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Paranoid about internet security? Here are the most secure OS options

(BUSINESS NEWS) After all of the hacks and security breaches this year, Linux is a great option for OS security.

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Internet security

After the Year of Datasec Fail, in the wake of breach after leak after hack, it’s time to cop to the fact that private data security is Serious Business.

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Private sector titans like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, not to mention the actual flippin’ US government, have demonstrated that, if there’s anything in your life you’d rather Vladimir Putin and/or the entire Internet not know about, you’d better spit on your hands, boot up your robot of choice, and take responsibility for your own infosec.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

The mere notion of handling your own information security (“infosec” to professional nerds like your narrator) conjures images of command lines, spaghetti code and whatever else it is tech types actually, yknow, do. If only there was an easy fix! A simple, widely applicable one-shot that would make your precious 1s and 0s safe forever.

There pretty much is. It’s Linux.

Superficially, using the famous open-source operating system might seem like the opposite of security. After all, the point of open-source is that anybody can look at and futz with the code. How is that compatible with “make everything hidden?”

But that’s the not-so-secret shame of tech

As we’ve ceded more and more of our lives to internet-enabled services, nothing is hidden. Cloud-based services like Google Docs and online-only offerings like Facebook and whatever Yahoo’s doing these days are accessible to everyone, everywhere. That’s the point. That’s their offer. “Accessible to everyone” is incompatible with “accessible only to nice people.”

The Linux fix is twofold.

First, old-school hackers (cue pounding 90s electronica soundtrack) still trading on invading your personal system generally don’t bother with Linux exploits. Windows and the traditionally safer Apple are bigger, more valuable targets. Second, 5 popular distros – that’s “particular flavors of Linux some noble white-hat nerds put together for you” – incorporate fixes for increasingly common Internet breaches of the kind that felled Facebook and Google.

Tails

Tails is a live OS, which means you can put it on a USB stick or disc, run it on any computer, and when you pop it out again the computer goes back to the way it was. Local hacks work by reading your logs, huge quantities of nested information your operating system hangs onto for complicated reasons. Windows does it. Apple does it. Some Linux distros do it. Tails doesn’t. It also roots your internet traffic through the legendary Tor, benchmark of Internet anonymity. Tails’s commitment to zero-footprint computing also has the smaller but just as welcome convenience that, if you do prefer to use it sparingly and stick with your old, less-secure OS, it leaves no souvenirs on your system; your old setup will boot like nothing happened.

IprediaOS

If this were a 19th century novel, this entry would be called “IprediaOS. Or, the Trouble with Tor.” Tor prioritizes security above all else and limits Internet access accordingly. There’s a lot of stuff it won’t go near, because it’s just not secure enough. That limits the mainstream usability of Tor, not to mention services like Tails that rely on it. IprediaOS uses a similar but less strict service, I2P, that affords access to the everyday Web with minimal loss of security. IprediaOS also comes with anonymous chat, email and BitTorrent clients.

Whonix

Whonix is a unique beast. It’s a virtual machine, which is (incredible oversimplification incoming!) a program that thinks it’s a computer and convinces others to treat it likewise. Its big offer is that it can be run as a program on the Windows and Mac OSes, making it a perfect match for anybody who only has a job or three that demand anonymity – cloud-based business records, say, or anonymous blogging – and is otherwise good to go with a by-the-book setup. It’s also a great way to learn the basics of home infosec, since, being based on the venerable Debian distro of Linux, it plays well with Microsoft, Apple and other Linux systems.

Discreete Linux

Not a typo! This cleverly named beastie discreetly keeps your secrets by building a discrete structure, unconnected to anything else, for you to whisper them in. It’s limited in function compared to the other services listed, functioning primarily as data storage and anti-malware/spyware/Trojan solution, but it is very good at those things. It’s in beta at present, and as is a beta’s wont there’s a bug or two to shake out, but it has real promise as a data security tool.

Qubes OS

Qubes is the Whonix solution raised to the level of an operating system. It compartmentalizes your work as separate virtual machines, limiting any compromise in security to one set of services, with no chance of spreading to more vulnerable areas. Qubes even color-codes your machines for you, with colored frames indicating the potential security vulnerability of a given VM. So, if you set up one machine as straight data storage with no access to the outside world, that’s about as secure as data gets and Qubes will tell you so. The machine you do your web browsing in will be coded otherwise. Better still, Qubes provides a secure data-transfer solution that lets you move information safely between machines. Last September Edward Snowden, a man understandably interested in information safety, tweeted “If you’re serious about security, @QubesOS is the best OS available today. It’s what I use, and free. Nobody does VM isolation better.” Can’t say fairer than that.

Don’t be intimidated

Obviously, as is made clear by the monolith of text above, infosec is an enormous topic.

That said, don’t let it scare you.

Get educated on the subject and in a week of digital futzing you’ll be warm in the knowledge that you do security better than the smartest, richest, most powerful people in the world. Happy (white hat) hacking!

#Linux

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.

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A reusable, cloud synced notebook?? I’ll take 10!

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) The future of note taking is here with Rocketbook Wave, a microwavable, reusable notebook that stores all of your musings on the cloud.

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Not just any notebook

Some folks just can’t go paperless. Try as we might, the satisfaction inherent in the pen-and-paper medium is firmly engrained.

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Everyday we are bombarded by reminders that paper is increasingly unsustainable—which is why Rocketbook’s reusable notebook, the Wave, is a potential life-saver.

Smile and Wave

The premise behind the Rocketbook Wave is simple, yet elegant: you write in the notebook like you normally would—up to 80 pages’ worth—and then snap a photo of each page using the accompanying smartphone app. The photos are scanned to enhance their image quality, then they’re delivered into a cloud account.

You can even cross off a symbol at the bottom of the page to scan the note into a specific, customized location, and each page has its own QR code for later reference.

Note Game So Cold, Had to Defrost

That’s all fine and dandy, but how do you wipe the Rocketbook Wave to reuse it? Well, you put the book in a machine that you use to eliminate stuff (e.g., nutritional value) every day…

You put it in the microwave.

Counterintuitive as it may be, a few minutes in the microwave with a mug of water and minimal attentiveness will result in a clean notebook, making it ready for another round of note-taking, doodling, or what have you.

With Paperless, You’ll Pay for Less

The obvious benefits of the Rocketbook Wave are twofold. Firstly, you won’t have to worry about running out of paper, and you’ll have a backup in case Mitch from chemistry lab sets your belongings on fire (again).

Equally as important, though, is the sustainability factor: if you’re even remotely worried about the environment, $27 gets you a notebook that won’t quit.

Fine Print

As with anything, there are a couple of caveats that accompany the rush of using the Rocketbook Wave. For one, you can’t erase a single page at a time—it’s all or nothing. This is a non-issue if you don’t mind scanning everything into the cloud as a matter of practice, but it’s something to be aware of.

More importantly, however, is the type of ink you have to use. If you don’t write with a Pilot FriXion utensil, the ink will remain on the pages and no amount of microwaving will wash it away.

These aren’t likely to be deal-breakers, of course. If you’re interested in picking up a Rocketbook Wave for yourself, they’re for sale now starting at $27 on Rocketbook’s official site.

#RocketbookWave

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Taskiness is the note taking app for those who ditched the last one

(TECH NEWS) We all love trying new note-taking apps but for some of us we just end up reverting to to old habits. Taskiness is here to change your habits and keep it that way.

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In the great realm of to-do apps, there are lots to choose from: heck, I’ve even made a hobby to write about them – but what makes them so popular is that people have a hard time adapting to a system. With so many solutions, there are so many to try!

Startup, Taskiness, hopes to solve that by being the first note taking system that uses natural language processing – where you take notes and it then it pulls tasks out.

Over 1300 people have already signed up, and Taskiness hopes to keep all those people off the to-do list app rotation and give them a more permanent solution. Feature wise, Tackiness is fundamentally made of two components:

Notes – the “place for the thoughts” where you take notations and comments.

Taskiness boasts four key benefits to this functionality, which basically looks like a standard notepad:

– You can organize the notes how you want (much like you can on a pad of paper) rather than being forced to work in the confines of the app.
– Easy input – as easy as writing into old school MS notepad – so no field form entry, no awkward forms/templates
– “Natural language” – basically, this is the largest feature of the app, it recognizes how you write to pull tasks from notes and to better utilize your note taking. This is especially important as it helps with the natural feel of the app.
– Synchronization across all platforms – which is a must feature and you should never use an app that doesn’t have cloud functionality – this isn’t 2004.

Tasks – the place for “action” where your to-do list is extracted from your notes. Most of us some kind of to-do list, and Taskiness hopes to keep you hooked by emphasizing:

– Focus – where it highlights tasks that are relevant to you immediately (as to avoid getting bogged down by the list).
– Snooze – where you can use those alarm clock skills you’ve been developing since junior high to snooze tasks and avoid your to-do list from becoming an inventory list of things never to be finished.
– Rich text – that uses that natural language to pull deadlines and priorities and “much more” – this is perhaps the advantage of the app. This keeps you from having to spend time organizing your to-do list so it becomes more of a passive partner than just another thing to do.

Taskiness currently has a backlog for registration, and is most likely not going to be free – but it looks like a promising app. It was recognized by Betalist as one of the most popular startups of October – and both it and fellow Medium call out “Iris” look like a promising to do solution.

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Five inexpensive VPNs to keep you all sorts of secure

(TECH NEWS) 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 5. 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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