Five Computer Security Myths, Debunked by Experts

We're no strangers to helping you secure your computer, but there are some computer security myths and stories that keep getting passed around, even though they're clearly not true. We sat down with a few computer security experts to separate fact from fiction.

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Five Computer Security Myths, Debunked by Experts

We're no strangers to helping you secure your computer, but there are some computer security myths and stories that keep getting passed around, even though they're clearly not true. We sat down with a few computer security experts to separate fact from fiction.

Read more...

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Five Computer Security Myths, Debunked by Experts

We're no strangers to helping you secure your computer, but there are some computer security myths and stories that keep getting passed around, even though they're clearly not true. We sat down with a few computer security experts to separate fact from fiction.

Read more...

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Five Computer Security Myths, Debunked by Experts

We're no strangers to helping you secure your computer, but there are some computer security myths and stories that keep getting passed around, even though they're clearly not true. We sat down with a few computer security experts to separate fact from fiction.

Read more...

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Timesify Disguises Your Embarrassing Web Browsing

If you find yourself embarrassed of the sites you frequent—or you're just browsing at work—Timesify can switch on the class by making whatever you're reading look like a New York Times article.

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The Best Bookmarklets that Make Mobile Browsing Less Annoying

Bookmarklets are great for adding functionality to your browser without dealing with extensions. They also happen to work great on mobile browsers like Safari and Chrome. With them, you can add a button to instantly fix smartphone browser problems and send a page to various services, change font sizes, and more. Let's make a list of the best of these kinds of bookmarklets.

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The Best Bookmarklets that Make Mobile Browsing Less Annoying

Bookmarklets are great for adding functionality to your browser without dealing with extensions. They also happen to work great on mobile browsers like Safari and Chrome. With them, you can add a button to instantly fix smartphone browser problems and send a page to various services, change font sizes, and more. Let's make a list of the best of these kinds of bookmarklets.

Read more...

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Open tabs accumulate pretty fast, and on the iPhone, it's hard to tell how many you even have open. The more tabs you have open, the slower your browser is going to move, so if you want to close them all at once, iPad Insight points out that you can just enable private browsing.

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How Open Browser Tabs Affect Your Battery Life

We're all pretty aware that we probably shouldn't be running a million tabs at once just for the sake of our own sanity, but it's also a wear on your system resources. Wired decided to take a look to see if that also has an effect on your laptop's battery life.

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Windows: If you've ever played a full-screen game and wished you could open a browser or respond to an IM without tabbing out, Overwolf is the utility for you. The app adds useful tools so you can look up strategies, chat with friends, control your music, and more, all without leaving the game.

Overwolf works like Steam's built-in overlay, but is even less intrusive. You press a set of hotkeys or mouse over the widget on the side of the screen (you can see how this works in the video above) and a button appears with tools you can use. In Overwolf's case, instead of getting what the service provides by default, you can choose the apps included. Overwolf has its own mini "app store" that has customized tools for Gmail, Skype, Facebook, IRC, even streaming music services like Pandora and Grooveshark. There's even a full web browser, and mini-apps for specific games (a crafting advisor for Team Fortress 2, a talent calculator for World of Warcraft, timers for DOTA and LoL, and a Battlelog viewer for Battlefield 3) that can help you out in-game.

The utility is free, and a Mac version is on the way soon. If you want to give it a try, you'll need .NET installed, and you can check if your favorite games are supported here, although most popular titles are.

Thanks to reader Jordan for sending in the tip!

Overwolf

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Dear Lifehacker, I've read about why I really should use a VPN and I've been looking into different providers, but there's one thing I'm worried about. Can't a VPN provider just look at my traffic all they want and see what I'm doing? Don't I just have to trust them not to spy on me? If that's true, how do I pick one I can trust, when they can all see what I'm doing?

Sincerely, Watching the Watchers

Dear Watching the Watchers, To a certain extent, you're right. You do have to trust that your VPN service provider has your best interests at heart, because you're relying on them to secure your connection, keep everything encrypted, and to protect your activity from prying eyes. You're connected to their network and their servers, and you have to trust that when they say your exit IP is in Sweden, for example, it really is and they're not just obfuscating something else. It's true—when you sign up for a VPN, you put a lot of trust in the company you sign up with.

Why Trust In Your VPN Provider Is Important

Not all VPN service providers are worth your trust. Some diligently log your connection times, dates, IP addresses, keep track of how long you're connected, and some even keep an eye on the types of traffic that you send through their networks while you're logged in. They'll tell you it's in order to make sure you're not doing anything illegal, or anything that would damage their network, but that level of snooping does kind of go against the whole purpose of a VPN, doesn't it?

The best ones keep as few logs as possible, and aren't interested in what you do while you're connected at all. Some don't even track when you're logged in or out, and even if they do have to keep some logs, they purge them periodically in order to protect your privacy. After all, the reason you pay for a VPN is for privacy and security, and if they keep their own data, they're the weak link in that chain. Here's are some tips on how to research a VPN and decide whether they're a good match for you.

Ask Yourself: What Are You Using a VPN For?

Whether you have a VPN provider already or you're searching for a good one, the first thing you should ask yourself is why you want one in the first place. Now, we've made the case for why most people should have one and what types of people need a VPN, but ultimately most needs boil down to two things: Security and privacy, or some combination of the two.

If security is all you're concerned with, and you have a VPN provided to you by your school or company, you're already set. In fact, almost any VPN will cover you from the security angle, because you're only really concerned about protecting your activity from prying eyes, presumably on the same network that you're on—like a hotel, coffee shop, or airport's free Wi-Fi. Of course, you still need to make sure that your VPN provider isn't just sniffing your traffic themselves and making themselves the security issue, but we'll get to that in a moment.

If privacy is your concern, you have more to consider. Privacy-minded VPN users have to trust that their provider isn't watching what they're doing or willing to roll over and hand off their activity, logs, and personal data to whoever comes calling with a fancy-looking letter written in legalese. They also have to worry about what information the VPN provider themselves are keeping, and whether that information can be turned against them, sold to third parties, used for marketing, or just kept forever just in case someone comes calling. In either case, all it takes to either allay your fears or warn you off of a VPN provider is a little research. Here's how to go about it.

Do Your Homework

This should go without saying, but you shouldn't sign up for a VPN service without at least looking at their privacy policy and terms of service. That should go for anything you sign up for, but with VPNs it's a bit more important. With free VPN providers, you should definitely do as much research as possible. Free providers have to make money somehow, and if it's not on premium plans or usage limits, after which you have to pay, you should assume they're making their money off of your data, logging your activity, and using it for marketing purposes.

Services we've mentioned, like previously mentioned Hotspot Shield, CyberGhost VPN, and HideMan, another service we like, are all great examples of free VPN providers that don't log, go out of their way to say so, and that support their free services by also offering premium and paid plans that offer more features (in the case of HotSpot Shieldf and CyberGhost) or more hours of use (in the case of Hideman).

Paid VPN providers are a different matter. Ideally, because you pay for their service, they should cater to both the privacy and security minded, but that's not true at all. Some providers are security minded, not privacy minded, and market themselves as such: You can use their services to stay safe online, but don't come with an expectation of privacy. If someone comes with a subpoena or a Cease and Desist, they'll cancel your account and turn over your data to whoever's asking for it, and they're not afraid to admit it. Here are some quick tips to help you research paid VPN services:

Google their name and "logging" in the same query. It may sound simple, but it's actually really effective. You'll usually turn up the provider's own privacy policy (which, in the worst cases can be so buried it's difficult to find), which can answer the question right away. Some VPN providers are proud to say they don't keep logs, or that they only keep access logs in order to bill you for usage, or that they do log, but they purge daily or weekly. Some will try to dance around the issue by saying they keep "whatever logs are required by law," which really means whatever law enforcement has asked them for—which could be anything. Others won't address the issue at all—that's where the rest of the results come in. You'll probably find other sites and articles discussing the company's logging policies, which can help you figure out if they care about your privacy as much as they care about your security.Don't be afraid to ask outright. if you don't get the answer you want from simple searches, contact them and ask what their logging and data retention policies are. Again, this is something you'd want to do with premium providers more than free ones—you don't want to spend your money unless you're sure what you're getting.Don't fall for the geography trap. Some people swear only by VPN providers outside their country for privacy. They're convinced that their local laws are privacy unfriendly, or that a provider in their country can be manipulated by other companies, legal wrangling, or law enforcement, and they'll just roll over and hand off whatever private data they have on their users. Trust us: geography won't save you. Living under the assumption that because a VPN provider is in another country it's immune to your local laws or will defend you when pressured is a false sense of security. Both law enforcement and private industry groups can exert authority and pressure anywhere in the world they choose, and in most cases they'll get the results they want if they push hard enough. Otherwise, they'll just pressure the government in that jurisdiction to act on their behalf. Put simply: Don't assume that because you live in the US and you use a VPN provider in The Netherlands that you're immune from the law, or that a VPN provider in your own country wouldn't fight harder for your privacy than one overseas. In some cases this is true, but logging, privacy policies, and the general philosophy of the company are generally more important than physical location. This thread at Wilder Security is essential reading on the topic.Pay attention to technology. When asked back in 2008 by CNET about WiTopia's privacy stance and technology, WiTopia president Bill Bullock explained that a number of single-server, fly-by-night VPN providers were beginning to pop up, making big privacy and security promises without actually having the technology to back them up. Since then, the number has only grown—it doesn't take much to set up a VPN concentrator anymore, and all it really takes is a few friends in a few different cities and countries willing to run their own servers to build a small network. However, if the company doesn't have the right technology on the back-end, they could be putting both your security and your privacy at risk, or wind up being victims of data theft, hacking, or spying themselves. When you're researching VPN providers, make sure they're above board with the level of encryption they offer, the security features they provide, and are open about who's reviewed them and the press they've gotten. Then double-check those reviews and look for independent opinions of their service, just to be sure.

VPN services are thriving, and new subscriptions are big money. It's not uncommon for a VPN provider to play dirty, whitewash their issues, and put on a good face to attract customers. When we did our last Hive Five on VPN providers, we saw the ugly side of the business so clearly that we decided to do our own independent analysis to clear the air and make our own recommendations.

The best thing you can do is to take everything a provider themselves says with a grain of salt. If they're good, they'll back up their own claims, and welcome you to do as much additional research into them as you'd like. In addition to our guide to the topic, our friends at TorrentFreak recently updated their guide as well, and it's worth reviewing.

Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

VPNs aren't perfect. One thing you should always remember is that in general, traffic between your VPN exit node or exit server and your eventual destination is unencrypted—so while someone snooping on the other end may not get all the way back to your computer or location, if your data is unencrypted or sent in the clear (sites not using HTTPS, encrypted passwords, etc) it can be easily intercepted anyway. Using a VPN is no excuse for lax personal security.

Remember, whatever VPN provider you choose, you can always use additional privacy tools in conjunction with it. We've discussed some of those tools in detail, but it makes sense to keep them running. You could always combine services, like Tor and a VPN (although you really shouldn't use Tor for file-sharing traffic, if that's your goal) for extra anonymity, even if it doesn't offer any additional security. If you want to go that route, this thread at Wilder Security discusses the issue in detail. Similarly, TorrentFreak has an excellent guide to making your VPN even more secure.

Finally, you can always roll your own VPN if you have an always-on device at home, or a router that supports OpenVPN. You could even turn a $35 Raspberry Pi into a personal VPN you can connect to while you're on the go. Of course, this option is for the security-minded, not the privacy minded (as your traffic is only encrypted between a user and your home VPN server or personal router, and then unencrypted as it goes out to your ISP) but it's always an option, and add-ons like Privoxy (which we've shown you how to set up) can offer some anonymity for your home VPN.

We know it's a tricky topic, but you are right, Watching the Waters: Ultimately you have to trust your VPN provider has your best interests in mind, but the only way to get that level of trust is to do your homework, verify their promises and services are legit, and then take additional steps to protect yourself even if they're not, or they fail you somehow. There are good providers out there committed to your security and your privacy (we've mentioned some of them) that are worth your trust.

Sincerely, Lifehacker

Have a question or suggestion for Ask Lifehacker? Send it to tips+asklh@lifehacker.com.

Photos by Maksim Kabakou (Shutterstock), Maksim Kabakou (Shutterstock), Maksim Kabakou (Shutterstock), Maksim Kabakou (Shutterstock), and Maksim Kabakou (Shutterstock).

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Chrome: If you're deep into a bunch of research, or you're just the type who has hundreds of tabs open, it's hard to keep track of everything. Contextinator is a Chrome app that helps manage those sessions by dividing them up into various projects.

When you create a new project in Contextinator, you're taken to a screen where you can add bookmarks, tasks, people, and emails. As you add more things to your project, they all exist in a single window and all of yours open tabs are saved. When you load up the project again, all your tabs are restored and you're taken to the project homepage with your tasks, bookmarks, and everything else. Essentially, it makes it so you can save all your research—whether it's for a PhD or a trip to Rome—in one place and then open it all instantly. If you're researching two things at once, you can save each of those browser states all in one project so you don't get confused.

Contextinator also integrates with services like Gmail, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Trello so that when you visit one of those sites you can quickly add more info to your project. It's not the most elegant app and takes a bit of getting used to, but it's robust and useful for big projects. Check out the developer's web site for a few videos of Contextinator in action.

Contextinator | via One Thing Well

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Chrome: If you're deep into a bunch of research, or you're just the type who has hundreds of tabs open, it's hard to keep track of everything. Contextinator is a Chrome app that helps manage those sessions by dividing them up into various projects.

When you create a new project in Contextinator, you're taken to a screen where you can add bookmarks, tasks, people, and emails. As you add more things to your project, they all exist in a single window and all of yours open tabs are saved. When you load up the project again, all your tabs are restored and you're taken to the project homepage with your tasks, bookmarks, and everything else. Essentially, it makes it so you can save all your research—whether it's for a PhD or a trip to Rome—in one place and then open it all instantly. If you're researching two things at once, you can save each of those browser states all in one project so you don't get confused.

Contextinator also integrates with services like Gmail, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Trello so that when you visit one of those sites you can quickly add more info to your project. It's not the most elegant app and takes a bit of getting used to, but it's robust and useful for big projects. Check out the developer's web site for a few videos of Contextinator in action.

Contextinator | via One Thing Well

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Google Chrome is a great browser as it is, but that doesn't mean it doesn't come with its share of annoyances and curiosities. You can fix some of these, as well as add new features by playing around with Chrome's experimental settings. Here are a few we really like.

When you type chrome://flags into your URL bar in Chrome, you get all kinds of crazy options for experimental features. Some of these can fix problems with Chrome, others do absolutely nothing, and others might wreak havoc on your system, so use them with caution. With that in mind, here are a few we've tested and love, although your mileage may vary.

Generate Passwords

If you're not using a password manager like LastPass (and you really should be) then you probably find yourself just reusing the same password over and over. That's no good for security, and while you're better off with a password manager, if you're holding out, you can generate new passwords right in Chrome. Just head to the Flags page, and enable, "Enable password generation." Now when you go to a new signup page, you'll see a small key icon. Click that, and Chrome will automatically make a password for you that's synced across all your versions of Chrome.

Tab Overview with a Gesture

Mac only: If you're a Mac user on a laptop you know the trials of having way too many tabs open. They line up across the top of the browser and suddenly you can't tell which tab is which. If you enable the experimental feature, "Tab Overview Mac," you can get a quick look at all the tabs you have open by holding down Option and swiping down with three fingers. It's incredibly handy.

Tab Stacking

Windows only: If you're on Windows and have a tab problem, Chrome has you covered there as well. When you enable "Tab Stacking" your tabs automatically start stacking on top of each other instead of just side-by-side when you have a ton open. As Ghacks points out, it's a feature that's been in Opera for a while. Tab stacking still needs a little work on Chrome, but it's better than nothing.

Speed Up Chrome's Performance

Whether Chrome is running slow or you simply want it to run faster, you have a few different options that can help boost performance. Enabling any of these can cause some problems with different video cards, so if you run into problems you might need to turn them off. Head into the flags page and enable these settings:

GPU compositing on all pages: This option should speed up Chrome across the board by giving your GPU more stuff to do. We've had mixed luck with this one, so use at your own risk. Threaded compositing: As cool as the name sounds, you'll probably only get smoother scrolling when a page is loading with this enabled. Still, that's helpful enough for those slow-loading pages.GPU Accelerated SVG Filters: This might speed up graphics-heavy sites that have a lot of effects like shaders going on.

Those are the only ones that will speed up performance without significantly changing how web pages look. Other options, like "Disable accelerated 2D canvas," might speed up performance but it might have a negative effect on how pages are displayed.

Make Browsing On Touch Screen Computers Bearable

Chrome's not made for touch screen computers, and that means that browsing on something like a Microsoft Surface is next to impossible. Thankfully, our own Melanie Pinola tested out a few of the experimental features and recommends enabling the following flags: "Touch Optimized UI," "Enable Touch Events," and "Enable Touch Initiated Drag and Drop." Combined, those should make it possible to use Chrome on your Windows touch device without giving you a headache.

Keep an Eye On What Your Extensions Are Doing

Chrome extensions want access to all kinds of data, and if you're uncomfortable with that you might want to peek under the hood and see what they're doing. When you turn on "Enable extension activity UI" a new option is added to the Extensions tab in your Settings. When you click "Activity," Chrome starts logging what the extension is doing so you can get a look at it and make sure it's not doing anything you don't want. It's a little hard to read, but you can at least decipher a little bit of what it's up to.

Fix Annoyances

The other thing that Chrome's Flags do is fix common annoyances. Occasionally, Chrome adds a new feature that makes things work differently, or that starts shooting out annoying notifications. The first place to check is the flags to see if you can disable it, but here are a few that fix common annoyances:

Revert to the Old "New Tab" Page: Just find "Enable Instant Extended API" and set it to "disabled." This should bring back the old "new tab" page with history and "recently closed" at the forefront.Turn Off Chrome Notification in Windows: If the way Chrome's notification icon sticks around after you close it is annoying you then turning it off is pretty simple. Just find "Enable Rich Notifications" and set it to disabled. That should keep the notifications from popping up when you're not actually running Chrome.Smooth Scrolling: If you're not getting smooth scrolling on Windows or Linux, turning this feature on should get smooth scrolling working properly.

These are just a few we've tested and enjoyed. For the most part, you can fiddle around with the Chrome flags to your hearts content. Just make a note of what you're enabling (or disabling) so you can fix it in the future. Not every setting is going to work for everyone, and a few that sounded great, like "Enable desktop guest mode" and "Full History Sync" didn't work for us at all, but you might be able to get them running.

Photo by MARCELODLT and Evgeny Atamanenko.

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Click here to read Why You Should Start Using a VPN (and How to Choose the Best One for Your Needs) You may know what a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is; you probably don't use one. You really should be using a VPN, and even if you don't think so now, at some point in the future you may consider it as important as your internet connection. More
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Click here to read Most Popular VPN Service Provider: Astrill VPN Picking a VPN service provider to keep you safe and secure usually comes down to features, price, server location, and performance—not to mention the provider's track record on privacy and data logging. Last week, we asked you which providers you thought were the best for all of those things, and you weighed in. Then we took at look at the top five VPN service providers, based on those nominations. Now we're back to highlight the overall winner. More
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Click here to read Five Best VPN Service Providers Whether you're killing time at your favorite coffee shop or you're traveling for work and don't want your data falling into the wrong hands, you need a VPN to keep your traffic encrypted and secure. Even so, which VPN service is the best, and which offers the best combination of reliability, features, security, and affordability? We asked you, and this week we're going to look at the top five VPN service providers based on your nominations. More
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Click here to read Hideman Masks Your IP Address and Location, Offers Anonymous Browsing Windows/Android: Hideman is a VPN service that's free for 4 hours per week and lets you select the country you want to look like you're coming from while you surf, perfect for getting around regional restrictions on streaming media services. More
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Click here to read DeadMouse Opens Links with Just Your Keyboard Chrome: You can do almost all of your web browsing with just keyboard shortcuts, but in Chrome one of the missing features is the ability to open links inside a page. With the DeadMouse extension, you get that ability just by typing the words in the link. More
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Click here to read Make Chrome Less Distracting with Vimium (and These Settings) Coders love text editor Vim because you can do everything from the keyboard, avoiding detours into into slow, distracting mouse-click work. Here's how a single Chrome extension can change your browsing habits in similar get-what-you-came-for fashion. More
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Click here to read Swipe Safari Adds Tons of Configurable Gestures to Safari on iPhone iOS: (Jailbroken): For whatever reason the mobile version of Safari doesn't have the same handy swipe gestures as its desktop counterpart. If you're looking to add those same gestures to the your iPhone or iPad, Swipe Safari does just that and allows you to customize your gestures in a variety of ways. More
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Click here to read Incognito This Opens Your Current Page in a Private Browsing Window Chrome: Whatever you use private browsing for, sometimes you want to start your secret browsing from the page you're already on. Incognito This moves your current page to a new incognito window, so you can continue browsing privately without starting from scratch. More
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Click here to read Onion Browser Is an Encrypted Mobile Browser for iOS iOS: Private browsing isn't too difficult on a desktop computer, but keeping your web travels anonymous on an iPhone is a bit more difficult. If you want to hide your every move, Onion Browser is an app that uses Tor proxy servers to hide your activities from ISPs, other Wi-FI connections, and more. More
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Click here to read Collusion for Chrome Shows You Who's Tracking You on the Web, As You Browse We've mentioned Collusion for Firefox in the past, but the folks at Disconnect have rebuilt the plugin for Chrome users as well, giving them the same live view of how the sites you visit on the web are tracking and transmitting data about you as you browse. As you browse, you can pull up the Collusion map to see which sites have dropped tracking cookies on your system and who else those sites send data to, all in real-time. More
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Click here to read Build Your Own VPN to Pimp Out Your Gaming, Streaming, Remote Access, and Oh Yeah, Security Even if you have no idea what a VPN is (it's a Virtual Private Network), the acronym alone conjures visions of corporate firewalls and other relatively boring things, right? While a VPN is a common corporate security tool, it's also one of the coolest things you can set up for personal use that you probably have never tried. More
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