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Five inexpensive VPN options to keep you all sorts of secure

(TECHNOLOGY) If you work on public internet or are just looking to beef up your internet security VPNs could be your answer. Here are five worth looking into.

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VPN options

We must speak, as we so often do, of l33t h4x0rz.

Let’s get blunt. We have reached the point in the evolution of technology where access to your personal data is equivalent to access to everything you own. Data security breach, which involves fewer twentysomethings with improbable hair and more Russian state actors than 90s movies led me to believe, can be the end of a business, especially a small one.

Frustratingly, the mainstream market hasn’t really produced perfect solutions for that. At present, you really have two options.

Option one, you roll with AppleFacebookGoogleSoft. Different companies, same model: hand your data to a giant organization with an affirmative interest in keeping it confidential. That can work! It can also, y’know, not. A lot.

Option two, full infogeek. Pull together All The Information and put it behind tight security you control. We’re big fans of this. On the other hand, we’re geeks. Doing this successfully requires knowledge, specialty tools and changes in behavior that may not be practical for you.

Ain’t exactly optimal, those options. So for the love of the white hat, what’s to do? Where’s the middle ground between “put it in a big sack and hand it to HugeCorpCo” and “lock every 0 and 1 in a painstakingly handcrafted box?”

Meet your friend, the VPN. Virtual private networks aren’t just the irritating things you have to sign into before another constructive day on the cube farm. For any entrepreneur or freelancer who isn’t into a rad Linux solution, a VPN is a straight-up necessity. They’re how you Internet without people keeping logs (your ISP does), tracking your activity (everybody does), or carrying off your innocent data to the dark web or the Kremlin.

Better yet? There are lots of good ones that are inexpensive, reliable, and only a Google away. Here’s five. Unranked, because every VPN is a beautiful snowflake.

IPVanish wins at efficiency. They own 100 percent of their resources, rather than outsourcing any work to third parties. That means high speed and optimal security, since their commitment to keeping zero information on their clients can’t be undercut by nosy contractors.

NordVPN has tech wizardry going for it, with double encryption and even an optional kill switch that automatically disconnects you from the Internet if anything goes amiss with the VPN. Nord also wins at most devices per subscription, and will happily wrap up to 6 of your robots in the warm embrace of infosec.

Private Internet Access, in addition to winning the Most Straightforwardly Named Product Ever award I just made up, is great for power users, with unlimited bandwidth and a subscription allowing up to 5 devices. It’s also super simple, designed to run in the background while you go about your digital day, so for folks who aren’t looking for bundled apps or a shiny interface, this is your guy.

PureVPN gets compatibility cred, since it’s usable across Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows and even provides proxy workarounds for Chrome and Firefox. It also has a frankly enormous server network, which is good news for speed freaks.

TunnelBear, in addition to being adorable, is extremely user friendly. It’s kind of the anti-PIA, with a rich interface and lots of shiny features. Those features include neat security tricks like Intellibear, allowing users to selectively VPN into particular sites, and Vigilant Mode, which makes like Nord and blocks Internet traffic in case of outages.

Snowflake jokes aside, the list really isn’t ranked, and for reason. Your VPN will be your gateway to the Internet. What works for you is totally contingent on what you do and what you need. There are only two definitive rules.

One, never free. A free trial is fine. “Free VPN” is online shorthand for “place all your information in this bucket, which I will then steal, seal and sell to the Internet’s many, many buyers of evil buckets of data.”

Two, it’s a numbers game. There are countless choices for VPNs on the market. The entries on our list offer substantially similar services to dozens of others. What makes our 5 special?

Twelve bucks. The maximum cost of each of the 5 VPNs above is less than twelve dollars per month. Most cost less: spring for a subscription and you can get the average cost down to 2 or 3 dollars monthly. But month to month, no obligation, even the most expensive entry on the list – that’s a tie between NordVPN and PureVPN – costs you less than twelve dollars a month.

Beat that for peace of mind.

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Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

By now, all brokerages should be using Click-To-Call tech

Click-to-call tech is not just a sales tool, but an expectation of consumers, leading to a much healthier pipeline.

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Consumers are doing more and more online these days – but that doesn’t mean that the era of the phone call has ended. In fact, research is confirming that, when people are shopping or looking for a service, they often combine mobile web searching with a phone call to the business. Users first research the products online on their mobile device, then call the business to get more details or make the purchase.

That is why having a click-to-call option on your mobile website or app is more important than ever.

Invoca reports that 45 percent of all calls to businesses are inspired by a mobile search, compared to just 9 percent of phone calls prompted by a desktop search.

A study in the UK found that 94 percent of customers expect that your site will have a call-to-click option, and we would suggest the findings would be similar in America.

redfin-tap-for-help1

In a survey of 1500 mobile users, 42 percent of users reported that they had used click-to-call, usually because they simply wanted to speak to a real person. Needing a fast answer to a question, or wanting more information than was listed on the website were two other oft-cited motivations for using click-to-call.

And these calls aren’t just casual chats – more often than not, they are inquiries that lead to sales. Click-to-call phone calls last an average of six minutes, with a high rate of sales conversion.

Mobile phone call conversation rates are four times higher than desktop. Take pause to think about that.

While the benefits of having a click-to-call option are obvious, it’s also important to note that not having click-to-call could actually hurt your business.

The study found that customers are more likely to trust a business when they list a phone number; a business with an unlisted phone number makes customers suspicious and unlikely to buy. The aforementioned UK study found that about a third of customers will actually be frustrated, annoyed, or disappointed if you don’t have click-to-call.

With an estimated $1.94 trillion in sales coming from click-to-calls by 2019, there’s really not excuse not to have it.

This story was first published in 2016.

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Real Estate Technology

This tool tells you if it’s worth installing solar panels on a specific property

(TECH NEWS) Solar panels can improve the value of some homes, but Realtors should be equipped to know that not all properties can even get the appropriate amount of sunlight.

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Solar panels roof

As a Realtor, you are tasked with both creating a positive customer service experience AND continuing to be innovative. While one aspect relies on continuity, the other is adaptation-based; therefore, balancing the two can be a steep challenge. Staying ahead of the competition requires you to develop revolutionary techniques and pitches in both fields. For this reason, you should consider adding potential for sustainability in the form of solar panels to your repertoire.

Google Maps instated a service called Project Sunroof that allows you to see exactly which houses, neighborhoods, and general properties are solar panel compatible. Additionally, the function lets you see approximately how many hours of useable sunlight you will have per year, as well as how many square feet are available for customization.

Quick video demo of Project Sunroof:

Solar panels still belong to a medium of sustainable energy that is shrouded in mystery (if not shadow). Terrestrial use is tentative, at best; however, a combination of increased awareness regarding climate change and a common desire to save money makes the notion of domestic solar panels an easy pitch for the right realtor.

There is a definitive market for sustainable living, but it tends to be cliquish and exclusive. Energy snobs can end up settling for the ideal home in a less-than-ideal location, simply because these dwellings are relatively few and far between. Solar panel installation could be the olive branch that bridges the gap between clean energy and optimal living.

In the interest of catering to clientele, you might use Google Maps’ solar panel feature to persuade them of the aforementioned gap. Showing them the possibilities for customization could be a huge benefit to you and your client alike; your properties see growth, and your clients are satisfied.

You can also look at potential ways to collaborate with the companies providing the panel services, thereby opening up ways to monetize the experience. Be sure to point out that the initial cost, while large (around $20,000 for installation), is generally offset by the end result: huge savings in energy expenses.

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Real Estate Technology

Safety scanner checks your IoT devices for vulnerabilities

(TECH NEWS) Our digital footprint is so omnipresent new sectors for discovery and recovery of digital information are emerging – which begs this question: is your IoT information secure?

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Virtually everything we use for productivity is digitized. We depend on digital communication from our email servers to our printers and just about everything in between.

Our digital footprint is so omnipresent that the IT and law sectors have created an entire new genre of computer programming devoted to the thorough discovery and recovery of vast amounts of digital information. So, then, your work begs this question: is your information secure?

A month ago, an unidentified hacker waged an unprecedented attack on the major internet resource Dyn, rendering the system Dyn is an Internet Performance Manager, which basically means it hosts a ton of information; in this case, Dyn hosts information from companies like LinkedIn and Netflix.

The unidentified hacker breached vulnerabilities in the system in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, where the system is overloaded with a flurry of trash files that leave its components unable to process.

What does that mean?

This kind of attack has tremendous magnitude. It implies twofold: first, that the internet could be knocked offline for large swaths of time; second, that someone is testing major internet resources to assess vulnerabilities.

The CTO of the IBM company Resilient, Bruce Schneier, was able to check in with some major cloud resources on the condition of their anonymity to understand more thoroughly the nature of the attacks.

“[It’s] as if the attacker were looking for the exact point of failure…The attacks are also configured in such a way as to see what the company’s total defenses are,” Schneier blogged in September, “…Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.”

We are in a moment in history where technology is exponentially evolving. Start-up developments are as commonplace as a new corner Starbucks. Technology is bridging the gap between the laws of man and the solutions of emerging demands; for example, the startup PayQwick is leading the field in providing cashless money transfer for marijuana businesses, who face opposition from local banks who still must comply with federal financial regulations.

The internet security company BullGuard has developed an IoT scanner to monitor the vulnerabilities of the systems within your own network. The idea behind it is that it may reveal inconsistencies that could then be addressed; it is by no means a fix or even a solution, but it could serve as a base for understanding where to begin. The scanner is available as a web-based browser and is free.

The IoT scanner is particularly relevant now; a recent study showed over half of smartphone users are concerned about the security of their information and that almost three-quarters of smartphone users have no idea how to establish that security.

Three cheers to the ever-developing internet for providing a starting ground for those of us who want to secure our small businesses and personal information. But even more important could be the buds of user-friendly security development.

Ideally, small-scale customers should feel protected and should be able to understand the technology if digital information security is such an all-encompassing commodity.

What does it mean for IT monoliths to have egregious infrastructural weaknesses? And how might those weaknesses trickle down into the smaller-scale pockets of American businesses and lives? Let’s hope there’s already something in development before the option disappears.

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