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Archive for July 2013

Private Internet Access Review – Only The Paranoid Survive

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I bought a 1 year subscription to Private Internet Access (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com) about three months ago in order to protect my privacy when traveling and to ensure that my information was protected at my house.  I live in a high density neighborhood where I can see at least 10 WiFi access points from my laptop. At home I regularly check my router logs to ensure there are no new users but I’m paranoid that someone will hack in and cover their tracks.

Private Internet Access gives you access to VPN clients in many countries. They assign you a username and password when you sign-up and this is used to log into their servers worldwide. They state that they keep no logs and store no data. However take this with a grain of salt and avoid passing sensetive information via non-HTTPS connections. For additional protection you can daisy-chain your own server in the flow to get more privacy.

I chose Private Internet Access because they were highly rated at the VPN sub-Reddit, they have a representative on Reddit answering questions, and because they offer clients for all major operating systems.

So far I’ve had no issues and they say they don’t throttle bandwidth.  My usage is light but I have a feeling I might be restricted if I tried to pull 10TB of data through their servers.

Cost:

Private Internet Access is relatively cheap.  At one year, it is cheaper than hosting your own VPN server and definitely much less hassle.  A one-year subscription costs $40, one month is $7, and six months costs $36.  It is apparent that they steer you towards the 1 year plan.  They occasionally have discounts so keep your eye on the Reddit VPN page.

Android Client:

The Android client is very easy to use. Its usage can be summarized in three steps:
1) Download and install from the Android Play Store
2) Launch app and enter your username and password
3) Click the ‘Connect’ button

You can optionally select a server but it defaults to picking the fastest host.

A nice feature is that the app shows the current up/down transfer rate as well as the total usage for that session. However when transitioning from wireless to the cell network and vice-versa the app introduces additional delay as it gets disconnected and needs to re-authenticate with the VPN server. This is annoying because it usually happens when I’m walking out of a building checking my messages or getting directions.

PIA Android Login Screen

PIA Android Login

PIA Android Select Server Screen

PIA Android Select Server

PIA Android Status Screen

PIA Android Status Screen

Windows Client:

The Windows client is equally easy to use. Installation and execution can be summarized in four steps:
1) Download from Private Internet Access
2) Run executable
3) Enter your password
4) Run

PIA Windows Screen

PIA Windows Connect Screen

PIA Windows Login Screen

PIA Windows Login Screen

Linux Client:

Linux client setup proved to be difficult. Rather than providing a client, PIA provides instructions to perform the setup. While the instructions worked in a graphical Ubuntu VM on my laptop, they do not work on my non-GUI DigitalOcean VPS. I was able to figure out an alternate way to perform the setup however it took a lot of digging. It would be nice if PIA incorporated instructions for manual setup and connection on their site.

Pros:

  • Privacy
  • It is cool to connect to server in Romania and see the Google Romania page show up.  However using it is impractical due to latency
  • Multiple sites around the world to reduce delay wherever you go
  • Easy setup

Cons:

  • Android client introduces delay as it re-authenticates when transitioning between data providers
  • Private Internet Access says they don’t log data and that they would reject PRISM monitoring requests.  Take this with a grain of sand and always encrypt your data!  This does not guarantee that your data is not being monitored at PIA’s outgoing ISP or that your home computer does not have a keylogger.  Or if they are really watching you!

Final Thoughts:

It is hard to see if connecting to Private Internet Access is protecting me. I’ve used it at home, around town, and when traveling in hotels, coffee shops, and airports. As far as I know none of my data has been compromised. I think it is hard to see if it effective, but it is an additional layer of protection and you protect yourself just by being more difficult to hack than the next guy. Ultimately the only way to be safe online is to not go online!

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Written by M Kapoor

July 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Mighty Plugs – World’s Finest Ear Plugs Review

with 4 comments

I recently bought some Mighty Plugs Earplugs to help block noisy co-workers at work and to use while traveling. The earplugs are marketed as the ‘highest blocking‘ and ‘most comfortable‘ earplug in the world. They have a sticky putty like consistency which helps them mold to the shape of your ear. This stickiness allows them to attach to your ear without being too invasive.
My choice was between purchasing these or the Howard Leight Laser earplugs. I ended up getting the Mighty Plugs because I hadn’t tried them before and they seemed interesting. I’ve been using the Mighty Plugs for six months and so far they’ve been good. They mold to your ears and are good at blocking external sound. However they are expensive, sticky, and get nasty after a while.

I’ve decided to go with a pros/cons format instead of my usual review style. Read more below.

Pros:

  • Mighty Plugs don’t go too far into the ear canal. The earplug molds into your ear cavity and canal to create a full seal. They form a good seal but can come out while sleeping or chewing. The Leight Laser plugs are more invasive and can also come out in similar conditions.
  • 20 year shelf-life (so they say). Leight Laser earplugs will probably last longer due to their synthetic construction.
  • Mighty Plugs last 25-30 uses but they pick-up dust and residue over time which reduces their effectiveness. Leight Laser earplugs last 2-3 uses and you can afford to have a new pair whenever you want. You also are not pushing in old buildup into your ears. Over the long run the Howard Leight earplugs are cheaper, 6 pairs of Mighty Plugs at 30 uses means one pack of 6 can be used 180 times. A box of Howard Leight will last at least 200 uses and you can get a new pair every time.

Cons:

  • Sticky lanolin leaves a tacky residue on fingers and on ears.
  • Earplus are sticky so they pick up dust, stuff from your fingers, and earwax from your ears. Re-use means you are pushing this stuff into your ears regularly. You also have to ensure you have clean hands before you start or you’ll contaminate the Mighty Plugs for the rest of your uses.
  • Need to knead them for 30-40 seconds before first use and then 15-20 seconds for each subsequent use. Leight Laser earplugs are ready to go in about 2-seconds: squeeze, insert, and hold in place for a moment.
  • Very expensive – 6 pairs for $20 plus $5 for shipping. Leight Laser earplugs are $20 for 200 with free shipping if ordering over $25.
  • Shipping is padded by $1 when ordering from Amazon.com – Mighty Plugs performs a bait and switch to show matching price from their site but then rip off the user via shipping. This is probably done to make up the money they pay to Amazon for their commission since Amazon does not charge commission on shipping charges.

Overall:
This is a decent earplug. However, the tackiness, residue build-up, and expense are major detractions. Their tendency to break their seal is about the same that of regular earplugs coming out. I think they are good for office and other clean environments. They are useless for outside work due to their tendency to pick up dust from the air and your fingers.

Written by M Kapoor

July 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Posted in review

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