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Are VPN Apps Worth the Money?

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VPNs are a big part of the internet these days. Virtually every IT expert in the world recommends that you always use one, and that’s because they’re essential to having a safe and secure experience when getting online. When you buy reliable VPN access, it can provide that security on any device that connects, and you have plenty of options when it comes to VPN providers. That leads to a pretty obvious question. Is the VPN worth the money? To answer that, we can compare the cost of the VPN to the cost of not using it. We’ll also look at a few VPN features that can impact their overall value.

The Cost of VPN

If we’re going to seriously answer the question, it starts by looking at some basic costs. There are a lot of VPN apps out there, and each one has its own pricing and offers. While we can’t fit everything into a neat little box, most VPN services will fall into a competitive range of features and pricing. We’ll look at pricing in two categories: free services and subscription services. We can make some pretty easy comparisons to help you see how much a VPN app will cost you.

Free

There are VPNs that are completely free to use. The Opera browser has it built right into the software, and plenty of others work as VPN apps that are quite effective in creating a secure tunnel for your internet traffic. Even though these VPNs have no financial cost to use, we can attribute some amount of cost to their use. Most of those come in terms of performance.

Free VPNs tend to be slower than paid subscription services. If your internet speeds have a lot of value to you (especially if your work is online), then VPN speeds could have a real fiscal cost associated with their use.

Aside from speeds, a few other performance issues can impact free VPNs. For the most part, they offer less in terms of automated connectivity. If you get disconnected from your free VPN, it might not halt your internet traffic until the tunnel can be reconnected. That means you might be using the internet without protection, and in those cases, the cost of a free VPN is quite similar to the cost of not using a VPN, which we will discuss in a bit.

Subscription

When you use a paid VPN service, the cost is easy. You’re paying out of pocket for security. Most consumer-grade VPNs are going to charge a monthly fee, and that monthly fee is not very high. It’s usually in the ballpark of dollars per month (not even tens of dollars). Many subscription services will cut you a deal and lower the monthly cost if you commit to a longer time frame. It’s a common tactic, and it can save you a lot of money.

To make this simple, the cost of subscribing to a VPN (that hopefully won’t let you accidentally connect unsecured) is the price they charge, and it will usually be between $1 and $10 a month.

Cost of Ignoring VPNs

We talked about the cost of using VPNs. Now we have to consider the financial fallout that can come from unsecured internet activity. If you use the internet enough (without protection), you will eventually run into at least one of the problems. Every time you do, it costs money. When you consider just how big the long-term costs can be, it helps put VPN pricing into perspective.

Stolen Data

This is a big concern for everyone, but it’s especially scary for businesses. If you operate a business without a secure tunnel, the risk that data you use can be stolen goes up considerably. Data breaches are one of the biggest killers of businesses. The cost of having data stolen because there is no VPN can easily get into the millions of dollars. For large businesses that handle data for millions of customers, the cost can even get into the billions.

Even if you aren’t running a business, having personal data stolen is not good. That can include financial information, passwords and other secure info. Anyone who has had their identity stolen can inform you that it is neither cheap nor painless to resolve. While a VPN can’t offer you perfect protection from all threats, it dramatically reduces your risk of having vital data stolen. That means using a VPN can easily save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Activity Tracking

Even when people aren’t stealing your credit card information or Social Security number, VPNs are protecting you. Having your online activity tracked can still be a costly concession. This is especially true if you have ever done something that breaks the rules on the internet.

No one here is condoning or promoting illegal activity, but it’s surprisingly easy to unwittingly violate copyrights or terms of service. Do all of the videos you view properly attribute all of their credits? Have you streamed music? Were the artists properly compensated? It’s impossible to know, but most internet users violate terms of service at some p[oint without even realizing it. Doing so makes you fiscally liable, and companies do go after violators on a regular basis.

Your VPN masks all of this, so when you accidentally break a rule, no one can track it back to you. It protects you from liability lawsuits that could be enough to ruin you.

Performance

We talked about how a free VPN can impact internet performance and cost you money. No VPN can have an even bigger impact. When you consider bombardments of ads, adware, tracking software, crypto mining and a myriad of other ways online connections can mess with your devices, VPNs are giving you a massive upgrade in overall internet performance. By preventing the vast majority of these abuses, your time online is more efficient.

Even if you don’t make your living online, you’re paying for access to the internet. If that payment includes a bunch of obtrusive ads or other disruptions, then you’re losing money. The protection provided by your VPN makes your internet service spending more cost-effective.

Malicious Software

This is one of the biggest reasons to have a VPN. While it isn’t an antivirus package (although plenty of providers bundle services), your VPN makes it much harder for people to reach you with malicious software. It protects you from keyloggers, ransomware and other cases that render your device unusable or otherwise unsafe.

If you have ever had to deal with these problems, you know that resolving them isn’t always cheap. Keyloggers can be used to steal things from you. Ransomware can take away all of your data, and replacing it is never free. Even removing viruses typically costs money, and all of this is money that could be saved by using a VPN.

The Value of a VPN

While we’ve covered the cost of ignoring a VPN, there’s another side to this coin. VPNs come with a bunch of services, and those can add direct value to what you’re getting. Let’s review some of the most valuable services to complete this picture.

Geoblocking

Many content providers block their content by region. Netflix is the most notorious example. The content you can access in the United States is very different from what you’ll see in Europe or Asia. Geoblocking is very common, but a good VPN can get you through geoblocking and unlock the entire internet to you. This adds a lot of value to any content subscriptions you might have. How much more is your Netflix worth when you can see all of their stuff instead of just some of it? Multiply that concept by the entire internet, and you can see how your VPN is adding value in big ways.

Device Limits

Each service will set its own device limits, but as long as that limit is more than one, you’re essentially getting a bundled deal. You’re getting the benefits of your VPN on every device that uses it, so high device limits are adding multiplicative value to your VPN subscription. That’s something to consider when you shop around. The more devices you can use with one subscription, the more value you can get out of it.

Multiple Connections

One of the most interesting VPN features is multiple connections. Each provider has a clever name for the service, but the idea is interesting. You can connect to multiple countries at the same time. This gives you access to more internet content while simultaneously improving your anonymity. It takes the value of using a VPN to a whole new level.

Let’s revisit the original question. Is a VPN app worth the money? Only you can answer that, but when you consider everything you just learned, the answer isn’t too tough. When you consider that there are a ton of features and benefits that are just too numerous to include here, the answer becomes even easier. You can get a VPN for a very low cost, and it’s easy to make it worth the investment. It’s really up to you.

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Deloitte Bolsters Cyber Threat Hunting Capabilities with Root9B Acquisition

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Deloitte & Touche LLP announced today its acquisition of substantially all the assets of Root9B, LLC (R9B), a leading provider of advanced cyber threat hunting services and solutions. The deal will bolster Deloitte’s existing Detect and Respond cyber client offering with R9B’s deeply experienced cyber operations professionals and its award-winning threat-hunting and risk assessment solutions.

“Commercial and government entities contend with cyber adversaries who use incredibly sophisticated technology to penetrate legacy defenses and take advantage of expanding attack surfaces,” said Deborah Golden, Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory Cyber and Strategic Risk leader and principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP. “The addition of R9B’s business will expand our complement of skilled cyber professionals and leading technologies, while also offering our clients an advantage against adversaries.  Our newly combined powerful and innovative solutions for preventing, detecting and mitigating cyber threats are unlike anything we’ve seen available in today’s market.”

Beyond offering tailored managed services and solutions focused on cyber threat hunting/detection and response focusing on unique organizational needs, R9B also offers tech-enabled vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, defense forensics and incident response, as well as defensive security and hunt operator training.   

With the addition of R9B’s business, Deloitte’s Cyber Detect and Respond offering will continue to help clients gain a leading edge in cyber defense, integrate fragmented security toolsets, achieve efficiencies in security operations programs, accelerate response time to potential threats and provide data-driven threat insights. 

“Deloitte continually works to provide outstanding value to our clients,” said John Peirson, Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory CEO.  “Adding R9B’s business to our existing cyber practice is just one more way we’re accelerating meaningful investments into the innovative approaches we offer our clients as they work to manage emerging threats.” 

R9B founder and CEO Eric Hipkins added, “Our shared commitment to our clients’ missions and recognition of the importance of combining exceptional technology, people and processes to solve the most challenging security problems of our day makes joining Deloitte a logical next step in our story. At Deloitte, we’ll be able to accelerate scaling and development of offerings we consider vital to proactive cyber threat hunting and remediation.” 

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‘Reset Earth’: Animation film & mobile game bring Gen Z into protecting ozone layer

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Image: UNEP/Ozone Secretariat

‘Reset Earth’ is an innovative educational platform for adolescents about the fundamental role of the ozone layer in protecting the planet. The platform launches on World Education Day (January 24th) with an original animation film that explores options for collective positive action. The film’s plot continues in a challenging mobile game for Android and IOS (February 10th). The platform is initiated by United Nations Ozone Secretariat to sustain the protection of the ozone layer through the sensitization and engagement of Gen Z.

Ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) like CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs have been widely used throughout the 20th century, mostly for refrigeration, in air conditioners and aerosol sprays. ODSs threaten the earth’s upper atmosphere, drive up temperatures and account for close to 11 per cent of total warming emissions to date. Since the 1980s, the international community has acted to protect the ozone layer by banning or strictly restricting the use and production of such super greenhouse effect gases. Consequently, the Antarctic ozone is expected to close by the 2060s (without action, it might have been 40 per cent larger by now) and other regions will return to 1980s values even earlier.

Meg Seki, Acting Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, said, “The protection of the ozone layer cannot be considered a done deal. It must be a continuous effort by us and by future generations. If our children learn about the grim consequences of a ruined ozone layer, they will act to keep it only as part of a fantasy game.”

Reset Earth begins a year-long education initiative by the Secretariat to raise awareness and inspire action among adolescents and parents about global ozone protection. Immersive, educational and thought-provoking, Reset Earth conveys a positive message around what can be achieved through collective action and cultivates a sense of environmental responsibility and ownership amongst the youth.

The Reset Earth animation film is set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world in 2084, where the ozone layer has been completely ruined and human life is under threat from an unstoppable virus called “The Grow”. It is the story of three teenagers who team up in an epic time-travel adventure to save the planet and what’s left of human life. Their mission is to find out what caused the “The Grow”. They travel back to critical historical moments in the story of the mysterious ‘ozone layer”, essential to stopping the virus, and learning as they go about the fundamental role it plays in protecting the health wellbeing of the planet. To save the ozone layer, they must jump back in time to ensure the signing of the Montreal Protocol agreement.

The Reset Earth mobile game is a single player platform game, combining a retro graphics style and hand-drawn artwork and aligned with the film’s storyline. Players – whether adolescent gamers or their parents – switch between characters and utilize their unique abilities throughout four levels of the game. Through unlocking puzzles, players learn about environmental history and the science of protecting the planet.

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Does Buying a Chinese Smartphone Pose a Privacy Risk?

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Chinese smartphones have garnered a pretty bad privacy reputation in the last few years, which stems from several issues, such as lack of consumers’ trust and the fact that global political events have not really been in China’s favor. Somewhere around the mid-2010s though, China’s global image changed a lot for the better, especially with their appearance in the smartphone industry and when it comes to advances in 4G and 5G technology.

The smartphone industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global technology industry. Particularly in the last decade, which gave us the smartphone revolution, global device sales have skyrocketed from just 100 million in 2007, to over 1.5 billion today. Smartphones are also the most popular way through which people access the internet, which makes this sector critical for tech companies.

14 years ago now, we experienced the launch of the first Apple iPhone in 2007, which would undoubtedly mark the beginning of a new Information Age. As the years went by, we have seen big players such as Samsung entering the market, as well as most recently Chinese companies like Huawei and Xiaomi eating up global market share with their very affordable smartphones. It isn’t just Huawei and Xiaomi, though, let’s not forget Oppo and Vivo too, who have held small but stable market share, even gaining popularity in the United States.

Apple never really took off in China like it did in the rest of the world, as the nation favoured national production and local brand loyalty, but Apple has always been in demand there. Outside of China though, Apple had absolutely dominated the smartphone market for a long time with the entire world anxiously awaiting their next press conference, and what their new iPhone would be like. The market dominance then switched hands between Apple and Samsung for a few years, with Samsung being dominant most of the time.

Now, however, the global smartphone market has changed. With so much competition on the horizon (Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei), as well as Apple charging very lofty prices for their latest offerings (and having lost some of their charm along the way with radical design changes), Chinese players have adapted and grasped a firm hold on the market for the foreseeable future. Offering familiar minimalist design approaches that Apple is known for, as well as having totally revamped their marketing, Chinese smartphone brands are now a true contender to the established giants. Ultimately, the most important target market for Chinese smartphones is the US and EU markets.

There is a big problem there though, it looks like there are serious privacy issues that plague Chinese smartphones and their reputation. Let’s look into this below.

What Is The Problem With Chinese Smartphone Brands?

With news of Huawei being banned (Xiaomi is also blacklisted) from Western countries, their reputation is not in a good place. Today, there are many Chinese smartphone brands available, with Huawei and Xiaomi being the most recognizable internationally -the ones that have sold the most outside of China. Some of the other ‘budget’ brands are Honor and Realme, for example, which may not be known to most people. There are many more Chinese smartphone brands, but way too many to list.

With so much political tension between the US and China, what does this mean if you are planning to buy/already own a Chinese smartphone? Unfortunately, it is a fact that Chinese smartphones have experienced many privacy and security related issues with their devices, which fall into the categories;

  • Pre-installed spyware
  • Malware vulnerabilities
  • Data theft
  • Hardware ‘Backdoors
  • Weak encryption

Beyond pre-installed malicious software in Chinese smartphones, there are additional risks from installing very popular Chinese-made social media apps, such as;

  • TikTok
  • WeChat

Takeaways For Your General Smartphone Security

Having covered why there is so much negative buzz around Chinese smartphones and their privacy risks, let’s remember that a lot of it comes from the political tension between China and the US. There have been countless allegations of spying, hacking and data risks. Beyond this, there is a more important fact for the regular user. It is that Chinese phones are Android-based, which has a much larger user base and is as such more susceptible to attacks.

Let’s emphasize one thing; yes, that doesn’t mean that these devices are safe, but what is safe nowadays? Should this deter you, a regular citizen, from buying a Chinese smartphone? It is difficult to say what is considered ‘safe’ nowadays, and depends a lot on who you are and whether your data is so sensitive that governments will try to access your phone (for most people, this is not an issue).

However, for the privacy conscious individuals out there, there are some things you must implement for your safety and peace of mind, no matter what kind of device you use, or which country it comes from;

  • Always use a trustworthy Virtual Private Network, or VPN
  • Consider that iOS may be safer than Android overall
  • Make sure that you have a strong password on your phone
  • Ensure that you have multi-factor authentication at every juncture
  • Do not share sensitive information online if possible
  • Always keep your smartphone software up-to-date
  • Never download unverified software, or access third-party app stores

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