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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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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.

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

It’s complicated, but how does one move out of a smart home?

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) We live in a world of the latest, greatest tech gadgets for a smart home, but what happens to them and the information they’ve collected when you’re ready to move?

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One of the attractions to a smart home is customization; you can customize everything from the temperature, to the amount of light in a particular room. Smart homes can accommodate nearly every preference and in most cases, anticipate what you need, but what happens to all this technology, and more importantly, the data this technology has collected, when you decide to move out of your smart home?

Hardwired versus stand-alone
Most smart homes have a stand-alone hub (or central control) that connect your lights, thermostat, sprinklers, and everything else, while some more involved, automated units require panels to be directly wired into the walls. As you can imagine, the wired-in units, are obviously not going to be walking out the door with you quite as easily when you leave, as a stand-alone hub (like Alexa or Google Home). More importantly, however, where is the data going that your thermostat, security cameras, voice-activated controls, and everything else have collected when you leave? How do you lock down those devices and data so the next occupant cannot access your sensitive information?

Locking it down and resetting devices
Your first priority should be to make certain your software is up-to-date and that you are using the latest security and encryption protection that’s compatible with your system. Each aspect of your smart home likely has a “disconnect” or “uninstall” process and you’ll likely need to consult with each one to insure you have a smooth and safe transition to your new home. Even if you’re taking the components of the system with you, you’ll need to reach out to customer support and let them know your new location. If you’re leaving them behind, tech support will likely recommend that you reset it to the factory default, so the next family will be able to connect their system and adjust to their preferences.

Protecting data and IoT
While dealing with the actual devices is important, as an entire connected home can become quite expensive, even more crucial, is ensuring that your data is protected when you move. This brings us back to a topic we have long and frequently discussed: the IoT (Internet of Things) and who in fact owns the information collected from a smart home?

In general, if you own your home, you own the data, although, each app/program/vendor/utility can vary so always, always, always, read the terms and conditions before you click “accept” when you begin using a new program or app. The ToS will likely tell you what the company will do with the data it collects from your devices and you need to protect the ownership of your data. Also, read the privacy policy as some data can be sold to 3rd parties (for massive profit) if you blindly click “accept.”

If you still think it’s no big deal, you might want to read about who will profit from the IoT. Also dig in to who owns what type of data, because let’s face it, you want to know where and how video footage, door lock access codes, and security alarm entries are being stored.

If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be to double-check your encryption setting and your preferred apps’ data storage/sales policies because these are the two most important and proactive steps you can take to prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands, not only when you leave your existing smart home, but also in general while you are using and enjoying your automated technology.

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Real Estate Technology

Drone simulator apps let you try before you buy

(TECH NEWS) Want to boost your Realtor cred with awesome drone photos but not sure you want to put down the cash? This company has an option to let you try it out free of charge!

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Finally. Finally. It’s the article I was born to write. In the following few paragraphs, please find detailed, easy-to-use instructions on how to construct, master and deploy your very own robot army.

Wait, what?

I don’t… I don’t understand. You don’t want an army of flying buzzbots, programmed to indulge your every whim?

You just want them to do your job better? Seriously?

No, no, that’s OK. I’m not disappointed. More for me.

But seriously, folks. Drones are amazing tools for Realtors, providing an opportunity for detailed, high-quality observation of properties, opening up new security solutions for prospective and current customers, and generally changing the game.

Game,” unfortunately, is the operative word. I’ve been a gamer since DOS and I still can’t run a flight sim without plowing a Learjet into Newark. All that costs me is my save. Getting this “game” wrong means turning hundreds of dollars into scrap and smoke.

Thankfully, for once the expertise is ahead of the implementation.

The Drone Racing League, which turns out is a thing, has a user-friendly, full featured drone flight simulator on the market.

And the best part? It’s not on the market at all.

The DRL already has builds for PC and Mac ready to go, though of course you’ll need a computer that can handle the beast. You’ll also need a controller. The standard input device for professional droning is an RC controller, the stylish great grandson of those black antenna boxes that slammed so many tiny cars into so many walls on so many Christmas mornings.

But DRL has you covered: no specialist controller needed. Just about anything that plays nice with USB will work, including Playstation and Xbox controllers. There’s even online multiplayer, so if you want to get really good at taking pretty pictures of your properties (or like flying bundles of pixels around super fast) dive in.

Drones are flocking in droves to the real estate market, and not just as the first stage of conquest for my robot empire.

High-quality images of your properties are a great way to set yourself apart from the rest of the market.

If you want to know if it’s worth your investment, here’s a great – and free! – way to find out.

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Real Estate Technology

How AI boosts sales skills, not replaces them

(TECH NEWS) Artificial intelligence will drive the future of sales with time-saving solutions, not career-destroying deviance.

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Artificial Intelligence is getting pretty wild, y’all. Google and Uber are both working on developing AI systems with self-doubt, the University of Cambridge added a “Superintelligence” modification to popular computer game Civilization, and Japanese scientists can basically read minds with deep neural networks now.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) broadly covers the idea of machines and technology carrying out “smart” tasks. AI is driven by machine learning (ML), which allows devices to analyze data and learn through pattern recognition.

AI’s potential is widespread, from personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, to services like Pandora and Netflix. Utilizing machine learning (ML) software, these services apply algorithms to data sets to analyze and learn user preferences.

Whenever you like a movie or show on Netflix, you get suggestions of what you may like based on previous reactions, watching history, and Netflix’s extensive dataset. Machine learning does the analysis work, while Netflix as a service is considered something that uses AI.

Many companies use AI and ML to evaluate and manage data. In 2016, $20-30 billion was spent worldwide on AI. Of this, ninety percent went to research and development, which speaks to global interest in improving and increasing AI technology.

As the amount of worldwide data increases, AI and ML can help manage information and deliver insights across a variety of industries, including retail, real estate, education, energy, manufacturing, and so many others.

Sales can particularly benefit from AI since it reduces the manual labor of researching prospects and qualifying leads. With AI, sales teams can determine when to engage prospects, and which information will be most relevant.

Additionally, AI provides insight into which content is doing well so sales teams can better optimize high-performing strategies. In turn, this can improve engagement based on insights instead of intuition to increase close rates.

Close analysis of data doesn’t have to be a tedious administrative task with AI and ML. By finding out what your customers need based on close data analysis, you can create targeted, personalized solutions.

Plus, AI can help reduce lost sales by evaluating product availability, and implement dynamic pricing along and demand forecasting.

In terms of customer support for sales, you can already easily implement chatbots that use machine learning to answer frequently asked questions and generate leads.

We’re not exactly at Westworld levels of automation yet, but the future is leaning towards AI. Those in the sales industry can greatly benefit from implementing artificial intelligence solutions to save time and increase productivity for anyone who’s still human on the team.

And now for a neat graphic to digest:

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