft. The impact of Pirate Pay has been felt already as it has prevented several thousand torrent downloads of a recent Russian film called “Vysotsky. Thanks to God, I Am Alive”. As per the company, it has stopped more than 44,000 downloads of the movie. The number does not give a definitive picture because it is possible that the users might have tried again at a later time.

The exact details about how the tool operates are not known to anyone outside the company. However, experts feel that the tool is good for short-term use only. Some experts have said that if the network is flooded with a lot of false information, then there will be very little real information left.

Technical and social aspects of piracy

According to some researchers, tools like Pirate Pay are a technical fix that do not address the real problem. The real problem is that millions of users around the world feel that legal copies are too expensive and do not provide them with what they want. This is the main reason for the exponential growth of torrent sites. Also, the problem is a social one and not a technical one. If the users get what they need at a price they think is right, they will not waste their time with complicated torrent clients.

Other restrictions on torrents

Recently the Pirate Party in Netherlands, which was helping users in bypassing blocks around the site the Pirate Bay, received a government order to stop during so. Also, five other ISPs were ordered to block the site. The reason for the court ruling is the complaints made by an anti-piracy group called Brein. The Pirate Party reacted by saying that the new ruling was actually a slap in the face of free internet. They said that if this goes on, more and more sections of the internet will be censored till the point that you will be able to access only a small part of it.

Bans on torrent sites are nothing new and governments across the world are implementing them. In such situations people have to resort to tools like proxy servers to ensure that thy break away from the unjust restrictions placed on them.

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