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Yes, VPNs Can Be Hacked: What That Means for Your Privacy

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We thought VPNs were secure, but with an increasing number of secure services reporting server breaches, that seems not to be the case. But how do these secure services get hacked in the first place, and how do hackers capitalize on it?

Here’s how VPNs get hacked and what it means for your privacy.

The VPN’s (Seemingly) Unbreakable Security

A diagram showing how a VPN works
Image Credit: vaeenma/DepositPhotos

If we take a brief look at how a VPN works, it looks unhackable. This is the primary draw of a VPN, as people feel they can trust the service to maintain their privacy.

For one, your computer encrypts the connection before it leaves for the internet. This encryption makes a VPN a solid layer of defense against spying, as anyone snooping on the connection can’t read what you’re sending. Hackers can use public Wi-Fi connections to steal your identity, but a VPN can protect you from all attacks bar someone looking over your shoulder.

Even your ISP can’t see the packets you send, which makes VPNs useful for hiding your traffic from a strict government.

If a hacker manages to break into a VPN’s database, they may leave empty-handed. Many top VPNs hold a “no-logging policy,” which states that they won’t save records of how you use their service. These logs are a potential goldmine for hackers, and refusing to keep them means your privacy is maintained even after a database leak.

From these points, it’s easy to assume that a VPN is “unhackable.” However, there are ways that hackers can breach a VPN.

How VPNs Are Susceptible to Hacking

A hacker’s best point of entry is near the outer reaches of the VPN network. VPN companies sometimes opt not to set up servers in all the countries they want to support. Instead, they’ll hire out data centers established within the target country.

This plan often doesn’t introduce any complications and the VPN service adopts the servers without any issues. However, there is the rare chance that there is a hidden oversight in the data center that the VPN company isn’t aware of. In one reported case, a server that NordVPN rented out had a forgotten-about remote connection tool installed.

This tool was insecure and hackers used it to break in.

From there, the hacker found some additional files. The Register reports that this includes an expired encryption key and a DNS certificate. The key didn’t allow the hacker to snoop on traffic, and if they did, NordVPN says they’d only see the same data an ISP would see.

How Hackers Can Capitalize on a VPN Attack

This flaw is the main weakness that a hacker will try to exploit. Because the VPN doesn’t store logs of connections, a hacker’s best bet is to watch the data flow in real-time and analyze the packets.

This tactic is called the “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) attack. It’s when a hacker gets their information from monitoring data as it passes through.  It’s not easy to pull off, but it’s not impossible to achieve. Should a hacker get their hands on an encryption key, they can reverse the VPN’s protection and peek at the packets as they pass through.

Of course, this doesn’t give hackers free rein over the traffic. Any data encrypted with HTTPS won’t be readable, as the hacker won’t have the key for it. Anything that’s plaintext, however, will be readable and potentially editable, which would be a severe privacy breach.

Should You Be Concerned About Your VPN Privacy?

While this does sound terrifying, don’t worry just yet. Before you panic, consider why you use or would use a VPN service. At the base level, a hacker monitoring a VPN connection would only see what an ISP would see. For some, this kind of breach doesn’t affect them at all; for others, it’s a severe breach of trust.

On one end of the spectrum, let’s assume you use a VPN so you can get around geo-blocks. You don’t boot up the VPN often, and when you do, it’s to watch shows on Netflix that aren’t available in your home country. In this case, do you mind that a hacker knows you’re watching the newest Labyrinth series?

If not, you may not want to protect yourself further—although some would argue that surrendering any part of your privacy is never right!

On the other side, VPNs are more than just a way to watch TV shows from overseas. They’re a way to browse the internet and speak freely without intervention from the government. For these people, a breach of their privacy could have severe ramifications.

If the thought of your privacy leaking in an attack is too much to bear, it’s worth taking the extra steps to protect yourself.

How to Protect Your Privacy With Additional Security

To start, it’s essential to realize that these breaches aren’t commonplace. Also, the hacker in the NordVPN case only gained access to one of the 5000+ servers. This means that the majority of the service was safe, and only a small section of users was under threat. As such, a VPN is still a useful way to protect your privacy.

However, if you’re very serious about staying anonymous, a VPN shouldn’t be your only line of defense. The attacks on VPNs have shown that they do have flaws, but that doesn’t mean that they’re entirely useless. The best way to maintain your privacy is to add another layer of privacy to what the VPN provides. That way, you’re not wholly dependent on your VPN service to protect you.

For instance, you can boot up your VPN, then use the Tor browser to browse the web. The Tor browser connects to the Tor network, which uses triple-encryption for its traffic. This encryption is applied before your computer sends it, much like a VPN.

If a hacker performs a MITM attack on your VPN connection, The Tor network’s encryption keeps your data safe. On the other hand, if your connection is compromised on the Tor network, the trail leads back to the VPN. If the VPN doesn’t store logs, the trail back to you goes dead.

As such, using two layers of security is an effective way to protect your privacy. Regardless of which side suffers a breach, the other one will pick up the slack.

How to Use a VPN Properly

VPNs can help secure your connection, but they’re not impenetrable. As we’ve seen from these incidents, hackers can infiltrate a VPN server and use keys to initiate a MITM attack. If you’re concerned about your privacy, it’s worth backing up a VPN with another layer of defense. That way, if one layer falls, the other is there to back you up.

Invulnerability behind a VPN service is one of the common VPN myths you shouldn’t believe, so it’s worth knowing what’s true and what’s fake.

Read the full article: Yes, VPNs Can Be Hacked: What That Means for Your Privacy



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This is the most annoying thing about Netflix

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Netflix may be a great streaming service to have around and even pay for despite the inevitable price hikes, but it can also be incredibly annoying at times. The best example is the autoplaying ads on the home page that used to drive me crazy until Netflix finally found it in its heart to give users an option to turn them off for good.

Then there’s the inevitable “what to watch” scroll of death that can go on for minutes without end — that’s a byproduct that we have to live with, however, so I don’t mind it that much. Then there’s the problem with the Continue Watching list: It’s far too difficult to remove content from it. Now, it turns out that Netflix has found a frustrating new way to annoy me. The service has started sending me emails urging me to remember to finish shows and movies that I started and then abandoned.

Netflix subscribers know what kind of emails to expect from Netflix, assuming you want that sort of communication with your streaming provider. It’s usually new arrival emails, as well as warnings that someone may have signed in to your account from an unknown device. The latter is quite useful, as it can help you detect a hack.

But some two weeks ago, Netflix has apparently started sending some people emails titled “Don’t forget to finish [title of TV show].” They start out like this:

The body of the email includes a poster for the movie or TV series in question and shows you the progress you’ve made. It even tells you what episode you watched last, and gives you links to resume watching. The emails also have suggestions of what to watch and rewatch, including content similar to the show you didn’t finish.

This sucks, Netflix. Of course I don’t want to continue watching the shows Netflix is urging me to finish. I’d have finished them. And I’d definitely have removed them from my queue if there was an easy way to do so.

I do tend to start plenty of movies and TV shows that I don’t get around to finishing, so I’d definitely not want to have Netflix tell me to keep watching all of them — hey, at least they count as views if they’re over 2 minutes. And there are many titles that I intend to finish without Netflix nudging me in that direction. Interestingly enough, the emails that I got featured a movie that I’m never going to go back to and a documentary that will put me to sleep some other time. But no content I’m actually tempted to load up and finish.

From what I can tell, this is one of those internal Netflix tests, so if you’re not getting any emails, it’s because you’ve either opted out of getting any Netflix emails or because you’re not included in the test. What I’d welcome is a Netflix email telling me that it is now easier to remove content from the Continue Watching menu.



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Ancient humans enjoyed kinky cross-species sex with Neanderthals and Denisovans

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Cavemen and women welcomed some surprising species into their beds (Image: Getty)

Humans started having sex with Denisovans and Neanderthals a very long time ago, research suggests.

Computer analysis of human evolutionary history has shed light on a discrepancy between genetic evidence from fossils excavated from Sima de los Huesos in Spain and a 2017 model developed by the same researchers.

The model indicated Neanderthals split from Denisovans about 381,000 years ago.

However, a new study published in Science Advances suggests they separated much earlier, implying Neanderthals were already distinct from Denisovans by 600,000 years ago.

The research also reveals that the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with members of a ‘superarchaic’ hominin population – the earliest reported episode of gene flow.

The new model supports the view that modern humans and their ancestors expanded from Africa into Eurasia only three times – 1.9 million years ago, 700,000 years ago and 50,000 years ago.

'Breakthrough' research shows just how much sex homo sapiens were having with Neanderthals An exhibit shows the life of a neanderthal family in a cave in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina February 25, 2010. The high-tech, multimedia museum, with exhibitions depicting the evolution from 'Big Bang' to present day, opens on February 27. REUTERS/Nikola Solic (CROATIA - Tags: SOCIETY) - GM1E62Q01AM01

Your ancient ancestors may have considered this Neanderthal chap very attractive (Image: Reuters)

Large-brained hominins first appeared in Europe and Asia about 600,000 years ago in the period known as the middle Pleistocene – an important milestone for early humans.

To shed light on this period in human evolution and to uncover the missing pieces from their previous model, Alan Rogers and his team considered eight models with various genetic combinations that may have resulted from interbreeding between early hominins.

They included data from Neanderthals from the Altai Mountains of Siberia and the Vindija Cave in Croatia, as well as from modern Europeans.

Researchers analysed the data using software designed to focus on the deep past.

Lead researcher Alan Rogers said: ‘We’ve never known about this episode of interbreeding and we’ve never been able to estimate the size of the super-archaic population.

‘We’re just shedding light on an interval on human evolutionary history that was previously completely dark.’

He added: ‘Our Legofit software ignores the within-population component of genetic variation.

‘For this reason, it is unaffected by recent changes in population size, which often interfere with efforts to study deep history.

‘In effect, we have cleared away some of the brush that often obscures the view of the distant past.’



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The Spotlight Search Tips Cheat Sheet for Mac

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Spotlight is one of the easiest ways to launch files, folders, apps, and more on your Mac. You can bring it up with a keyboard shortcut (Cmd + Space) or by clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the menu bar.

This native macOS feature also comes in handy when you want to look up definitions of words, get sports scores, track flights, do basic math, and retrieve all kinds of information in a snap. And thanks to natural language support, using Spotlight feels intuitive and effortless.

If you’re eager to discover the best tricks Spotlight is capable of, our cheat sheet below can help.

The cheat sheet includes keyboard shortcuts that work in Spotlight and special attributes you can use to filter data faster. You’ll also discover how to use Boolean operators, natural language, and various in-built Spotlight tools to access just the data you need in a few keystrokes.

FREE DOWNLOAD: This cheat sheet is available as a downloadable PDF from our distribution partner, TradePub. You will have to complete a short form to access it for the first time only. Download The Spotlight Search Tips Cheat Sheet for Mac.

The Spotlight Search Tips Cheat Sheet for Mac

Shortcut Action
Basics
Cmd + Space Open Spotlight
¹keyword(s) Display results for search term with first result highlighted and its preview in right-hand pane
“keywords” or “phrase” Display exact matches
²“as” Display App Store as top result
²“pc” Display Parental Controls as top result
Return (Enter) Open selected item
Double-click result Open selected item
Down Arrow Select result below
Up Arrow Select result above
³Tab Select first item in preview pane
⁴Cmd Display Finder location of selected result at bottom of preview pane
Right Arrow Autocomplete search keyword using the suggested/selected result
Cmd + Down Arrow Jump to first result in next category
Cmd + Up Arrow Jump to first result in previous category
Cmd + L Jump to definition in results
Cmd + R Open result in Finder or relevant app if applicable
Cmd + Return (Enter) Open result in Finder or relevant app if applicable
Cmd + I Open Get Info pane for result
Cmd + B Look up search term using default search engine in default browser
Cmd + C Copy item
Drag result to Finder window or desktop Copy item
Double-click Show all in Finder in results list 
View all results in Finder
Hover over preview for audio/video result Reveal Play button to play result in preview
Two-finger scroll over preview Reveal scroll bar
Drag search box Move Spotlight to reposition it
Esc Clear search box
Cmd + Delete Clear search box
Option + Cmd + Space Open Finder search window with search box selected
⁵Search Using Metadata Attributes
from:Name Created or sent by Name
by:Name Created or sent by Name
author:Name Created by Name
to:Name Addressed to Name
title:Title_Name With title Title_Name
tag:TagName With tag Tag_Name
date:DD/MM/YY From DD/MM/YY
created:DD/MM/YY Created on DD/MM/YY
modified:DD/MM/YY Modified on DD/MM/YY
⁶comment:keyword Comment contains keyword
kind:app
kind:application(s)
⁷Apps
kind:audio Audio
kind:bookmark(s) Bookmarks
kind:event(s) Calendar events
kind:contact(s) Contacts
kind:document(s) Documents
kind email(s)
kind: mail message(s)
Emails
kind:folder(s) Folders
kind:font(s) Fonts
kind:image(s), kind:jpeg, kind:png Images
kind:movie(s) Movies
kind:music Music
kind:pdf(s) PDF
kind:preferences
kind:system preferences
Preferences
kind:presentation(s) Presentations
kind:reminder(s) Reminders
kind:pages Pages documents
kind:numbers Numbers spreadsheets
kind:keynote Keynote presentations
⁸Search Using Boolean Operators
keyword 1 AND keyword 2 Results with keyword 1 and keyword 2
keyword 1 OR keyword 2 Results with keyword 1 or keyword 2
keyword 1 NOT keyword 2 Results with keyword 1 but not keyword 2
keyword 1 -keyword 2 Results with keyword 1 but not keyword 2
Tools/Math
⁹Find local businesses coffee
places to eat
restaurant
salon
“starbucks”
“apple store”
🍕
🌮
👕
👠
🚗
🍿
Get time zone information “time in Sydney”
Get weather information “weather” for local weather
“weather in Mumbai”
Look up definitions keyword
Convert temperatures “302kelvins in f”
Convert measurements “52 pounds to kilograms”
Convert currencies “600gbp in usd”
Get math calculations “234/5*6”
Get real-time sports scores “cricket scores” “lakers game”
Get stock prices “sbux” for SBUX or Starbucks Corporation
See what’s playing at local theaters showtimes or movie times
Get movie details and showtimes “men in black”
Track flights “WN3536” or “southwest 3536”
¹⁰Play songs without opening iTunes “waka waka”
Search Using Natural Language
emails i received today
photos from yesterday
files from this week
messages from last week
screenshots i took last month
last year photos
unread emails
pictures i took in june
documents i created in 2019
“spreadsheets from tim”
“presentations from ben”
¹Keyword(s) can be in title of Finder item or within content.

²Speed up search for apps and System Preferences panes by typing in their initials. Works with third-party apps also.

³Works with folders only. Preview pane items can be enclosed files or subfolders.

⁴Works with local results only.

⁵Can be used with or without keywords.

⁶Searches for Finder items with keyword in Comments section of Get Info pane.

⁷Without this filter, searching for an app name also reveals files recently used in app and matching apps in Mac App Store.

⁸Can be used with metadata attributes.
Eg: kind:document date:25/08/19-31/08/19 NOT 28/08/19

⁹Look under Maps category for relevant results. Does not work with all emojis.

¹⁰Hover over relevant track in preview to reveal Play button.

Note:
1. Feature availability might vary based on country.

2. Visit System Preferences > Spotlight to toggle visibility of Spotlight categories.

Let Spotlight Find What You’re Looking For

Searching with Spotlight is one of the good habits you should get used to as a Mac user. It’s also among the best productivity tips we recommend for your Mac.

Image Credit: Wesson Wang on Unsplash

Read the full article: The Spotlight Search Tips Cheat Sheet for Mac



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