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How to stay anon online

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Online security was a huge issue in 2016, and by the looks of things, this year looks to be much worse. NordVPN offers some tips on staying anonymous this year.

Online security is becoming a bigger issue than ever, as 2016 seemingly brought one of the worst years ever when it comes to staying secure and private online. 2017 is not promising to be any better, considering increasingly restrictive surveillance laws are being passed around the world and authoritarian regimes are increasingly censoring the Internet.

When it comes to using public Wi-Fi, and especially managing financial transactions,  it’s known that it’s not safe to use one’s credit card or to disclose any other personal information. For example, it has been shown that a Visa credit card can be hacked online in 6 seconds. Using cryptocurrency helps users stay anonymous to some extent– but what are the other ways to remain completely invisible online?

NordVPN, a Virtual Private Network service provider, identifies five key services that could significantly enhance your online anonymity and security.

Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a decentralized currency that does not belong to any country – just its user.  And when it comes to security, it’s hard to beat it. Bitcoin online transactions are conducted without disclosing any personal financial information. When it comes to privacy, it’s certainly reassuring that no one can trace who is the owner of a certain bitcoin account. However, not all merchants accept bitcoin. In those cases when using a credit/debit card is the only option – extra security steps should be taken.  Using strong passwords and updating them often, ensuring the websites are trusted (double check for https), being wary of any suspicious redirects and using trusted encryption services (i.e. VPN service) to protect one’s Internet traffic are bare minimum.

Encrypted Email. While bitcoin is great for financial transactions online, it’s advisable to stay private while conducting any other activities – such as emailing. Emails might also contain some private and sensitive information, which could be easily intercepted by hackers or any unwanted snoopers. The solution is to use one of the encrypted email services. There are a few good examples, including Tutanota, or the Gmail-like ProtonMail that offer an automatic end-to-end encryption, and no personal information is required to create a secure email account.

Encrypted Messaging. Everybody uses their mobile devices for instant messaging – but how safe are regular communication apps? For example, WhatsApp has received some harsh criticism for tracing user chats even after their deletion. Signal, on the other hand, is an encrypted messaging and voice calling app that provides end-to-end encryption by default to secure all communications. The app can also verify the identity of people one is messaging with and the integrity of the channel they are using. When texting with non-Signal users, one has an option to invite them to an encrypted conversation via Signal.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). If a user is  looking for an advanced option to secure their communication and personal files, it might be wise to turn to PGP, which is actually one of the most popular encryption softwares used worldwide. OpenPGP is used to encrypt data and create digital signatures and could be used to encrypt your personal files or to exchange encrypted communication. It protects all communication with a digital signature and is available for all operating platforms.

VPN (Virtual Private Network). Anyone who is taking their online security and privacy seriously, will use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts all user’s Internet data into a secure tunnel and creates a secure connection between one’s device and a VPN server. All the information traveling between the  user’s Internet-enabled device and the secure server remains invisible to any third party. Those who want a guaranteed protection, will be disappointed that not all VPNs accept bitcoin as method of payment – but there are a few that do. NordVPN, for example, allows to pay by bitcoin and, most importantly, does not store any logs. It also offers an option to encrypt all the data twice for extra safety, which is a rare feature for a VPN. A helpful kill-switch feature allows a user to select Internet programs that would be terminated if the Internet connection dropped for any reason, to make sure that no unprotected Internet activity was exposed. Privacy issues have taken another shape completely over the past year. 31% of Internet users used a VPN in 2016, and VPNs will be increasingly popular in 2017 as online security issues grow to monumental proportions.

In addition to these super tough security measures, anonymity-minded Internet users should be more vigilant, use extra caution when sharing information or opening messages from unknown recipients, while making sure that their device’s Firewall is turned on and a reliable anti-virus program is installed and kept up to date.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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