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Privacy and security | UR Browser

Tag: tracking

Small team, great achievements and even bigger ambitions for 2019!

privacy browser vpn

2018: Guerrilla Anti-Tracking and Embedded Virtual Private Network Shielding

We are still a start-up and even though we are a small team, and do not always get to address all your messages and needs, they do concern us and we do listen to them! Thank you for that!

We are sharing all of them with our product team who is prioritizing each of those along with our planned features and improvements, so that they will be eventually addressed.

For the past year, we had to reduce the communication efforts in favor of focusing more on the product and achieving some major milestones:

  1. Improve stability and security with UR 61 release, (do we want to link to an old version in this post vs. just having a reference to it in plain text?) adding anti-fingerprinting capabilities and improving the HTTPs enforcing;
  2. Introduce a unique feature in the browser: a full VPN client with UR 62, not only to protect the browser traffic but all your device’s traffic;

We will not talk about the first one as we already have on the blog and it’s already too old, we are already working to bring UR to Chromium 71.

We do want to share with you more about the latest VPN feature and why we considered it such an import part of the puzzle.

Why does a browser need a VPN?

For those of you who are not aware of what a VPN is and why you should use one here is a short intro.

By its’ meaning a Virtual Private Network is an internet security service that allows users to access the Internet as though they were connected to a private network. This encrypts the Internet communications as well as providing a strong degree of anonymity. Some of the most common reasons people use VPNs are for location anonymity, the right to online privacy, to protect against snooping on public Internet connections, to circumvent Internet censorship, or to connect to a business’s internal network for remote work purposes.

Generally, when users create an Internet connection to visit a website or to access an online service, most Internet traffic is unencrypted and very public. The device that initiates the request through a browser or another app, will connect to their Internet Service Provider (ISP), and then the ISP will connect to the Internet to find the appropriate web server to fetch the request website or service. Information is exposed with every step of the Internet request. The IP address is exposed throughout the process, the ISP and any other intermediary can keep logs of the user’s browsing habits and interests. Moreover, the data flow between the user’s devices and the webservers is unencrypted, which creates opportunities for malicious actors to spy on the data or perpetrate attacks on the user, such as a man-in-the-middle attack.

When using a trusted VPN service to connect to the Internet, users gain a higher level of security and privacy by:

  • The VPN client connects to the ISP by creating an encrypted connection
  • The ISP connects the VPN client to the VPN server, maintaining the encrypted connection
  • The VPN server decrypts the received data from the user’s device and then connects to the Internet to access the web server in an unencrypted communication, exposing only the IP address of the VPN server and masking users’ IP

How VPN works. What is a VPN.

This is known as a ‘VPN tunnel’ the encrypted connection between the VPN Client and VPN server passes through the ISP, blocking the ISP and/or malicious actors from seeing a user’s activity.

 

Beware, VPN and Proxy extensions are not enough!

In the past UR explored, as did other competitors, the so-called ‘VPN extensions’ or ‘proxy-extensions.’ They offered a similar service as a VPN but with a few important drawbacks like: not fully encrypted communications and solely browser request protection, excluding by its tech limitations the requests issued by any other apps running on the device.  A potential negative effect of this lack of coverage could be – the location was masked while surfing websites w

ith UR, yet other local apps/services would expose user’s location when communicating with their servers on the Internet. To avoid such scenarios users would have had to subscribe in addition, to other VPN services, requiring the installation of an additional software: a VPN client.

We stopped that type of service a while ago when such weaknesses surfaced.  However, many players in the space continue to proposes ‘proxy-like’ features advertised as VPNs, while not offering true VPN protection.

Leveraging open-source, with the power of Open VPN and a great partnership (don’t want to promote another solution and took out the links), we have built a powerful and multi-faceted privacy took that combines the utility of a browser with the protection of a VPN.

In addition to standard private browsing features, UR Browser now offers the same level of protection as other stand-alone VPN clients. And as usual, we’ve made it extremely simple to use so that not only tech savvy users can benefit from it.

If this solution is appealing to you, check it out now ! (currently available only for Windows)

2019: Let the real privacy battle begin!

Still in beta but improving rapidly, here are some key updates you can expect from UR in 2019:

  • The latest Chromium patches (on Windows, and as soon as possible on Mac too)
  • Upgraded privacy and anti-tracking features
  • An improved browser anti-fingerprinting technology (more on browser anti-fingerprinting here)
  • A bunch of under-the-hood and functional fixes (for example online streaming services and translations services had been disabled due to privacy concerns, now will become optional)
  • A VPN build for Mac
  • New features like secure account synchronization, improved bookmarks and offline web content management
  • Integrated private Search engine

We are considering opening our source code too while mobile and Linux versions are in planning as well, and should go into development later this year.

These are some of our resolutions for 2019, wish us good luck to achieve the most!

 

 

The Dark Side of Big Data

big-data

Every click, like, purchase and search is potentially recorded, analyzed and stored. What impact does this have on our privacy?

What is Big Data? 

“Big Data” is an umbrella phrase used to mean a massive volume of both structured and unstructured data that is so large, it is difficult to process using traditional database and software techniques.

Big Data has the potential to improve operations and make faster, more intelligent decisions. It’s not just companies that are collecting and analyzing these massive stores of data.

  • The healthcare industry is using it to better research cures and treatment options.
  • City planners are using it to build smarter cities that waste less.
  • Environmental organizations are using it to track the progression of climate change.

This data, once captured, formatted, manipulated, stored, and analyzed can help a company or organization gain useful insight to predict behavior, increase revenues, obtain or retain customers and recognize emerging patterns, among others.

Continue reading

Cross-Device Targeting and Those Shoe Ads That Won’t Go Away

Do you know why the shoes you looked at on Amazon suddenly appear on different sites around the web, even from your computer to smartphone?

Researchers from the School of Information Studies (iSchool) recently published a study that uncovers the general public’s blindness towards online behavioral advertising and the privacy implications behind information that advertisers collect.

converse-shoes

You didn’t buy them and now they’re going to follow you everywhere.

Consumers are generally in the dark not only about how much they are being tracked online but exactly how it works.

According to the research, a sweeping two-thirds of consumers did not realize that most online advertising involved third-party cookies. This research demonstrated that consumers are not well informed enough about just what types of information are being collected about them.

“These guys [third parties] have an agreement with Amazon, they are like, ’Oh, I’m just going to take information from this guy’. Facebook gets money by displaying the ads sent by these guys [third parties]…this branch [third parties] allows that to happen. So in a way it is a neutral third party.”

– One research participant, when explaining how she believes third-party cookies to operate

Advertisers are increasingly employing cross-device tracking, which presents additional privacy and security risks. Cross-device tracking actually allows ad companies and publishers to construct a consumer’s profile based on their activity throughout computers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches and various IoT devices.

What is cross-device tracking? 

Also referred to as cross-device targeting, this is in fact several different methods that are used to identify and track you across multiple devices—smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. The goal of this is to match your browsing data on one device with another. For example, knowing that Tablet X and Computer Y are the same person.

Publishers, platforms and ad tech companies want to know as much about you as possible, so they can target you across multiple screens. Imagine shopping for sunglasses on your computer, seeing an ad for them later on your tablet, and then receiving a text message with a special promotional code on your smartphone.

Offline data is often combined with online data to reveal consumer tendencies such as browsing history, physical location, retail purchases, watched TV programs, vacation plans and so on. This study confirmed that the majority of the people are more concerned about what types of personal information are being collected on them, rather than who is doing the collecting. The fear of consumer data falling into the hands of those with malicious intentions alludes to why consumers block advertisers and advertising networks from their browser in the first place.

While some advertising companies already offer the ability to reject behavioral targeting, internet users are generally not given any indication that they are being tracked, let alone how. If these blocking tools operated on an information-based blocking model, rather than a tracker-based model, consumers could decide the information to share, and advertisers could still receive some data from consumers, which would help them correctly target ads. It is indeed a compromise, yet it yields benefits to both parties involved.

Read the entire study here.

If you’re concerned about your online privacy, you’re not alone. UR is a web browser created specifically to keep your online data private and safe. Learn more here.

Sources

Federal Trade Commission, https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2016/10/00030-129045.pdf

AdExchanger, https://adexchanger.com/data-exchanges/2016-edition-marketers-guide-cross-device-identity/ 

AdTriba, https://blog.adtriba.com/2016/06/28/cross-device-tracking-and-marketing-attribution/

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