NOTE: The following article has nothing to do with the normal topics of this newsletter: genealogy, DNA, current events, upcoming genealogy conferences, or related articles. However, this article relates to a new computer technology that I believe every computer user should be familiar with.
The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Imagine a list of everything you’ve done online this week, and when. Everyone you messaged or video called. Every social media interaction, every takeout order, every job application you applied for, and every doctors' appointment. How about every website you visited (yes, all of them). Everywhere your phone has been. Every time you were and weren’t at home.
Would you be happy for your neighbors to see this list? Your boss? Your bank? Everyone on the internet? How about every one of those things for the past week? How about the past year? Now make it the past decade, not just a year. How about forever?
That’s the reality of using the internet today. While the data we send is usually encrypted, the metadata — the data about what you’re sending, when, and who to — typically is not encrypted unless you use https (The "s" stands for SECURE) protocol. Even that is not perfect. All your information is easily all available to be hacked and tracked by cybercriminals and by government agencies alike. Yes, the FBI, the CIA, local law enforcement, and identity thieves alike track thousands of people all the time. THAT'S TRUE EVEN FOR HTTPS (SECURE) connections. There have been (unconfirmed) hints the Internal Revenue Service does the same.
Of course, tracking of a nation's citizens is never limited to only the United States. Similar actions are even more common in many other countries, especially in Russia, the Arab countries, and who knows where else? Yes, even the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, and Brazil do the same. The more repressive the government, the greater the odds it is tracking its citizens. Then there are the identity thieves and other cybercriminals... They are located everywhere.
Even if the cybercriminal or government agency is not tracking your exact data content, many of them do track the metadata of your every connection you make. They know which web sites you visited (and the date and time of each visit), along with the people and organizations with whom you exchanged email messages. They probably know when you are not home. Organizations such as Facebook also know your political affiliation, your religion, your ethnic heritage, and the approximate amount of income your family enjoys.
Metadata is often described as everything except the content of your communications. You can think of metadata as the digital equivalent of an envelope. Just like an envelope contains information about the sender, receiver, and destination of a message, so does metadata. Metadata is information about the digital communications you send and receive. Some examples of metadata include:
- the subject line of your emails
- the length of your conversations
- the time frame in which a conversation took place
- your location when communicating (as well as with whom)
It shouldn’t be this way. Users deserve privacy. Indeed, there are ways to obtain the privacy and security we all desperately need for the internet of today and the future. For many years, security experts have recommended the use of Virtual Private Networks, commonly called VPNs.
A VPN gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.
A virtual private network is a key privacy tool that you should use when you’re logging onto the internet from a public place such as a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or any other spot that offers access to free public Wi-Fi.
A VPN creates a type of tunnel that hides your online activity, including the links you click or the files you download, so that cybercriminals, businesses, government agencies, the neighborhood adolescent, or other snoops can't see what you are sending and receiving.
Most VPNs are owned and operated by corporations.
(NOTE: There are a few privately-owned VPNs although they are not common.)
In most cases, private citizens pay a few dollars a month to the corporation to provide the secure and encrypted path to other web sites and services. Of course, these services that create the plain-text-to-encrypted-translations are very powerful; they often have access to all of your plain-text communications.
Many VPN providers claim that they do not log your conversations. Do you believe them? (Some have later been found to be lying. Others reportedly record everything but then delete all records after 24 hours.) Records of your online communications are valuable. The corporations that do track your online activities then sell that information to Facebook (now called Meta.com) and other businesses that are in the business of collecting private information.
Beyond that, what will non-logging corporations do when they receive a court order that demands they initiate tracing of an individual? In the past, a number of non-logging internet service providers have implemented logging of certain individuals after receiving a request from a court of law.
I have been using VPNs for years to encrypt all my online communications. It's not that I have anything to hide. In fact, I lead a rather open life. Instead, I simply don't like online snooping by anyone for any purpose.
As good as VPNs are, they are not perfect. They do not always provide working connections to all distant services. Financial institutions, especially banks, often block anyone attempting to connect via a VPN. Some services that are designed to only be used by people in their own country (such as Netflix) will block anyone attempting to connect from a foreign country.
This leads to a discussion about I.P. addresses. Every computer that is connected to the internet has an I.P. address. that includes your computer. An I.P. address is a unique address that identifies a device on the internet or a local network. I.P. stands for "Internet Protocol," which is the set of rules governing the format of data sent via the internet or local network.
In essence, I.P. addresses are the identifier that allows information to be sent between devices on a network: they contain location information and make devices accessible for communication. The internet needs a way to differentiate between different computers, routers, and websites. I.P. addresses provide a way of doing so and form an essential part of how the internet works.
The use of a VPN "hides" the I.P. address of the originating computer and substitutes the address of the "endpoint" computer - the point where the encrypted "tunnel" ends and the connection then resumes the normal, unencrypted connection. That is how Netflix and other geographically-limited services know you are using a VPN: the company has simply compiled a list of all the I.P. addresses of the known "endpoints" or nodes and does not allow anyone using one of those known I.P. addresses to connect.
So how do you solve this problem? Simple. Use a DPN instead of a VPN.
So what is a DPN?
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