Google VPN

Tech Republic is reporting that Google will launch their own personal VPN service. While the service is still in BETA and only available to Android 5.15 users, this could still be a game changer for the VPN industry as a whole.

Google VPN

Is a Google VPN Practical?

I would trust a Google VPN to help secure my data from hackers when connected to an open network. Google’s VPN would be useful for most of geo unblocking features. It’s unlikely that Google will protect users interested in downloading torrents. One of the biggest question marks is whether Google would risk further upsetting the Chinese government by offering a VPN intended to bypass the Great Firewall. No one should trust Google VPN if they are trying to evade government spying. The company has a long history of having no backbone when it comes to standing up to the government. Speed and price are likely to be the best attributes. Deep pockets and sophisticated infrustructure will allow the company to give away lightening fast VPN service.

Ethical Question

Almost every aspect of the Internet is becoming harder and harder for the little guy to compete. I jokingly tell people in 20 years Google and Amazon will be the only two companies left battling for American Web dominance. Unfortunately, this prophecy grows closer to reality on a near daily basis. Personally, Amazon and Google strike me as innovative companies that care. It still makes me nervous to have such consolidated power.

Think about the drug companies. Most new drugs are innovated by smaller companies. Once a development becomes promising enough a larger, more established drug company offers the smaller company a boat full of money. Innovation is hindered because the smaller company is then burdened by bureaucracy. A company isn’t going to compete with itself. Many ingenous ideas are shelved because the company already has a chosen technology, usually the one they have invested the most in.

Can Google Do A Good Job?

VPN technology is pretty straightforward. It isn’t like Google is trying to make a new social network here. I’m sure they can make killer apps. They already have plenty of money to buy the fastest servers, and more network routing experience than anyone except maybe Amazon (cloud). It’s hard to believe that Google can screw this up.

Could Google VPN Be Good for the Industry?

Competition drives innovation. At least that is the basis for our capitalist system. The best way for Google to use it’s deep pockets is to create more secure protocols. It’s fair to say the NSA has cracked most VPN encryption. If Google can develop an improved way to encrypt the data, I am all for this foray into an industry I hold dear. It would be even better if this technological advancement could be shared, improving security across the industry as a whole.

What Is the Best Part of Google VPN?

If Google is good at anything, it is garnering publicity. Most average people don’t understand the benefits of VPN technology. Having the Google PR machine espousing the virtues of this technology will improve general understanding. This should be great for most companies in the space for at least the short term. I’d be scared if Google gave the service away for free. A free VPN from a company like Google has the ability to put many innovative companies out of business. I’ll cross my fingers that Google does no evil in harming the current innovative landscape.

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PIA Vs. HMA

PIA Vs. HMA

Private Internet Access and HideMyAss are arguably the two biggest names in the VPN industry. At the time of this article, they are currently the #1 and #2 rated VPN services on my site. Despite the close ranking, PIA and HMA pursue very different business models. In fact some might argue that they are opposite ends of the spectrum.

Different Business Models

make it rain

PIA is the epitome of keep it simple stupid. They have servers in 13 different countries. This number sounds miniscule compared to the 172 countries for HMA, but who on god’s green earth really needs VPN servers in 172 countries? The average VPN user is going to commonly connect to servers in 2 or maybe 3 countries on a regular basis. By deploying servers in relatively few countries, PIA is able to keep their price low. They cost roughly ½ of HideMyAss on a monthly basis ($6.95 vs. $11.52). HMA’s strategy allows them to have servers close to almost everyone on the planet. This means they should be able to offer better speeds to far more people around the globe. This is a major benefit for those customers who are mostly interested in the security and privacy benefits of a VPN as opposed to accessing geo-graphically restricted content. I personally am a cheap bastard. I don’t want to help fund the overhead to have a server in every country across the globe.

Software

Software for both Private Internet Access and HideMyAss is good. PIA has desktop software for Windows and Mac users. Unbuntu users are left in the cold, but OpenVPN configuration instructions were given for using a terminal window in version 12.04. Oddly, they have an OpenVPN Android app, but only provide how to instructions for iOS L2TP and OpenVPN protocols.

private internet access mac software

private internet access mac software

HMA Pro software is available for Windows, Mac and even Linux. They also have apps for iOS 5+ and Android 4+. I like the HMA software better because there is more to it. This all goes back to the business model though. PIA tries to keep costs low and service quality high. HMA tries to conquer the world with a little style.

hma pro softare

While the simplicity of the Private Internet Access software will appeal to many, I personally prefer the more robust client offered by HideMyAss.

 

Customer Base

HideMyAss was the unquestioned leader in terms of subscribers for several years. Unfortunately, they have started going sideways for the last 1-2 years. While they still have and eye popping 250,000-300,000 subscribers, their base is smalling than the 400,000 Private Internet Access subsribers. Since HMA charges almost twice as much, they might actually clear more at the end of the day. A recent article cited their revenue at over eleven million pounds. Given that the average PIA user only pays an average of $4.25 a month between the various plans, HMA is a more lucrative company. Of course, this doesn’t take into account their substantially higher overhead costs.

Tools

HideMyAss is without a doubt a far more innovative company. They recently launched an entirely new service called HideMyPhone. Some of the advertised features have been available with Google Voice for ages, like protecting your real number for online dating. The main plus is the prospect of using international numbers to make cheaper calls from home. VOIP is a lucrative game so they stand a chance of making a killing if the service catches on. That’s a big if though. HMA also has an incredibly popular free proxy service. It was actually the forerunner to the VPN service. Other tools allow for anonymouse emails, quickly hide browser windows for when looking at porn, and the list goes on and on.

Torrent Policy

Many people use a VPN for a layer of protection when downloading torrents. Even the worst VPN providers will simply turn off your service if they receive too many copyright complaints. The best VPN providers have a no logging policy. PIA is especially highly regarded for its no logging emphasis on privacy. HideMyAss states that users can use torrents without issue in countries, like Russia. Unfotunately, most if not all the countries where it is safe to download torrents offer slow connection speeds. For these reasons, Private Internet Access is substantially better than HideMyAss if you are looking to download torrents.

Servers

Comparing the number of servers a VPN provider has is largely a marketing ploy. Few companies describe in detail the quality of their servers. Who knows, maybe they are running a thousand single core xenon machines from 1999 (I doubt it). The point is throwing it the number of servers a company has without detailed specs isn’t a fair comparison by any stretch of the imagination. While HideMyAss has 829 servers to cover 172 countries, Private Internet Access has 700+ servers for a mere 13 countries. Published data also indicates that PIA has more users. Fewer servers shouldn’t be able to handle more users, unless maybe they are better servers. If I were you, I wouldn’t read into this stat much.

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What Caused The Target Data Breach?

target data breach

In December of 2013, Target identified a major security breach. Hackers had obtained access to credit and debit card data for up to 70 million consumers. This number was originally reported at 40 million, but Target’s own website says the number might be as high as 70 million. The enormity of this breach eventually led to the firing of Target’s CEO, Gregg Steinhafel in 2014. Even a 35 year employee at the top of the chain couldn’t endure the resulting fallout. The company has struggled to regain its reputation since.

CompanyYearAccounts Compromised
Adobe2013150 million passwords / 38 million credit cards
Heartland Payment Systems2008130 million credit cards
T.J. Max / Marshalls200794 million credit cards
Sears198490 million credit reports
Sony201177 million accounts (personal details and credit card information)

What Happened At Target

Target’s breach started around Black Friday 2013. Information contained in debit and credit card magnetic strips was compromised between November 27th and December 15th. Almost all Target stores were impacted. A refrigeration company, named Fazio Mechanical Services, had its access credentials to the Target network stolen. Fazio Services had access to the network to monitor the refrigeration health of various stores. Once on the network, hackers were able to upload malware on the Point of Sale system without being detected.

 

What Could of Helped at Target?

Most importantly, areas of the network which contained sensitive information should have been securely walled off from sections with more innocuous information, like details on temperature and energy consumption. Better warning systems should have been in place to detect unusual traffic. The real life problem with warnings is they tend to alert so often that engineers get in the bad habit of ignoring the warnings. If this was the case at Target, a more intelligent warning system should have

 

What Could  You Do to Help You Protect Yourself?

In the wake of the Target incident, credit card companies are finally starting to add security chips to American credit cards. These chips have been used in other countries for years. Chips eliminate the need to swipe the magnetic strip on a credit card, thus eliminating the likely hood of easily skimming and copying the data on the magnetic strip. Transactions will take a second or two longer because the credit card has to be slotted into the machine. Proponents argue the added security benefits far outweigh the time lost.

Many stores, like Home Depot, now allow customers to pay using PayPal, Google Wallet or Apple Pay. Since your credit card data isn’t visible in this process, you are relatively secure in such exchanges.

When I make a purchase from an online store I don’t trust, I use a credit card, like Citi, that allows me to generate a temporary card number. I only leave the temporary card number active long enough for the transaction to conclude. This gives hackers a relatively brief window to do anything harmful, and your master card number is secure during this process. You can read more about Citi Virtual Account numbers here. Unfortunately, this process is of little help when making a purchase at a local brick and mortar store.

 

What Is the Good News?

The good news is that most consumers have zero liability during these major security breaches. Sure it is a pain to have to change your credit card number at places to use auto-pay, but it is better than having to fight the credit card company regarding the charges. Some companies, like Chase, will overnight new credit cards at no cost. I’ve found Citi to be the slowest out of the major banks I use at replacing cards. They tend to take around two weeks. Since I have multiple credit cards, this isn’t a major issue for me.

The other good news is that the system is improving. Chip based point of sale systems will be at most major retailers sooner rather than later. Alternative payment routes, like PayPal, are also becoming more prevalent as options at brick and mortar stores.

Target also offered a year of free credit monitoring to affected customers. I signed up for this service. Fortunately, I didn’t need it as nothing was detected during the free monitoring period.

 

Conclusion

The Target data breach impacted tens of millions of people. I personally had to replace two credit cards. The good news is the high profile nature is leading to positive changes, such as more secure credit card chip technology and alternative payment methods. Network security is also being slowly but surely increased at larger corporations. Seeing a CEO lose his job is good incentive for executives to demand higher prioritization of consumer security.

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Ecigs Cause Malware?

electronic cigarrete malware

Back in November the Guardian reported that a Reddit user was blaming and electronic cigarette for his bosses malware infection. Some skeptical side of me can’t help but imagine some PR guy working for Philip Morris conjuring this story. It really does appear that there is an enormous PR push against electronic cigarettes on almost every front. It almost reminds me of Rockfeller telling everyone that electricity would burn down their house and electrocute their children, so they should just stick to good old kerosene.

At the end of the day, people who make money from traditional cigarettes have billions of reasons to attack electronic cigarette full force. Who makes the most money besides the cigarette manufacturers? The government does. If the government can successfully claim that people need to be defended from the unhealthy evils of electronic cigarettes, like with real cigarettes, they can tax the shit out of them, and save that several billion dollar revenue stream. I digress though.

Can Electronic Cigarettes Really Cause Malware?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. A USB electronic cigarette charger connected to the computer is capable of the infecting the computer with malware. Obviously, any electronic cigarette charger supplier is going to be pissed if the Chinese factory sold them contagious chargers though. The deal with electronic cigarette parts is there are still relatively few brand names, and the few that exist are widely counterfeited. Oh fuck, I oddly sound like I am pushing for regulation. Trust me, that is rarely ever the case with me.

What is the Solution?

As with 90% of security vulnerabilities, make sure you are running updated anti-virus. Don’t be like my parents though who always seem to think more is better. I go to their damn house and tend to find they are running 17 different versions of anti-virus at the same time. They then bitch at me for their computer running slowly. I’ve started to realize that bored old people never outgrew sensationalist chain emails from the 90s. Every time they read about a new boogie man they decide the only logical defense is to install a new anti-virus.

I won’t be like that when I get old will I? Fuck no!

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Is The Pirate Bay Permanently Offline?

 

The Pirate Bay Raid

On Tuesday December 9th, 2014, police in Sweden raided The Pirate Bay and seized their servers. This comes on the heals of the arrest of co-founder, Fredrik Neij, last month near the border of Thailand and Laos. In addition to the main site being taken offline, their Facebook page also went dark.

The Pirate Bay was launched in 2003 and has long been the number one torrent site in the world. This distinction remains despite the fact that many ISP’s sensor their users from easily accessing the site. Until the recent raid made the site go dark, most Internet users with half a brain could still access the content. One sign of absurd amount of traffic was the fact that Alexa ranked it as the 88th most popular website in the world. Alexa is a service owned by Amazon that ranks the popularity of millions of websites.

 

phoenix-bay

Obviously, I believe that freely sharing information / content empowers people who might otherwise be powerless. People who argue that content makers need the traditional “I make it and you buy it” model to be compensated for their work are lazy Luddites incapable of creative change. If freely sharing information meant the end of creative content, YouTube would not exist.

 

What Is The Point?

Shutting down torrent and nzb database sites is like playing a game of whack a mole. The second you knock one offline, another one will take its place. At the end of the day, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer resources in the interest of trying to preserve a dying corporate model. Some people would argue that shutting down these sites is the ethical thing to do because they break the law. To these people, I would say go start a mommy blog and leave normal people the hell alone.

 

Back To The Main Question

Is The Pirate Bay permanently offline? My hunch is that some variant of the main site with backup files from the seized servers will emerge sooner rather than later. This entire incident is very much a repeat of a raid that occurred in 2006. The site didn’t stay down that time, and while this blow might appear more significant, there is a large and dedicated group behind the site. Smart money says IT WILL BE BACK!

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Who Is Privax LTD?

privax ltd

Privax LTD or Privax Limited is the parent company behind the HideMyAss VPN service. Privax is based in Great Britain with additional offices in the Ukraine and Serbia. More than seventy five employees work for the company.

If you are looking for a review of the HideMyAss VPN service, you can find it here.

 

Privax LTD Stats

 

Privax LTD History

Privax LTD was founded by Jack Cator. Cator started the company in 2005 when he was just 16 years old. As of this writing in 2014 Mr. Cator is the ripe old age of 24. His email is listed as jack @ privax.com. Again, good luck getting someone to respond should you decide to email this address.

jack cator privax ltd

One of the main growth strategies of Privax was to provide a free proxy service. Free products tend to garner interest and traffic. The company was then able to convert many of these free proxy users into paying users of their vastly superior VPN service.

 

Privax Contact Information

The address is listed as:

54 Poland Street
London W1F7NJ

The telephone and fax numbers are:

 telephone +447896667569
fax:  +447896667569

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for someone to answer though. The traditional support channels are likely to be far more effective.

HideMyAss Email – info@hidemyass.com

HideMyAss Support Page – https://support.hidemyass.com/hc/en-us

 

What Does Privax Software Look Like

Free and simple software was one of the main ways Privax was able to distinguish itself from the pack early. Testing HideMyAss servers to find the best speeds is easy with the HMA Pro software. Here are some screenshots:

hma software 7

 

hma software 6

 

hma software 5

 

hma software 4

 

hma software 3

 

hma software 2

 

hma software 1

 

What Is My Favorite Aspect Of Privax LTD?

Personally, I love the graphics used by Privax. All the companies I’ve worked for have been rather dull. Not offending the 1% of prudes in the world with a stick up their bum was more important than entertaining the 80% of people who have a good sense of humor. Most HMA graphics revolve around the use of a nefarious looking donkey. The donkey always wears sun glasses and a hat. He is frequently clad in a trench coat to make the overall picture even more ominous.

Here are some of my favorite HMA donkey illustrations:

 

hma graphic 6

 

hma graphic 5

 

hma graphic 4 hma graphic 3

 

hma graphic 2

This is the logo that started it all. I would put it in the old but great category. If you look closely enough, you can see that the illustrator actually put an asshole on that donkey. This additional is even more humorous when you compare it to other illustrations sans asshole. Any real VPN lover is likely to prefer the asshole.

 

hma graphic 1

 

Is Privax LTD The Largest VPN Provider?

Most VPN services are privately held companies. As a result, it is hard to find statistics on the number of users. That said, there is a good chance that HideMyAss is the largest VPN service. They boast having more than 15 million unique visitors to their site each month and 200,000 paying subscribers. Let’s assume the average subscriber pays around $7 per month. That puts annual revenue right around 17 million dollars.

hidemyass has 200000 paying subscribers

HMA also has more than 75 employees with offices in London, Belgrade and Kiev.

 

Want To Know More About Privax LTD?

If you would like to learn more about Privax LTD, I highly recommend reading my full HideMyAss review. It’s highly informative with a dash of humor to keep boredom at bay. If you would like to visit the main HMA website, you can click here.

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Is HideMyAss Safe

I recently noticed that a decent amount of people search for “Is HideMyAss Safe” on a monthly basis.

is hidemyass safe

It’s a vaguely enough worded question that I was left scratching my head trying to discern what these searchers might possibly be trying to ask the Google Gods.

 

google god

 

This question seems particularly strange for a service intended to increase security by creating an encrypted end to end tunnel. I’m going to speculate about what these searchers might be trying to ask.

 

Is HideMyAss A Reputable Company?

fry

I consider HideMyAss to be an extremely reputable company. To the best of my knowledge, they are the largest VPN provider with over 150,000 paying customers. They also haven’t had to increasingly lower their prices to create such an impressive pool of paying customers. They consistently increase their number of available IP addresses, servers and countries. Unlike some VPN providers, like Earth VPN, I’ve never read an example of HideMyAss being hacked for user information.

 

Does HideMyAss Keep My Data Secure?

If you were worried about a hacker stealing your data, I would consider HideMyAss extremely secure and a wise purchase to add an additional layer of security. If you were worried about a government entity, I wouldn’t rely upon any VPN service. It’s widely believed that governments, like the United States, have cracked SSL technology. Not to mention almost any company approached by powerful state representatives would be hard pressed to say no when pressed for access. To sum it up, I would say HMA will keep you secure from hackers but not from the government.

 

Does HideMyAss Log?

HideMyAss does log when users connect and disconnect from the service. They claim that information about the traffic passed through their servers is not kept. This answer is at least honest. I have the sneaking suspicion that at least half the VPN providers that claim not to log keep at least as much data 0n their users as HideMyAss admits to keeping.

 

Will The HideMyAss Software Crash My Computer?

hidemyass-vpn

Their software client is rock solid in my experience. I consider it more mature than the software offered by the competition. It makes switching servers easy and you can tell when you are connected. That said, even the best software could potentially crash your computer especially if your computer sucks or is working at the edge of its capabilities. If this happens in your case, don’t blame HMA. Blame Microsoft!

 

If you want to learn more about HideMyAss, I’ve written an extensive review of the service here. You can visit the HideMyAss website directly by clicking here.

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IPVanish Purchased Overplay

I was surprised to find an email in my inbox today stating that the Overplay Affiliate Program was now going to be managed within the IPVanish portal. At first, part of me wondered if Overplay could have somehow outsourced their affiliate management to IPVanish. I quickly dismissed this as a silly prospect and determined that the truth lies with IPVanish having purchased Overplay.

 

This move only surprises me because of how long it took. IPVanish has deep pockets and has been adding to their network like crazy. At this point, I could only see them buying Overplay for their customers and not their network. You never know though. Overplay might have some feature that IPVanish wants.

 

IPVanish Stats

In case you haven’t been witness to the rapid expansion by IPVanish lately, they are up to 14,000 IP addresses available on 130 servers in 58 different countries. The number of IP addresses and servers still has a long way to go before it reaches the biggest competitors, like HideMyAss. The deal is that they won’t need to increase those numbers until they get more customers. The number of available countries is a better indicator of how serious they are about conquering the VPN market. For comparison sake, HideMyAss (the largest VPN provider) now has servers in 77 countries.

 

Other Signs Of The Merger

The evidence I provided of a merger between IPVanish and Overplay might appear anecdotal at best. Another sign that stands out to me is the commonality in their marketing language now. They are both stressing online freedom with images of women spreading their arms into the sunset.

overplay freedom ipvanish freedom

 

Why Would IPVanish Buy OverPlay?

Beyond giving IPVanish a new base of customers and an established brand, Overplay allows IPvanish to test different marketing angles without damaging their main brand. What do I mean by different marketing angles? Usually this involves lower prices. Once you offer a low price in a sector like VPN’s it can be hard to increase the price later. With Overplay they could offer three dollar a month accounts if they want just to see what it does the conversion rate. I’d expect to see some interesting specials come out of the Overplay camp in the near future.

 

If you want to learn more about IPVanish, I recommend reading our full review here.

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Hide My Ass Trial

free trial

 

I noticed recently that many people search for, “Hide My Ass Trial.” This isn’t a shocker since many people only need a VPN service for a short amount of time, so if you could find a trial, it could satisfy your need for service without cost. Also, the quality of a VPN service is going to vary greatly based upon your location. Yeah, some providers are obviously better than others, but even the best providers will not be able to provide some users with optimal service. It makes a VPN the perfect service to test before buying?

 

Does Hide My Ass Provide A Free Trial?

Instead of a free trial Hide My Ass offers a 30 day money back guarantee. Money back guarantees are more common than free trials in the VPN industry in part because fraud is some rampant with the service. If you think about it, one of the best case scenarios for VPN users is that they are trying to mask torrent downloads. The worst case is that they might be up to some fairly nefarious shit and they are trying to add a VPN as one of many layers of protection. Of course many legit people have also been adding VPN service after the Snowden revelations.

 

How Does The Hide My Ass Money Back Guarantee Work?

There are some stipulations if you decide to take advantage of the HMA money back guarantee. I should spell those out, so you don’t decide to track me down and beat my ass later.

 

How Much Does Hide My Ass Service Cost?

HMA is a highly affordable VPN service. They used to be one of the cheapest, but competing services have continually lowered their prices in recent years, while HMA has maintained their pricing. I still think most people with normal jobs will find the prices fair. Given that Google estimates there are over 100,000 searches each month for HideMyAss, the company is obviously doing quite well with their current pricing model.

 

Looking for more information?

If you would like to learn more about HMA, I recommend reading our comprehensive review. It covers most of the basic questions and has analysis of server locations, software, support and speed.

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Private Internet Access World Cup Push

Buy VPN

Private Internet Access is making a push for new subscribers during the World Cup. They’ve unveiled a fancy set of banners like the one above. Amusingly, they stated in the announcement email that they had to avoid using the words “World Cup” or “FIFA” because of licensing restrictions. I found a distinct irony in that statement.

World Cup VPN

The Washington Post published an article on the thirteenth of this month touting a VPN as a good workaround for those without an ESPN subscription who would like to watch World Cup games in the United States. This article specifically mentions a user connecting to the UK VPN server to stream the games.

At my work, everyone has been watching the games on Univision. I’ve was even at a Chinese restaurant recently where they had the game on over the Univision channel. I personally don’t like having overly excited Spanish speaking men screaming at me, but I can see how that could be a good match for the right person.

Why Use PIA For The World Cup?

Private Internet Access is my more than my favorite provider to stream the World Cup. They are a great all around service because they are cheap, allow torrents and have a rock solid reputation for respecting privacy. The only drawback for some users is a relatively limited number of servers. They currently allow users to connect to nine different locations. Pricing works out to be just $3.33 cents per month if you signup for a yearly plan. An impressive assortment of payment options, including Bitcoin, are also accepted.

private internet access price and payments

Are There Other Providers With Specials

IPVanish and VyprVPN are running alleged specials. The IPVanish deal is slightly better than normal. You have to use the link available from VPNSP to save 25% off the first month. My only problem with this deal is that the discount is only valid for the first month of service. Like any good deal hunter, I’m always in search of lifetime discounts. The VyprVPN offer is the same as they always offer with 50% off the first month of service. On the bright side, they did make a pretty landing page for World Cup traffic.

 

Update – Since the Private Internet Access special is now over, I switched the links back to normal.

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Heartbleed Vulnerability Causing Fits Across The Net

The Heartbleed bug announced earlier this month is reeking havoc across the Web. Everyone has been requested to change their passwords. Numerous Web and Android vulnerabilities still exist. Even scarier, this flaw has existed for more than two years. The extent of the damage is still unknown. It is, however, known that this bug potentially affected more than 2/3rds of the Internet.

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