Monday

Anonymous Surfing Tips - Deleting Your Google Search History

Have you ever watched one of those crime dramas, where the investigators check through the suspects search history when trying to prove them guilty.   They'll notice that the local priest has spent the last  three weeks googling poisons and then sweep round to his house while he's concocting a vat of cyanide?   It's sounds great doesn't it, and indeed it is when everything is completely straight forward and scripted.

Yet if you looked through say a couple of years of anyone's search history, there's probably a high chance you could find at least suspicious or incriminating.  It's simply the case, that we Google all sorts of things that pop into our heads, often in my case after a long day and with a large drink in my hand.   I know for a fact if you pick specific days in my search history, I'll look very much like an undercover terrorist researching my latest target.  What's actually happened is I've probably had a few too many whilst reading an article on some horrible atrocity somewhere and started aimlessly browsing the subject of terrorism.

It's a very simple example but a white, slightly tipsy, curious  40 year old  agnostic male can look very  much like a 20 year old religious fundamentalist with a death wish if you look at their search history out of context. Remember the internet is stuffed full of our history in all sorts of places, including our search histories.

So how can we retain some our privacy?

Well using encryption is obviously a big step, without using something like Identity Cloaker you'll always leave a complete record of everything you do online.  However what about the past? Can you imagine the sort of information a company like Facebook or Google has gathered on us over the years?  Well fortunately there is a way to rectify this too, at least with regards your Google Search History - thanks to a brand new feature they've introduced.

First Let's Review All the Information That Google has About You.

First you need to start here - Google History Page

Then click the gear icon


 And Select Download from the Drop Down Menu

Then you'll be presented with this warning -


Just select create archive and you can download all your Google Search history.  Obviously as the warning highlights you should be very careful where you download this and where you store it!   You can then browse everything that you have searched for online using Google - it can be quite interesting!

In the next post, I'll show you how to remove all this history from Google's servers. Note this not the same as simply removing the history from your local browser.

Tuesday

Australian Netflix is the Cheapest

I've long believed that the big digital companies need to drastically rethink both their marketing and pricing models that they apply online.  Although it makes sense if your goal is profit maximisation, it's fundamentally unfair to charge completely different prices for identical products based simply on your location.

Not only is this practice unfair, it actually very difficult to implement as the technology used for determining your location is easily bypassed if you use something like Identity Cloaker.   If people don't go this route, buying  a Hulu or HBO subscription at US prices using a US VPN server, then they simply start down the Usenet or Torrent route with all it's pitfalls but minimal cost.



The multimedia giant Netflix has revealed it has actually a different criteria when determining what to charge in new markets.  Now let me first state that Netflix is not the same in every country, in fact due to licensing issues it varies greatly across different places.  Having said that it is very surprising to discover that one of the main factors is the likelihood of piracy in a given market.  So the argument goes, that if piracy is rife in a particular location the easiest way to compete is to bring your prices down.

It makes sense, there comes a point where it's not worth the hassle of spending ages downloading a dodgy copy of a film with some blokes head covering the bottom corner, and simply pay for a legitimate, high quality HD copy. Obviously they use other factors too, yet the piracy one is important and which is why the Australian's version of Netflix is significantly cheaper than the UK and US versions for example.

Yes despite a history of web censorship projects and legislation (most of which have failed), Australia has one of the highest levels of digital piracy in the developed world.  A large number of Australians happily torrent whatever they need online, they access most restricted channels like BBC iPlayer like this, and in fact hundreds of thousands have already subscribed to Netflix using a US VPN

So that's it encourage your friends, neighbours and family to torrent as much as possible and watch our digital subscriptions come tumbling down!  It would be good if companies like Netflix could just let us miss this piracy step and just charge a fair price equally for it's subscriptions.

It might be that this price changes in the future, who knows.  Netflix is certainly making a huge impact in Australia, with some reports stating that it is now using up 25% of Australian internet bandwidth !

Friday

Shame on You Lenovo - Superfish Scandal

Imagine you were a hardware manufacturer and you'd been discovered installing something that made you money whilst simultaneously breaking one of the most important security aspects of their web browser.   Now further try and picture the apology you'd have to write for this disgraceful, greedy and technically inept behaviour - well you can  read it here -

Superfish was previously included on some consumer notebook products shipped between September 2014 and February 2015 to assist customers with discovering products similar to what they are viewing.  However, user feedback was not positive, and we responded quickly and decisively:

This is the apology that Lenovo has written on it's web page in response to the superfish scandal.  Make no mistake Lenovo has been guilty of the most appalling disregard for both their customer's privacy and their online safety.

So What is Superfish?

Well despite what Lenovo is waffling on about product search technology, Superfish is simply adware which it installed on thousands of computers and laptops. It's function was to hijack your web browsing and inject adverts when you searched, which of course earned Lenovo commission for displaying.  What was worse, is the fact that this adware actually performed a Man in the middle attack on your web browser in order to decrypt the traffic.

Superfish Breaks security


It's appalling, Superfish actually installed a false self signed certificate which it used to decrypt your personal browsing.   It's exactly the same method that a hacker or identity thief would use to steal usernames and accounts from encrypted HTTPS traffic.  What's worse is that even if Lenovo didn't actually steal your data directly by 'breaking' HTTPS and using a standard, false and duplicated root CA certificate it made hacking into that machine much, much easier for anyone else.

So it was not surprising that 'user feedback was not positive', as here's a brief summary -

  • Lenovo secretly installs adware on brand new machines.
  • Machines are then sold to customers.
  • Superfish installs false ssl certificate when accessing secure sites.
  • Superfish then performs Man in the middle attack to decrypt HTTP traffic
  • Fee paying adverts are displayed in your browser window to earn Lenovo commission.
  • Superfish effectively makes machine more vulnerable to other attacks.

Obviously computer and information laws vary across the world, but needless to say  that what Lenovo did is skirting on the edge of criminality.  Certainly as far as UK law, the updates to the Computer Misuse Act covers adware and specify that the installation should be clear and allow the consumer choice of whether to run it.  There are also numerous statements about unauthorised access and modifications to customers computers.

Whatever the legal ramifications, what is certain is that Lenovo is quite happy to exploit it's customer's security and privacy in order to make more money by installing adware.  I for one will certainly never trust this company again and I would hope I am not alone.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy
Watching Iplayer on Your IPad

Tuesday

Broken Smart DNS - Netflix Fights Back

For many people, finding ways to access the world's best media sites can be a full time job.  Depending on where you live, it can be very difficult to access anything online.  Although many solutions exist for a computer it becomes even more tricky to get these streams working on other network devices like Smart TVs, media streamers and tablets.

Which is why Smart DNS was becoming so popular, because it was very simple and could be enabled on the majority of devices with ease.  How it worked was surprisingly simple but very effective, all you had to do was change your DNS server to one of the Smart DNS enabled ones.  This then would intercept any requests for media sites which checked your location and rerouted the initial connection through an appropriate proxy server.

So if you were in France and wanted to access Hulu for example, the Smart DNS server would route your initial connection through a US server, enabling the USA only stream whilst having virtually no impact on speed!   Some of the best Smart DNS service providers like Overplay even allowed you to specify your exact location.  This was great for services like Netflix as you could switch between any version of Netflix you required, for example Netflix USA has by far the biggest choice, but Netflix UK has some great British content.


You could add the DNS setting to your TV, tablet, phone quickly and easily.  In fact you could modify the DNS server which was supplied by your router and effectively enable every device in your home all at the same time.  All your other browsing would not be effected and DNS requests would resolve normally, a great, efficient work around if you used a fast service.  However even the dodgy DNS codes would work reasonably well and often worked for a couple of days rather than for just a couple of hours like free proxies.

However this all changed with the latest update to the Netflix interface, which has been rolling out over the last few weeks.  This update is not just to make the interface look prettier and easier to use (although it does) - it includes a function to break the Smart DNS workaround.

How does it break the Smart DNS Code Method?

It's surprisingly simple - the new Netflix interface hard codes the DNS servers to use.  So whatever device you access Netlifx from it tries to use, the Google DNS and Open DNS servers for name resolution.   This obviously completely bypasses the Smart DNS servers you have configured and thus the redirection which fools the Netflix servers doesn't happen.

The result, if you're in the UK and try and get US Netflix you'll get an error message.  If you try and access Netflix from a country which doesn't have any version and you'll get completely blocked again.  It's very frustrating especially as you have to be paying for a Netflix subscription in the first place.

Fortunately, there is a fix although how long it will work for I'm not sure.   It involves ensuring that the Netflix application can't access the Google and Open DNS servers, which then falls back to your Smart DNS server.  Currently it seems to work very well, but the method looks vulnerable, Netflix could go further to stop this.  There are a variety of methods to achieve this DNS server block, but one of the best write ups is here - Broken Smart DNS - the Fix a fairly straight forward method of setting up a static route for each of the DNS servers which block access.

There are other options, and indeed many people will not have the facility to set up static routes on their routers.  Basically you just need to ensure that the client cannot access those DNS servers, you could use firewalls, Internet security software, perhaps even your hosts file to redirect those requests (Windows will use the hosts file before any DNS resolutions are attempted).  It just suddenly makes using Smart DNS much more complicated and needs some technical knowledge.

Will Netflix pursue this further?   They certainly could, their method would easily extend and indeed they could enforce those DNS requirements (or Netflix wouldn't work) - although they have to be careful that they don't cause other issues.  It might be that Netflix will leave the current situation, it's made the use of Smart DNS more difficult and less appealing certainly for accessing their service.