Let’s Talk About… Net Neutrality #NetNeutrality

Let’s Talk About NET NEUTRALITY!
Article cited: https://thinkprogress.org/the-fcc-just-decided-to-repeal-net-neutrality-heres-why-thats-really-really-bad-64e376ea04d3/
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Your Guide to Choosing a Pay as You Go Broadband Plan

Virgin

Pay as you go broadband Internet services are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to costly monthly contract costs for services you may or may not actually use. You do pay a bit more of a premium for the bandwidth you use under these services, but you aren’t typically locked into a monthly payment that stands whether you use the service or not.

Each wireless provider offers its own take on pay as you go broadband services. Some of these services (including that offered by Clear) can be as easily used as your primary home Internet connection as it is a portable broadband plan while you’re on the go. Whatever its form or function, the basic principle of being able to pay for access for either a limited period of time or amount of data remains pretty much the same.

Where these offerings differ is in supported hardware, service area, limitation, and speed. These factors will be the most important ones to pay attention to when selecting a pay as you go broadband provider.

Pay as You Go Broadband Hardware

Your Guide to Choosing a Pay as You Go Broadband PlanUnlike standard contract-based service, pay as you go service providers generally don’t subsidize the hardware you need to connect to the Internet. This hardware can take the form of a mobile hotspot, wireless modem, USB stick, or even a smart phone or tablet with tethering capabilities.

Some time ago, I used a Samsung Blackjack as a tethering device. It worked great as a phone, but its real advantage came in the ability to use it to connect to the Web on a laptop when Wi-Fi wasn’t available. In general, service providers aren’t terribly keen on supporting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) unless these devices are sold and supported directly by the service provider.

Mobile Hotspot
Mobile hotspots are useful tools for people with multiple devices (or friends with multiple devices) that benefit from Wi-Fi Internet connectivity. These hotspots are fairly secure and easy to transport from place to place. What makes most of these even more useful is the fact that they operate off of battery power. The average battery life for a mobile hotspot sits somewhere around four hours, though they can be charged via USB. If you can plug your laptop into an outlet, then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to enjoy an Internet connection on your laptop, tablet, mobile phone, and any other Wi-Fi device for an indefinite period of time.

USB Stick
If all you want to do is provide an Internet connection to your laptop, then the USB stick option is probably what you’re searching for. These are typically quite a bit cheaper than the mobile hotspots because they generally don’t provide any Wi-Fi service. You might be able to connect to an already-established wireless network and share the connection provided by the USB stick, but this isn’t a guarantee in all situations.

The advantage of these devices is that it adds a bit to your security because the only real connection happening is within the secured wireless connection between the USB stick and the provider. You can often find these for ~$10. They’re remarkably cheap.

Wireless Hub or Router
Not all pay as you go broadband providers operate on wireless signals. There are some options out there for pay as you go DSL that offer routers or hubs that enable you to connect desktop and laptop devices to your broadband connection with a wired or wireless connection. Some wireless broadband providers offer these types of devices to users as well, including Clear. These hubs are made to be plugged directly into a power outlet and run 24/7. They’re perhaps the best way to provide your home or office with pay as you go broadband service when your primary usage area isn’t going to change.

The disadvantage of this is that you’re not necessarily getting a faster speed for the higher initial hardware cost. You also don’t get the advantage of mobility or a built-in battery for use during power outages as you do with the mobile hotspot. Simply put, this is the workhorse you keep at the farm, not the racehorse you take to the track.

Pay as You Go Broadband Service Area and Speed

Service are is extremely critical in the world of pay as you go wireless broadband. The difference of a city block can mean having a good connection or no connection at all. This is especially true with 4G and 4GLTE service providers that may not have the newer standards in all locations. 4G LTE is still relatively new, and that means only being able to use your broadband devices in areas where it’s supported.

Pay close attention to the service maps each provider supplies. Compare these maps to your expected travel plans to determine if this is really the best investment to make. You might be surprised to find out just how bad connectivity can be when you’re just outside the optimal service area(s).

You might also want to weigh the connection types that your pay as you go broadband service offers. If you have a 4G LTE device that doesn’t support 3G/4G, then you’re going to find yourself with faster service when you have it and many more instances of no service at all when you don’t. A cloudy day can ruin your connectivity.

Meanwhile, a 4G connection (currently the most popular type offered by wireless broadband providers) can be just as fickle. You’re not really receiving much of a speed boost over 3G, either. 4G connections are also typically limited in terms of bandwidth and/or data transfer per dollar due to overcrowding on the network.

Pay as You Go Broadband Limitations

Not all service providers are created equal. Some will offer you “unlimited” data transfer on their 4G LTE network only to throttle your connection to below dial-up speeds if you cross a certain data threshold. 3G/4G service types are also generally quite restricted due, in part, to overcrowding. Providers can’t promise the same excellent service level around the clock. This means having to throttle their oversold bandwidth and essentially cripple your connection during peak times. What are those peak times? These could be around the clock if your provider deems it so.

Read the service agreement carefully. You should be aware of exactly how much control your provider has over your experience.

How to Disable Spam Invites from Google+ Appearing on Google Calendar

Not long ago, Chris Pirillo mentioned that he no longer uses Google Calendar because of all the spam invites that he gets via Google+. Whether or not Chris has figured out this workaround by now (quite likely), I figured I’d pass it along to those of you who might be encountering the same frustration. If this helps even one of you, I’ll be happy!

Go to Google Calendar.

How to Disable Spam Invites from Google+ Appearing on Google Calendar

Click the Settings button.

How to Disable Spam Invites from Google+ Appearing on Google Calendar

Click Settings in the drop down menu; you will be presented with a list of settings.

Scroll down to Automatically add invitations to my calendar. By default, this is set to Yes.
How to Disable Spam Invites from Google+ Appearing on Google Calendar

Toggle this to No, only show invitations to which I have responded.

How to Disable Spam Invites from Google+ Appearing on Google Calendar

Your Google Calendar will now be free from Google+ invite spam!

George Byers is a website owner, tech enthusiast, Android lover — pretty much your average tech geek.

How to Avoid Plagiarism Online

Copies

CopiesPlagiarism is a serious problem for content creators online. It happens on social networks, blogs, and even traditional static websites. There is so much content online that people seem to believe they can rip someone’s writing off, put their name on it, and no one would notice. In many cases, that’s true. It’s one of the reasons that content ripping has become such a profitable industry.

There are more than a few sites out there I’ve dealt with that essentially copied and pasted every article I wrote and put them on their site, attributed to a made-up author’s name. It wasn’t until I took action by submitting claims on Google and sending DMCA notices to the site owners that the violations stopped. Even still, it continues to be a problem despite the legal world finally beginning to catch up and understand that digital content is just as enforceable as physical goods.

Herein lies the problem. You can work your fingers to the bone creating content only to have it ripped off, or you can take some steps to better detect and put a stop to content theft.

In this article, we’ll go over some areas where plagiarism is prevalent and steps you can take to combat it.

Images on Social Media

Coming up with clever photographs, art, and witty memes is great, but how often do your creations end up being shared (without attribution) on someone else’s stream? Often, that other person’s version of your creation receives all the attention and praise without anyone finding out that you were its creator. All the effort you put into something is then reduced to you appearing as though you copied the person who copied you. It happens all the time, but it doesn’t have to.

One preventative measure you can take is to add a watermark to photos and videos. It doesn’t have to be much. A simple name, brand, Twitter URL, or domain name placed in a corner of the image just large enough to be read will work wonders. Unless the plagiarist takes the time to edit your name out of the image, it’ll remain something you can maintain credit for.

You can also put yourself or something identifiable in the image itself. For example, if all of your images have a GI Joe action figure in them somewhere, it’s harder for someone to claim you took it from them when you have established a theme. Many folks slip their domain name in the background somewhere, cleverly disguised among the colors and shapes within.

Blog Posts

Blogs get ripped off all the time. Unfortunately, it’s harder to enforce your written content than an image. You can, however, set up some warning tools and submit immediate takedown requests to Google in addition to sending the site owner DMCA notices. Ultimately, legal action can be taken against offenders and many lawsuits have been won by content creators over this type of theft.

Google Alerts is a great tool for the job. Just set up an alert for your article title and/or specific elements that only exist in your work and it’ll let you know when something pops up that meets the criteria.

You can also put your content in a tool specifically designed to search for duplicates such as the one provided over at Reprint Writers. Just copy and paste your article body into the tool and it’ll search for matches for you. If a match is found, then you’ll know you’re either the victim of a plagiarist or a ghost writer attempting to pass you something that already exists elsewhere. Remember, part of good plagiarism etiquette is making sure that you’re not publishing other people’s work as well. Ghost writers aren’t all on the up and up, and you might end up with someone else’s work on your site if you take submissions on faith alone.

How do you avoid plagiarism online? Leave a comment below and let us know your favorite methods and/or tools.

Image: bettyx1138

Why Your Desktop Anti-Malware May Be Flawed

Why Your Desktop Anti-Malware May Be FlawedAs computer users these days, we have been bombarded by companies that claim to be able to keep our computers free from malware. However, this may not be the case.

The majority of anti-malware software uses traditional, signature-based techniques in order to detect malware. It works by your anti-malware software detecting malicious software by looking up its characteristics in the vendor’s database. If the malware is listed in the database, it is automatically unable to be executed and generally removed or quarantined. However, if it isn’t, the software will be allowed to execute.

This method of detection is implemented in the majority of anti-malware packages today, however, it is severely flawed.

Although this method of detection was ample over 10 years ago, in this modern day it is a completely different story. According to GData’s malware report in the first half of 2011, it recorded that the average number of new malware going into the wild per day is 6,881, and has most likely risen dramatically since then. With this amount of malware being distributed, the anti-malware vendors simply cannot keep up, which could lead to the end user being in danger — exactly what these companies are trying to prevent. If the end user is infected with what is known as “zero-day” malware (malicious software that is not detected by signature based anti-malware) and accesses online banking while being infected, they could be subject to identity theft. I find it overwhelming that the majority of anti-malware solutions only incorporate signature-based prevention systems, which puts their customers at a large amount of risk.

To combat this, a small amount of anti-malware vendors are using behavioral detection techniques. One of the most popular solutions is heuristic analysis, which analyses the behaviour of the malware to see whether it carries out malware-like actions. This type of detection technology is good to prevent zero-day malware, although as there is no definitive answer to whether the file in question is malicious, heuristic analysis can be inaccurate and present a large amount of false positives. Another method of detection that a small percentage of anti-malware vendors are using is a system called HIPS (Host Intrusion Prevention System). HIPS analyses the malware, and if the malware carries out a suspicious action, it will alert the user. They will then be given the choice whether to allow the software to carry out the action or block it. This technique is ideal for power users; it allows them to have complete control over what is running on their system with an increased detection ratio in most cases. The main disadvantage to this is that HIPS can seem ungainly to average computer users who just want their anti-malware software to protect their system with no fuss. For this reason, many anti-malware vendors disable HIPS out-of-the-box in their software and expect power users to enable it if they wish.

Another method of prevention that isn’t widely used is sandboxing. Sandboxing works by running software in a virtualized environment, which is completely separate from your desktop. This way, the software can still be run but cannot infect your machine and when you are done with the software, you simply clear the sandbox.

For sandboxing solutions, I suggest Sandboxie. It is a piece of sandboxing software available for Windows that is ideal for anyone, as it can be used in several different ways. Sandboxie allows you to sandbox software that you don’t trust to run in the sandbox manually, or if you are configuring a computer for someone who isn’t as competent with technology, you can use Sandboxie to automatically sandbox all applications, which in some instances could provide you with a 100% detection rating. Although Sandboxie costs €13 for a one-year license and €29 for a lifetime license, I believe this software to be ideal for anyone who has had problems due to malware infections.

There are also some anti-malware products on the market that integrate signatures, HIPS, and sandboxing technology into one package; one such product is COMODO Internet Security, a free product that I highly recommend to power users, although it may seem slightly complicated to average computer users due to its implementation of heuristics and HIPS.

I also must take this time to emphasize the fact that you must keep your anti-malware software up-to-date with the latest signatures, and I also highly recommend that you keep your operating system up-to-date with the latest patches as many pieces of malware exploit vulnerabilities in various operating systems in order to infect your system.

Personally, I believe that the major anti-malware vendors are creating a false sense of security for their users by making them believe that their software will prevent all malware infections, which simply isn’t the case. There are many free solutions available that can provide an extra layer of security to prevent attacks by cybercriminals. Also, in the past, malware developers made malware that caused your computer to do abnormal tasks, however, their focus has now been changed toward generating revenue from their malware. Today’s malware is much more discrete — the majority of average computer users wouldn’t notice that their computer is infected, proven by malware such as the Zeus trojan, a banking information stealing trojan horse that doesn’t alter the user experience so would leave the end user clueless about the malware running on their system. Don’t be the victim of an infection; be sure to update your security packages accordingly.

Oliver Charlton is a technology enthusiast who enjoys writing about security products and malware. He runs several websites that are technology and gaming related, and he is interested in the future of consumer electronics.

Image: Pixabay

Got Wi-Fi? You Cannot Be Held Liable for Pirates on Your Network

Got Wi-Fi? You Cannot Be Held Liable for Pirates on Your NetworkWe are all keenly aware that Wi-Fi connections — from our home network or place of business — leave us vulnerable to hackers compromising our Internet connections. The unfortunate reality is that some of our neighbors may not be aware of this vulnerability and, as a result, have failed to properly secure their network from outsiders. Knowing that hackers can access an Internet connection brings up an interesting point. If someone hacks into your network and sends out spam in your name, including such things as porn, are you to be held responsible?

The possibility of serving jail time for unintentionally transmitting such things through the Internet has always caused some of us anxiety about how to protect our networks from invasion by these unscrupulous individuals. To begin with, this anxiety usually revolves around our concern about which firewall or which security application will best prevent someone from hacking into our network. In fact, this concern has been used as the major scenario in some television shows and movies, demonstrating how an innocent person can be arrested for sending out porn from their Internet connection when, in fact, they had no idea it was occurring.

However, Internet abuses do occur, which has resulted in a federal court case regarding Internet users who were accused of downloading illegal movies. In this case, the prosecution claims that the charged suspects downloaded the movies illegally. On the other hand, the defense claims that none of the charged parties were aware of the downloads and didn’t intentionally seek to take advantage of the movie industry. The defense’s presentation focused on the fact that the only thing each one of the accused had in common was that they all had failed to secure their computer networks. Fortunately for the accused, the defense’s strategy succeeded and a panel of their peers determined that none of the defendants were guilty of any crime — except the crime of stupidity. However, there was one other conclusion that the court made that will have an effect on all of us.

During the summation, the judge in this Northern California federal court made it very clear that a user cannot be held responsible if, without the owner’s permission, another party hacks into their computer network and commits a crime. To further bolster a computer user’s rights, a New York judge held that a user other than the computer’s owner could not be held liable for copyright infringement, even if the owner of the network knew about the illegal activity.

My main hope from these decisions is that honest citizens who are the victims of hacking cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by others. It is also hoped that other courts throughout the land will uphold these decisions and rule the same, thus throwing out frivolous lawsuits that are only intended to fleece honest citizens of their hard-earned capital.

However, before you run out into the street and start jumping for joy, there is a current case in Massachusetts that may bring another issue to light and create problems for all of us. In this case, it is being claimed that users should be held responsible for not securing their networks and allowing others to hack into them. Once again, we can only hope that the court will see through this sham and throw the case out of court.

However, it is easy to see that as each case is addressed and new technology develops, there are always going to be people out there who want to protect their creations and others who seek a method to circumvent the safeguards to make a dollar. We can hope, though, there will come a day when we will be able to surf the Internet without fear of being taken to court.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and ideas with us.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: TechNews Daily

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Ben Spark

A Secure Password Today Keeps the Hackers Away

It seems like we hear about a new security breach every few weeks. You don’t have to stay that on top of the news to hear that some company is announcing that it’s been hacked, that customer passwords were compromised, and what the company is doing to make its systems more secure. A few weeks ago, tech journalist Mat Honan announced that his iPhone, MacBook, iCloud, and Amazon accounts were all hacked. Recently, Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, announced that its systems had been hacked and told users to change their passwords.

An Old Problem

This isn’t a new problem. In fact, history’s first hacker made a mockery of a purportedly secure wireless telegraph in 1903. It’s certainly been going on since computer systems first began to have user accounts more than 40 years ago. The Internet, and our near total dependence upon it, has simply made it a more widespread issue. In 2008, Countrywide (the mortgage lender) notified me that an employee had compromised thousands of accounts and was selling the data, mine included. The company provided me with a free credit monitoring service and, fortunately, nothing negative ever came of it. In April of 2011, thousands of customer records from Sony’s PlayStation Network were compromised.

How does this happen? It happens because hackers exploit your weaknesses and those of the systems you use.

Choosing a User Name

Let’s start with your side of the equation since you can do something about it. When you create an account somewhere, you choose a user name and a password. To access the account, you have to get both right. Most people don’t think much about the user name since it almost always appears in plain text. But in fact, the user name is equally as important as the password itself. Publish your password on the Internet for everyone to see and it’s useless without your user name. But most people choose a user name that is some combination of their name and/or initials. Joe Smith chooses joe.smith, joesmith, smith or smithj, for example. There are only a handful of different options to choose from when you use your name. And since they all come from your name, they are the easiest thing for a hacker to guess. Choose a user name that has nothing to do with you, and you make it much harder to hack.

Choosing a Password

Of course you also have to provide a password. And all too often people choose something obvious: one of their kids’ names, the name of a pet, an old phone number, or street address. People frequently choose information that is easily available on the Internet, making such passwords simple for a hacker to deduce. For example, you can use ZabaSearch.com to find current and past addresses for just about anyone in the United States. Another option is choosing a random word, but this is also problematic. Hackers can use lists of words and automate the process of trying each word until they get a hit. In fact, there’s a database of 10,000 commonly used passwords that I have no doubt are among the first passwords hackers try. If you are going to use a word, make sure it’s one that isn’t associated with you and would not be found in the dictionary.

Some people use a single password for every system. The obvious problem with this is that, once compromised, all systems accessed are then compromised. Then you have to remember to visit all of those systems to change your password again. A single password is easy to remember, but is not very secure.

Remembering Your Password

Passwords need to be relatively easy to remember. A recent Wired article suggested that systems should use pictures rather than text for passwords since our brains are hard-wired to recognize faces. That’s an interesting idea. I was looking at a grade school class picture on the Internet that an old classmate posted. Even though each person’s face was made up of only 100 pixels or less, I could identify my best friend. The trouble is, you can only show so many faces. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a user to scan a hundred faces and you’d have to show them at least that many to make it secure. And what if someone is looking over the user’s shoulder? There would be no way for the user to hide the fact that they chose a particular picture. At least with text, the characters can be masked as they are typed.

In terms of security, the longer a password is, the better. But how do you come up with a really long password that you can also remember? You could use a password generator that creates a long random string of numbers and characters, but n3aefam392msee55 is difficult to remember. One of the members of my team made a great suggestion: use a sentence. Sentences can be long and are easier to remember. And since the brain is associative, you can choose a sentence that is associated with the company or service for which you are creating the password. Even better would be to personalize the sentence; “I use Google every day” is not as secure as “I first used Google in 2001.” That’s a 22-character password, which would be very strong and easy to remember as a password for your Google account. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend using that one, but I think you see my point.

There are solutions to remembering your user names and passwords. You could write them all down on a piece of paper that you keep in a desk drawer like one person I know. You could use a password database that is, itself, password-protected. Mac OS X has a nice feature called the Keychain. It stores your passwords in a database that is encrypted with your Mac login password. I use 1Password from AgileBits. It runs on OS X, iPhone, iPad, Windows, and Android, and it syncs across all of them, making it easy to keep passwords close at hand. It also has a nice browser extension, making it easy to fill in user name and password fields automatically.

These systems all have a single point of failure, though. If someone gets access to your desk drawer or gets into your password database or gets your Mac login password, they have access to all of your passwords. But unless you are going to remember every password (and, certainly, using sentences would make it much easier), there’s likely to be a single point of failure in any system the average person is willing to use.

The Wired article correctly pointed out that people view their accounts being hacked as “Black Swan” events, meaning that they think it’s unlikely to happen. And they are right. But if it does, the damage can be anywhere from minimal to irreparable. You could drive your car for decades and never be involved in a car accident, but if you are, you’d better be wearing your seatbelt. It’s the same idea.

The solution is to find a good compromise. First, use sentences as you have a good shot at remembering them without having to use a password database. And second, use a secure password database so that when you can’t remember one, you have a place to look. Finally, use a unique sentence as the password for your password database and change it once a year.

The Problems with Existing Security Systems

Ironically, many security systems don’t actually make it very easy for you to create and maintain a secure password. Here’s a partial list of problems — some of which I’m sure you’ve encountered before:

  • They don’t mask the password as you enter it.
  • They require passwords to have a specific amount of numbers and other special characters in them, making them hard to remember.
  • They set a low number (say 16) as their maximum password length. This can make using a sentence more difficult. And there’s really no good excuse for having a maximum character count for a password.
  • They don’t allow spaces. That’s silly, because a space is as valid a character as anything else and allowing them makes using sentences easier. If you use a sentence, just leave out the spaces.
  • They make you change your password too frequently. This results in users changing just one character of their password to avoid the hassle of coming up with a completely new one or rotating through a small set of easy-to-remember passwords.
  • They email your user name and password after you create your account. Folks, email is not a secure way to communicate! A system that emails your password to you is not secure.
  • They email you a link to set up or reset your password without an expiration date. Anyone who gets that link can reset your password to whatever they want.
  • The security questions they provide for resetting your password are often those with answers that are easy to find. What is your mother’s maiden name? What elementary school did you attend? What was the name of your first pet? These are all questions that could be easily answered with a minimal amount of searching. A good solution for this is to provide false answers to these questions, and then store those in your password database.
  • They use the last four digits of your Social Security number as verification. How many times have you been asked for this? It would be very easy for anyone to get these numbers and, at that point, they can masquerade as you on any system that uses them for verification.

When you encounter sites with problems like these, I encourage you to take a moment to find the “Contact Us” page and notify them. The more often they hear from their users, the more likely they are to improve security.

It’s important to point out that there is an analog component to these security issues, as well. The hacker that caused Mat Honan so much grief was able to convince an Apple customer service representative that he was Mat Honan. Companies should take this opportunity to learn from this cautionary tale.

A Secure Password Today Keeps the Hackers AwayI’m not a security expert, but the state of Internet security is so bad that applying the smallest measurable amount of common sense reveals a multitude of security problems. As I said earlier, you will probably never be the victim of a hacker. And even if you are, there may be no damage. After all, the more accounts a hacker uses for personal gain, the easier the hacker is to catch or shut out. But if it does happen, you will realize that the effort required to be more secure is not cumbersome.

So do yourself a favor and be proactive. Use a password database. Of course you need to keep your devices physically secure, as well. My iPhone requires a passcode and auto-locks after a few minutes. My laptop is set to require my password once the screensaver comes on. I don’t leave my computer without engaging the screensaver for this reason. The small bit of extra effort these mechanisms require is a small price to pay for the security they provide and the damage from which they protect me.

Geoff Perlman is the founder and CEO of Real Software, makers of Real Studio, a cross-platform software development environment for the desktop and the Web. Perlman has written articles that have recently been published in Dr. Dobb’s Journal, VentureBeat, and SD Times.

Reasons to Use a VPN

Corporate employees will most likely know the definition of a VPN (virtual private network). For everybody else, it’s just a way to watch Hulu from all over the world. Joking aside, there are quite a few compelling reasons why one should have VPN set up. The main and most compelling reason would be increased security.

Security

Reasons to Use a VPNVPN connections are, of course, encrypted, with levels ranging from 128-bit to 256-bit, depending on your provider. I personally use StrongVPN, but there many more providers. Specifically, I use an OpenVPN-based package. This is an open source security software that utilizes SSL/TLS for key exchanges. There exist corresponding client programs for major platforms, even for a rooted Android phone. This may all sound pretty technical, but in essence it means that your data is quite secure. Unless you’re a wanted man, and a brigade of hackers is after you, a VPN service will strengthen your computer against intrusions — especially when connecting to public hotspots; a VPN can minimize threats. You’re practically immune against hotspot sniffing.

Depending on the provider, it’s possible to use VPN to stay anonymous while downloading torrents. However, some providers keep logs, so do research beforehand. Effectively a VPN gives you privacy and anonymity while you you surf the Web. In conjunction with the private mode of your browser, and the encryption of the VPN, you’re truly private.

Bypassing Blocked Websites

Surely you have come across videos on YouTube or other Web services that you couldn’t access just because you’re not located inside the US. For a long time, Hangout On Air wasn’t accessible in Germany (until recently), or any live YouTube video, for that matter. A VPN or http tunneling were the only options to bypass such government restrictions (a VPN is faster and more reliable). With my own service I still get a ping of less than 150 ms, which is acceptable even for some gaming. Geo-restriction and censored websites are a thing of the past.

So the reasons for choosing to use a VPN are purely paranoid. If you often find yourself connecting to unknown networks in public areas, then this is a solution. It also acts as a virtual firewall that prevents malware infestation, unless you visit some really dodgy websites. Any threat from outside intruders is non-existent, unless you have that aforementioned hacker brigade on you.

Cost

This might be the deal breaker for some. There are free solutions out there, but I cannot speak for them. Like anything in life, free isn’t always the best solution. However, there is such a myriad of different services our there. There’s no particular reason as why to I chose StrongVPN, but I had a bad experience with HMA due to quite slow performance. My VPN Reviews may be a good place to start if you are someone who likes to read user reviews. The importance is to understand the different between a proxy and a VPN. In easy terms, the most important advantage of a VPN over a proxy is speed.

I personally connect to my VPN all the time, and often I even forget that I am so connected. So, in daily life, speed is really not an issue. It performs so well that I usually get my maximum bandwidth. Sure, the ping is not the highest, but then again I’m not a hardcore gamer. It makes little difference to me. In some situations I just feel safer.

Have you been using — or have you ever used — VPN services? If yes, what are your experiences?

Image: Windows Bitlocker icon

How to Enable (or Disable) Cookies in Google Chrome

Google Chrome has quickly become one of the most popular browsers used today. Due in part to the popularity of Google as a search engine, it’s almost impossible to browse the Web today without knowing what Google Chrome is.

Because of this, it comes as no small shock that one of the most popular questions we receive here at LockerGnome is how to enable (or disable) cookies in Google Chrome. The process is actually quite simple, and in this article we’ll explain how it’s done.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies can be both helpful and harmful, depending on how they’re written and where they come from. Some cookies do little more than keep you logged in to sites you visit frequently, enabling you to jump to the page you want to jump to without having to log in every time you fire up your browser. In these cases, cookies can be quite useful.

There are other instances where cookies are actually fairly intrusive. Tracking cookies that send data back to its host site about your activity may be concerning to some privacy-conscious users. You really don’t want some stranger knowing where you go on the Web or what you do, so the natural inclination is to delete all the cookies on your system and block them. This can be done without totally wrecking your browsing experience, though it may make it a bit more inconvenient.

In essence, a cookie is simply a small file that stores information about you and relays it to its host site upon visiting. It doesn’t always mean you’re being tracked or traced, but a malicious cookie is certainly easy to pick up if you don’t have the right protective settings in place.

How to Enable Cookies

Let’s say you want to enable cookies in your browser so you don’t have to log in to the same site over and over again. This is actually fairly easy, and there are two ways you can go about it.

You can set automatic cookie controls which accept most cookies sent to you as you browse, or you can go with a manual solution that sets specific domains you trust while still denying cookies from all other sources.

Automatic
To enable automatic cookie handling, all you need to do turn on a single option in the settings menu. Here’s how to get to it:

  • Click the wrench icon in the upper-right area of the Chrome browser window.
  • Select Settings from the drop-down menu.
  • Select Advanced at the bottom of the settings window to expand the menu.
  • Under Privacy, click the Content Settings button.
  • Select the option to allow local data to be set.
  • If you want to disable advertisers and other third-party cookies, check the box next to the block third-party cookies option.

Manual Cookie Handling
If you only want a select few sites to send cookies your way, you can set these specific options in the same menu. All you need to do is select Block Sites From Setting Any Data (which disables cookies altogether) and click Manage Exceptions. In the menu that comes up, you can add hostnames (domains) that you trust. For example, you could write www.lockergnome.com to allow cookies sent by LockerGnome and no one else.

Add as many domains as you’d like here, and you should notice that your browsing experience is relatively unhindered. Be advised though, you’ll need to add an exception for every site you don’t want to continuously log into when you visit it. Even hitting the “remember me” button won’t work if an exception isn’t in place.

Final Thoughts

Cookies are a double-edged sword. While they can be quite helpful to you, many sites out there are actually rather invasive with how they use them. Advertising companies love cookies because they allow you to be more specifically targeted, which you may or may not like.

Keep in mind that this process does not stop supercookies from appearing on your system. For more information about those, you’ll want to read our article on how to manage and get rid of supercookies.

Three (Almost) Foolproof Ways to Make a Secure Password

On LockerGnome we’ve got many articles about passwords ranging from how to make your life easier by remembering them to how ludicrous it will become for passwords to remain secure — if it hasn’t already gotten that far. Today I wanted to share a few tips that may help you make and remember your passwords. I’ll also point out that I have well over 20 different passwords that I remember and use on a day-to-day basis to show that I don’t just “talk the talk.”

The Phrased Password

I’ve found this technique to be quite useful, but it can be a little bit of a drawn-out process.

  • Find a phrase that you know well. I’ll use: “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t take him to a disco.” — Eddie Izzard
  • Take the first letter from each word. So, for this example, YCTAHTWBYCTHTAD.
  • Vary the case of the letters from UPPERCASE to lowercase. The example now changes to yCTahTWbYcThTAd.
  • Change some letters to numbers. In our example, T=1 and C=6 to become y61ahTWbYc1hTAd.
  • Add in some special characters like @,.#. Our example now looks like this: [email protected].

The reason these kinds of passwords are great — albeit easily forgettable — is that they are long. I believe the optimal length of a password to be around the 12-13 alphanumeric mark. I may be wrong in this aspect, however, all of my passwords are built to this sort of standard.

The Stuff Around You Password

I don’t personally use this technique, but you might find it to be a secure way of password building.

  • Pick two items from around your room. In my case, a glass and an open window.
  • Think of two seperate sets of two numbers. I’ll go for 23 and 98.
  • Place these two numbers before, during, or after the words. In this example, I’ll go for 23glass98window.
  • Add in a special character or two. The example now looks like this: [email protected].

As I mentioned above, I don’t personally use this method, but I can see why people do use it. It’s simpler and a lot easier to remember this kind of password than it is to remember the letters for which you’ve changed case, which letters you’ve changed into numbers, and where you’ve placed the special characters and character replacements.

The Mixed-up Password

Three (Almost) Foolproof Ways to Make a Secure PasswordThis technique is one from back in the day when I was just new to the whole Internet phenomenon — so that’s about a decade ago.

  • Pick two words. I’ll use headset and mouse.
  • Mix them together. We now get hmeoaudsseet.
  • Add in a special character and a number or two. The example now looks like this: hme#89oaud.sseet.

I am not sure how I feel about this technique because it is just so old, but it should still be secure. My only problem with it is that you may forget — as I have — which word comes first. I think it’s all a case of what works for you — better is relative, and all that jazz.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been online for a decade now and, damn, I feel old. I have used many different techniques and thought that it may be a good idea to share three of my techniques with you, the LockerGnome audience. I can never truly take the high ground over making highly secure passwords because even I have used some really stupidly easy ones — granted, they were for testing purposes, but it’s still no excuse in my book. I also know there are still hundreds of thousands of people out there who have passwords like QWERTY and ABC123. I hope that they see and use one of the three methods above to create a password that is even slightly more secure.

I both love and hate the idea of storing all of my passwords in one single place and letting the program or code insert and take care of that side of it for me. I love it because I’d only have to use a singular, secure password. I hate it because there is always that chance that the website, program, database, or whatever is compromised and then I have to run around all of the websites I use to change all of my passwords. It may even be that I couldn’t get to the website in time before someone locked me out of my own account, and the, there’s the long, drawn-out battle to get that website or those websites to check their logs and verify that I am who I say I am. Passwords are what make the world go round, in my opinion. What do you think?

CC licensed Flickr photo of rusty padlock shared by Stew Dean

What is a Denial of Service (DoS) Attack?

What is a Denial of Service (DoS) Attack?Earlier this week, LockerGnome was hit with a Denial of Service (DoS) attack and was forced to shutter its doors for quite some time. Readers couldn’t read articles, and writers couldn’t write them. It is truly a terrible thing to happen to any website, and it prevents people from doing their jobs (the writers) as well as preventing people from not doing their jobs (the readers).

All is well now, but while the attack was ongoing I overheard a few folks in various channels discussing LockerGnome’s downtime, unaware as to what a Denial of Service attack is or how it really works. So now I am taking the time to lay it out in plain and simple English so that next time something like this happens, people know just what the server administrators are dealing with.

To put it simply, a Denial of Service attack does what it says: It prevents people from using a particular website or service. How does it do this, though? Well, a Web server daemon can only accept so many requests from clients at once, at which point all further requests must wait in line for their request to either be served a response or timed out.

SYN Floods

One of the most common methods of a Denial of Service attack is known as a SYN flood. A SYN flood occurs when a client sends a large number of TCP/SYN packets, often with forged headers, to a server. SYN is part of the handshake process that TCP goes through, so when a server receives this type of packet, it sends a SYN-ACK in response. Then, the server waits for the client to finally return an ACK reply, signifying that the handshake is complete and the connection is whole. However, in a Denial of Service attack that uses a SYN flood, the attacker never sends the final ACK reply, leaving the server waiting with what is called a “half-open” connection. This prevents the server from utilizing the resources in use by that connection for handling other connections, limiting the number of requests a server can handle.

Distributed Attacks

Denial of Service attacks don’t have to be very complicated. In fact, a large number of clients sending a single request to a server can be enough to bring an unsuspecting server to a stand-still. For this reason, large groups of attackers might try to target a single server in order to bring it down. More complex scenarios involve the use of botnets, where malicious code installed on various computers around the globe is triggered to send many requests to a single location. Botnets of significant size can bring down even the mightiest of networks, so they are truly a force to be reckoned with.

Unintentional Denials of Service

Like I mentioned previously, sometimes all it takes to bring a server down is a large number of requests coming in from individual clients around the world. These sorts of situations are typically attributed to news sites sending a huge influx of users to an unsuspecting users, sometimes referred to as the “Slashdot effect.”

This is one of the reasons the ability for a website or application to scale is such a big issue these days. Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook are now focused on how they can accommodate growing number of users with a limited number of resources, or else their services are doomed to extremely slow loading times.

I hope this clears up some confusion a few of those in the LockerGnome community had in regards to what a Denial of Service attack exactly is. However, this article is in no fashion a comprehensive source on the topic, and I implore those who are interested in further knowledge to consult the Wikipedia article on Denial of Service attacks.

Why Web 1.0 Needs to Make a Comeback

Why Web 1.0 Needs to Make a ComebackI’m quite young — 18 years old, but still quite young. Nevertheless, I was also introduced to the Internet and the Web at a very early age, so I can personally say I have grown up alongside it all.

I remember way back when there was no Twitter or Facebook or even Wikipedia. Google was not the mainstream search engine (when I began using the Web, Yahoo! dominated every area of the Web you might have looked). I remember our family initially subscribing through NetZero dial-up (the company still offers it today, which is a scary thing to think about), and moving on to SBC DSL when we started seriously using the Internet (which, for the most part, meant my dad needed it for work).

Anyways, back then when you wanted to look something up, you typed a query into Yahoo! or AOL, then scrolled through the listing to try to find what you were looking for. Yes, I actually remember scrolling through multiple sites to find what I needed to know, whereas nowadays, Wikipedia articles are typically the top results for most simple queries.

The websites back then were hardly as stylish as the Web is today. CSS barely had any real adoption; for the most part, Web pages were built entirely out of raw HTML. I remember operating my own GeoCities site, dabbling in the magic that was hypertext markup. I had not realized it then, but the majority of the Web was pretty much as unglamorous as my GeoCities site was.

Enter Web 2.0. With it, the Web evolved from static Web pages to dynamic, stylish, and interactive streams of content. That is, not only was CSS and JavaScript being used more widely to make websites more appealing, but webmasters (or rather, content producers as they were) enabled guests to their websites to provide feedback. Services began to pop up that allowed people to share and access the latest news and content quickly and easily (via methods like RSS). The Web began morphing into its current form.

But there is a problem with the state of the Web as it is today. When people produce content on services like Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, it is located only on the servers of Twitter, Facebook, and Google. WordPress-hosted blogs store all their content on the WordPress servers. Flickr photos are stored on servers operated by Yahoo! The people creating the content aren’t actually the ones serving it.

But all of these services are doing content producers a favor, right? They offer to host all of your wonderful content for what appears to be absolutely free on your part. But is it really free?

In reality, all of these services make money from your content. Either they serve advertisements next door to your content or they are targeting advertisements towards you, specifically, depending on whatever it is that you are sounding off about on these services.

And what’s more, what would happen if, all of a sudden, these services just ceased to exist? Where would all your content go? Google allows you to download most of your data, but it obviously has to still be online to do that. What if these companies go bankrupt, are subjected to a malicious hack, or become overrun by a software malfunction? All of your content, which you might have spent years pouring yourself into, could be gone in an instant.

Back up your data? Sure, it’s a nice thought. But no one really backs up the data they care about in the end.

That is why, friends, I want Web 1.0 to make a comeback. I want users to take back control of the data they are producing. It’s your content, after all, and you should be able to call first dibs on being able to gain from it.

Services like Twitter and Flickr don’t have to go away, though. Rather than being the means through which you produce and distribute your content, these services should simply assist you in formatting and relaying your content to a broader audience.

Am I suggesting that every person who wants to produce content as simple as a 140-character status update set up a Web server in their own home? Perhaps I am. Does that sound like a step backwards? It might to the few who have become reliant on the services that dominate the Web today, who see no other alternative nor are ambitious enough to give something else a try. Maybe it could be as simple as having your own slice of the cloud, where you let a service merely provide the pipe through which your content makes its way to the rest of the world.

My point is, I believe we are headed in an awkward direction for the Web. Unless something is done about it, we might just get stuck with a few dominating corporations that exist solely to monetize and monopolize your creative expression and intelligent thought on the Web.

CC licensed Flickr photo by believekevin

Anti-Virus Programs: Payware Vs. Freeware

Anti-Virus Programs: Payware Vs. FreewareKeyloggers, viruses, and malware are a common threat to Windows users, particularly to computers connected to the Internet. These threats have gradually become more dangerous, and as a result having an anti-virus program installed on your computer is a necessity, not an option. The most common problem consumers have with anti-virus programs is deciding which one they should use, as the amount of options available can be overwhelming. When choosing an anti-virus program, it is important to consider things such as which operating system you use and how you use your computer, as these factors will determine which anti-virus program is best for you.

It is a common misconception that more expensive anti-virus programs provide better protection against malicious threats. This simply isn’t true, and often you will end up paying for brand name anti-virus software that can easily be substituted by a freeware program to provide the same level of protection. Paid anti-virus programs such as Kaspersky, McAfee, and Norton are popular options recommended by many experts, but the question is: Can you get the same level of protection with free anti-virus programs? Well, this largely depends on your requirements, but for the average user, a free anti-virus program may be the best option. For business owners, a full security suite is generally required and, as such, paid anti-virus programs are usually more appropriate for business owners.

The advantages to using paid anti-virus programs usually include full technical support, easy installation, and very little configuration required. Performance wise, many well-known, free anti-virus programs are on par with paid anti-virus programs. Despite the fact that paid anti-virus programs are feature rich and offer a more comprehensive security suite, the price you have to pay is arguably unjustified. Consider this: Depending on your needs, you could install a free anti-virus program and then install relevant additional Internet security tools to complement this anti-virus program; in effect, you’re creating a customized security suite for your computer. Believe it or not, this works just as effectively as any payware anti-virus software. So, if you are after a security suite for personal use, it would be wise to consider all your freeware options before forking out money to big name anti-virus companies. To help you out, here are a few options you may consider.

AVG

AVG has been providing free anti-virus and Internet security suites pretty much since the Internet first started. Its freeware products have always yielded positive results and, as such, this is a company you can trust. The 2012 edition of AVG’s free anti-virus program outperforms many of its payware competition in terms of its efficiency in removing and blocking malware. AVG’s free anti-virus also comes with some additional nifty features such as a PC analyzer tool and a browser toolbar that provides safe search and weather updates. Over all, AVG’s free anti-virus program is a solid, all-around performer and is a viable option for protecting your computer against common viruses and malware.

avast!

avast!’s latest anti-virus software includes quite a few new features previously only available in the pro edition. It provides a satisfactory level of protection against virus threats, but does a better job at detecting threats than removing them. avast!’s anti-virus program provides a user-friendly experience and does an excellent job in shielding the computer against malware. However, as outlined above, it often struggles to remove virus threats after identifying them. avast!’s anti-virus program is certainly worth a try as it is a free option that could work well for casual Web surfers.

Avira

Avira is another company that has been around for a long time. Avira’s free anti-virus program does a solid job in detecting, blocking, and removing malware in a relatively short space of time. It includes phishing protection as an added feature and does an excellent job in shielding the computer against any malicious threats. Over all, Avira’s free anti-virus program performs in a similar manner to AVG and provides the same level of protection. It is definitely a free option to consider.

In my opinion, paid anti-virus companies thrive on the ignorance of consumers by promoting and selling overpriced anti-virus software through the use of effective scare tactics. The average consumer is made well aware of the fact that they need some sort of security suite installed on their computer to keep it protected against malicious threats, but rarely do paid anti-virus companies inform consumers about what kind of protection they need. Basically, consumers are encouraged to purchase expensive full security suites to keep their computer protected. In most cases, this is a waste of money as the average consumer does not need a full security suite installed on their computer — it’s just not required. To avoid spending money on software you simply don’t need, it is important to analyze how you use your computer before purchasing an anti-virus program. This will determine what kind of security suite you need and the options you have available.

In conclusion, if you need a security suite for commercial use, then there really isn’t any other option but to purchase a full Internet security suite. However, if you are after a security suite for personal use and are willing to put up with advertisements on the program’s interface, then installing a free anti-virus program along with relevant Internet security tools is the way to go. If you feel that you are not able enough to research, download, and install additional relevant security tools, then perhaps consider a payware solution — but I would advise you to consider all your free options before spending your money.

CC licensed Flickr photo by elhombredenegro

How to Tell if Your Teen is Browsing Adult Sites

Teens these days are incredibly tech savvy, especially when compared to generations past. It can seem incredibly difficult to keep up with the tips and tricks kids are learning today. With every wall you build, you’re creating a challenge for a teen to overcome.

So how do you stay one step ahead of someone who was literally born into a world of technology? Do you spend every waking moment living and breathing tech? No, you really don’t have to. You do, however, owe it to yourself to keep at least somewhat updates as to how things work, and what your teen might be using to access the Web.

Below are some tricks to help you stay informed about where your teen is going online, and how to tell if they might be accessing sites that aren’t age appropriate.

Signs and Symptoms

Let’s start with the obvious. You can’t always know where your teen is browsing to. While you might have your home network locked down like Fort Knox, that doesn’t mean that your teen can’t find a good connection elsewhere. Many of the techy tips out there (and in this article) will only be beneficial on machines and networks in your control. It’s important that you are able to identify some of the signs that your teen is up to something.

Do They Browse the Web with the Door Closed?
Closing the door provides a barrier that allows for plenty of warning before the contents of a computer screen might be discovered by parents or guardians. If the door can’t be locked, the mere act of closing it gives someone an extra second or two to react, switch or close windows, and situate ones self to avoid suspicion.

Have they Rearranged their Room so the Monitor Faces Away from the Door?
If you decide to allow your teen to have an Internet connection in their room, have they arranged it so what they see can’t be seen by someone passing by? This is a common action taken by teens that don’t want their parents prying into their personal life, but it could also be a sign that they’re doing something that they might not want you to know about.

Do They Get Nervous and Uncomfortable When You Use Their Computer?
People in general are terrible at hiding their emotions. Human lie detectors look for tells that indicate that someone is telling a lie, but in general it’s much easier to tell when someone is suddenly more nervous than usual. You live with the teen, and know how they normally act.

If you suspect that they are doing something they shouldn’t, but don’t want to outright accuse them, you could take a moment to “show them something” on their computer. Perhaps find a viral video or perhaps an informational website that you think might interest them. Go to their computer, while they are in their room, and pull that site up for them. Do they object to you using their system to pull up a website? If so, there might be more going on than they want you to know about.

Is Your Browser History Periodically Erased?
Perhaps the most obvious sign that someone is using the computer to look at something unapproved is that your browser history is suddenly gone. Perhaps not entirely wiped out, but you know the teen has been on the computer for the last several hours and yet there is nothing in the history to indicate they’ve been anywhere at all.

Private browsing is quickly becoming a popular way to avoid being detected going to sites they should be. This would explain a gap in the history. Some browsers also allow you to remove the past hour, day, week, month, or year of history with a click of the mouse.

Browser History

Below are some keyboard shortcuts you can use to quickly access a browser’s history.

  • Internet Explorer – Ctrl+H
  • Google Chrome – Ctrl+H
  • Firefox – Ctrl+H
  • Opera – Ctrl+Shift+H

The browser history will tell you where (and often when) various sites are accessed. A single access case might be the result of clicking an ad or following a malicious link, but repeated visits to the same site could be a sign of intentional use.

Google Search History

Your teen probably has an account of their own, but there are times when Google search might be initiated through the browser without realizing that your account is still enabled. Take a moment to check your Google search history against what you actually search for. If you see some suspicious searches, it might raise an alarm for you.

Keyloggers and Network Monitoring

I’m not a fan of keyloggers, but there are some applications out in the wild that will allow you to keep tabs on what your teen is typing into the keyboard. This could tell you where they are going without alerting them to your tracking. There is a fine line between being a concerned parent and violating trust. It’s up to each parent to determine where this line should be drawn for themselves.

Network monitoring is a little less intrusive but still quite useful. Chances are, every computer connected to the Web (outside of mobile phones) goes through a single router to get a connection. Your router may have IP logging abilities, which can give you a rough idea of where people on your network are browsing. Alternatively, network-enabled sniffing software and parental controls are available that can help you even more.

I haven’t personally used either of these methods outside of an enterprise setting, and I wouldn’t recommend dropping the type of money required to run enterprise monitoring software to keep track of your teen. Still, it’s another avenue out there.

DNS Cache (Windows Method)

This trick is a little less obvious, and a lot harder for teens to hide. Your computer stores a list of IP addresses connected to various domain names. This list is generated as your browser requests DNS (Domain Name System) records from your ISP’s preferred DNS host.

To access this record, you’ll need to launch the Command Prompt by typing CMD in the search field located in the Start menu at the lower-left corner of your Windows desktop. You’ll see an icon that looks like a black screen with C:\ printed on it. Right-click CMD and select Run as Administrator. A new window with a text prompt should appear.

If you want a text copy of this list, you can do so by typing the following command.

ipconfig /displaydns > c:\dnshistory

This will export a text file to your C drive which you can access by going to My Computer or simply selecting Computer in the Start menu and navigating to C:\.

Open the file and select Notepad as the program you would like to use to view it. This file will contain a list of domain names accessed by the computer. If the DNS cache has not been flushed recently, this list can be quite long and difficult to understand. It’s probably best to flush the DNS a day or two before checking it so you can get a short list. Flushing the DNS now and then is also a great way to get over certain sites that may appear to be more sluggish than usual.

You can flush the DNS cache by typing the following command in the Command Prompt.

ipconfig /flushdns

This should help you get a leg up on exactly what sites are being visited on your computer. Keep in mind though, that no method is absolute or foolproof. It is possible that an advertisement or sneaky leak found its way into your teen’s search results, making it appear as though they were actively browsing one site when the reality is they were only exposed to a file hosted on the domain. It’s usually better to reconfirm suspicions before jumping to conclusions.

How Google Can Help You Start a Company

Starting a business is no small task, regardless of what it is your business does. Whether you provide a service, product, or a mixture of the two, your business will depend on tools to help you and your team get more done. Google has evolved from a simple search engine to an all-inclusive source of free tools and services that can help your startup thrive in its early stages.

Google’s services are cloud-based solutions that allow you and your team to work from anywhere together or individually, allowing for seamless collaboration and planning without having to invest large amounts of cash on an IT infrastructure. Granted, not everything your company needs to operate will be free, but there are a few tricks here that can save you a lot of money.

Google Analytics, Gmail, and others are extremely useful tools for private individuals and companies alike. We use Google Analytics here at LockerGnome quite a lot to better understand and predict what our readers enjoy, and what they don’t. For any Internet-dependent business out there, having quick and easy access to data about your visitors can help you determine what your site needs in order to grow, and where your traffic is coming from. Finding out that the majority of your visitors are coming from one site over another is helpful in determining where your ad dollars can best be placed. For a content site such as this one, it also helps in finding out whether or not a specific topic or type of article is of greater interest to our readers.

Here are some ways that Google can help you start a company.

Google Docs

Google Docs allows you to create and edit business documents including text, spreadsheets, presentations, tables, graphs, and more in a way that is both seamlessly collaborative and easy to share. You can even use Google Docs to create a form that can be published for your customers (or potential customers) to fill out which is instantly made available to you by way of a spreadsheet.

An integrated chat feature allows members of your team to come together and share ideas while looking at the same document. Add to that the fact that everything is kept nice and safe in the cloud, and you have a great cache of information available to you and your team at the click of a button.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts, a part of the Google+ social network, are great for collaborating with a remote team. Much of my days lately have been spent inside a Google Hangout with coworkers and customers, allowing us to discuss matters as if we were sitting in the same room even though we’re actually over 1,000 miles apart.

This is an excellent tool for any business that wants to cut the costs of flying someone out for a meeting or sacrificing that important face-to-face interaction for something less intuitive. Email and chat rooms are notorious for being poor conduits of expressing context, making it easy for someone to misinterpret your words or leave you in a seemingly endless cycle of back-and-forth messages while everyone in the team attempts to understand the initial thought or assignment. With Google Hangouts, people can ask questions and respond right away. They can even share their screen and/or a specific window to give visual examples of whatever it is you’re discussing.

Google Voice

Google Voice has been a lifesaver for me. I use Google Voice for just about anything business related, allowing me to forward calls and accept voice messages on Skype, my phone, and any other communications device I can attach a phone number to. When someone calls my business line, Google Voice rings my iPad, iPhone, desktop PC, and even my Android tablet all at once. I can choose to pick up the call from whatever device is nearest to me, and talk as if I were on the phone.

Voice mail is also translated into text and sent to me by way of a text message and email each time someone leaves a message. This gives me an instantaneous way to receive and find out about whatever it is someone called me for.

For a business with a rotating support staff, you could forward Google Voice to whomever it is that is currently on duty. The call logs and voice messages are all kept on a central account, allowing you to look back at anything you might have missed while someone else was handling the line.

Google Vault

As part of the Google Apps for Business product, Google Vault is one of those services that is exclusively useful for businesses that want to keep track of everything and anything that goes on in their company.

Google Vault is an optional extra priced at $50/year/user which allows you to retain data including email and chat messages, place legal holds on users which keeps them from deleting information, export that data, and prepare data for litigation and compliance audits.

For any business, this is one of those essential considerations that could meant the difference between having what you need to endure the legalities of operation and not having it. These days, more and more companies are operating with contractors and remote employees, and much of the information we deal with happens outside of a manageable intranet.

Google Calendar

Just about everyone with office experience understands just how testy an internal calendar system can be. You may be invited to a conference in conference room 12, but never receive the message because your connection to the internal server failed. Google Calendar allows you to keep a personal and business calendar separate, invite people you work with to meetings and other events with ease, and sync that calendar with virtually every mobile and desktop machine you have.

My Google Calendar syncs with my iPad and iPhone, and I keep it open throughout the day on my desktop and laptop. This enables me to receive alerts before meetings wherever I might be, and keep everyone on the team updated as to any schedule changes as they occur.

I’ve used Google Calendar to great success for managing production workflows as well. Knowing who can cover what timed event on any given day is a big plus, and one that is enhanced by Google Apps for Business.

You can also make a calendar public, allowing your business to keep the public updated on the latest news and events related to your company. This is especially helpful for venues and shops that have upcoming sales or booths at public gatherings.

Google Drive

Google Drive gives you and your team the ability to access and sync files both locally and in the cloud, accessible at any time. As part of Google Apps for Business, this is a great way to share videos and photos with your team as they related to shared project duties, as well as ensure that information is readily available even when conditions are less than optimal.

Have you ever been to a meeting where one member of the team forgot to load the latest version of a presentation or spreadsheet? Google Drive is a great solution for that, especially when coupled with Google Docs.

Google Sites

Intranet sites are a great way to keep a team updated with the latest news and information, especially in medium to large businesses that have multiple departments with a number of employees in each one. Google Sites makes setting up a group website pretty easy, allowing you and your team to organize objectives and ideas in a comprehensive fashion.

At one call center, we gave each team a site, allowing members to see team stats and other updates in addition to other information including team birthdays and events. Updates and process changes can also be better relayed by way of an internal intranet site.

Google Apps for Business

Many of the tools listed here can be used without the need of a dedicated business account within Google, but it should be noted here that the full power of Google’s cloud services can be better utilized through Google Apps for Business.

Google Apps for Business allows you to use your business’ domain as the primary managing hub of information. Every member of your team can be assigned a branded email address that is managed through Gmail with 25 GB of storage per address. These team members are also put in a managed cloud environment where you can store and access email, chat, and documents from anyone on your team without having to ask them to access their private account, which isn’t necessarily the best place for business documents to be.

Google Apps for Business gives you the same type of power you might expect from an internal network without the hassle of having to set up or manage the various tools yourself. I’ve been in offices that use Zimbra as an all-in-one internal mail, documents, and calendar solution and find Google Apps for Business to be better in virtually every category.

Craighton Miller, a contributor to LockerGnome and a business owner himself, said: “Google Apps for Business has the best management tools for giving out email addresses, and managing users. I think that Google Apps, over all, is the best when using email and other related apps.”

Neil Morris, another member of the community, added: “I’ve set up Google Apps for Education at my school. It has been nothing short of brilliant.”

Steve Mayne, a small business owner, recommends: “I run a very small business (five people) and we use it for everything from collaborative document editing, spreadsheets, chat/voice and of course: email. I would heartily recommend it to everyone.”

Where individual apps are great for person-to-person collaboration, Google Apps for Business creates a comprehensive solution for business owners that all-but replaces the need for an expensive IT infrastructure entirely. It’s a solid solution for small businesses without a lot of money to spend on an IT backbone. Keep in mind though that you are giving up some level of control by having these things managed by Google.

Downsides

While some of the features listed here require some financial investment on your part, Google’s primary business is in advertising. You shouldn’t be surprised to find an ad here and there, even within your day-to-day operations. This can be distracting or otherwise unpleasant for some people’s tastes, so it’s worth considering.

In addition, Google is all about gathering data. It’s important to read the terms and conditions of Google’s apps and services very carefully before committing your company and your customer’s data to the cloud.

Google is also a cloud business, and as such your data is transmitted back and forth over the Internet each time it’s accessed. Encrypted or not, all you need is one employee to leak a password and things could go sideways. Many companies still don’t allow employees to access email outside of the workplace for this very reason. Google is all about outside access, and that’s a consideration each business owner has to make.