Broadband Security Blog

Vote to Repeal US Broadband Privacy Rules Sparks Interest in VPNs 0

Vote to Repeal US Broadband Privacy Rules Sparks Interest in VPNs

The vote by the U.S. Congress to repeal rules that limit how internet service providers can use customer data has generated renewed interest in an old internet technology: virtual private networks, or VPNs. VPNs cloak a customer’s web-surfing history by making an encrypted connection to a private server, which then searches the Web on the customer’s behalf without revealing the destination addresses.

VPNs are often used to connect to a secure business network, or in countries such as China and Turkey to bypass government restrictions on Web surfing. Privacy-conscious techies are now talking of using VPNs as a matter of course to guard against broadband providers collecting data about which internet sites and services they are using. “Time to start using a VPN at home,” Vijaya Gaddeâ, general counsel of Twitter Inc, said in a tweet on Tuesday that was retweeted by Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey. Gadde was not immediately available for comment.

Twitter said she was commenting in her personal capacity and not on behalf of the company. The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 215-205 on Tuesday to repeal rules adopted last year by the Federal Communications Commission under then-President Barack Obama to require broadband providers to obtain consumer consent before using their data for advertising or marketing.

The U.S. Senate, also controlled by Republicans, voted 50-48 last week to reverse the rules. The White House said President Donald Trump supported the repeal measure.

Supporters of the repeal said the FCC unfairly required internet service providers like AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc to do more to protect customers’ privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc’s Google or Facebook Inc. Critics said the repeal would weaken consumers’ privacy protections. VPN advantages, drawbacks Protected data includes a customer’s web-browsing history, which in turn can be used to discover other types of information, including health and financial data.

Some smaller broadband providers are now seizing on privacy as a competitive advantage. Sonic, a California-based broadband provider, offers a free VPN service to its customers so they can connect to its network when they are not home. That ensures that when Sonic users log on to wi-fi at a coffee shop or hotel, for example, their data is not collected by that establishment’s broadband provider. “We see VPN as being important for our customers when they’re not on our network.

They can take it with them on the road,” CEO Dane Jasper said. In many areas of the country, there is no option to choose an independent broadband provider and consumers will have to pay for a VPN service to shield their browsing habits. Private Internet Access, a VPN provider, took a visible stand against the repeal measure when it bought a full-page ad in the New York Times on Sunday.

But the company, which boasts about a million subscribers, potentially stands to benefit from the legislation, acknowledged marketing director Caleb Chen. VPNs have drawbacks. They funnel all user traffic through one point, so they are an attractive target for hackers and spies.

The biggest obstacle to their routine use as a privacy safeguard is that they can be too much of a hassle to set up for many customers.

They also cost money. “The further along toward being a computer scientist you have to be to use a VPN, the smaller a portion of the population we’re talking about that can use it,” said Ernesto Falcon, a legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposed the bill.

I built a voice-controlled Amazon Echo using a Raspberry Pi 0

I built a voice-controlled Amazon Echo using a Raspberry Pi

While my Raspberry Pi 3 Model B made a decent home theatre PC,[1] I wanted to test the capabilities of the hardware by turning the credit card-sized computer into a home assistant.

Luckily, Amazon has made its Alexa Voice Service available to developers to use on multiple devices.

Alexa is an always-on virtual assistant that allows you to access services and applications using voice commands preceded by the word “Alexa”.

Using Alexa on a Raspberry Pi was previously quite impractical, as the platform did not support the wake word.

The wake word is now supported by the device, making the Pi an ideal candidate for a home assistant – due to its open hardware platform and low price.

Hardware and Pricing

The hardware I needed to create my Alexa-powered assistant was a standard Raspberry Pi 3 Model B board, power supply, microSD card, a speaker, and a microphone.

The code to connect a Raspberry Pi to the Alexa Voice Service has several quirks and requires a specific hardware configuration.

You will need a speaker which connects to the board using a 3.5mm audio connector, and a USB microphone that connects via one of the USB ports.

The pricing for the hardware required for a “cheap” build is:

  • Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Starter Kit – R940[2]
  • Speaker with 3.5mm audio connection – R210[3]
  • USB microphone – R250[4]

The prices are guidelines for new hardware for the build, and I saved a fair amount by using a battery-powered speaker and a USB microphone which I own.

Assembling the hardware is straightforward and consists of connecting the microphone and speaker to the Raspberry Pi, along with any peripherals required to set up the device.

alexa pi 2

Set-up

Setting up the device requires a fair amount of software installation and compatibility checks, beginning with the installation of the Raspbian Jessie OS.

After I installed the OS and booted up the system, I connected a wireless keyboard and mouse, and an HDMI monitor to the Pi.

Before installing anything Alexa-related, I made sure to update my Pi’s operating system and drivers – as these can cause issues if not updated.

It is recommended that a simple USB microphone is used for this project, as devices requiring drivers to function may not be supported by the Pi.

Alexa Pi header

Installation

I installed Alexa Voice Services on my Pi by following the Alexa AVS Sample App guide on Github[5]. This involved the downloading of many files and a fairly long wait for the pre-built installer to set up the applications.

While the software was installing, I set up an Amazon developer account[6] in order to connect my home-made Alexa device to Amazon’s voice services.

This step is necessary for the device to function and provides you with security information you will need for setting up Alexa on your Pi.

Finally, after following the installation guide and linking my Amazon account, I was ready to start Alexa.

Firing up the virtual assistant is not as elegant as simply pressing a button, and it requires you to open three terminal windows and sign in to your Amazon account.

However, thanks to the newly-introduced wake word support, I was able to disconnect the keyboard and monitor from the Pi once I had it set up.

alexa pi 1

Features

I expected the Raspberry Pi Alexa to be extremely limited in terms of functionality, but I was presently surprised by the support for Alexa skills and built-in functionality.

Right off the bat, my Pi was able to set an alarm and timer, stream online radio, search the Internet, find restaurants and other places near me, and answer questions about its functionality.

As I expanded its functionality by enabling skills, it impressed me even more – allowing me to order an Uber from my home in Johannesburg by saying: “Alexa, call me an Uber”.

In my brief time experimenting with my home-made assistant, I found that although it could not natively play my music library on Google Play (it works with Amazon Music), it could play music from paired Bluetooth devices and read me the top news headlines on commands.

For most purposes, my Raspberry Pi with Alexa functioned similarly to an Amazon Echo and could theoretically control other smart devices on my home network – if I had any.

Alexa isn’t the only option for DIY home assistants, though, with open source program Jasper[7] a popular choice for Raspberry Pi users.

Now read: I built a home theatre PC using a Raspberry Pi[8]

References

  1. ^ home theatre PC, (mybroadband.co.za)
  2. ^ R940 (www.pishop.co.za)
  3. ^ R210 (www.takealot.com)
  4. ^ R250 (www.takealot.com)
  5. ^ Github (github.com)
  6. ^ Amazon developer account (developer.amazon.com)
  7. ^ Jasper (github.com)
  8. ^ I built a home theatre PC using a Raspberry Pi (mybroadband.co.za)
How to remove write protection from USB drives and memory cards 0

How to remove write protection from USB drives and memory cards

With your USB drive or memory card attached to your computer, launch a command prompt. You can do this by searching for cmd.exe or ‘Command Prompt’ in the Start menu.

NOTE: you may need to run Cmd.exe with administrator privileges if you see an “access is denied” message. To do this, right-click on Command Prompt in the Start menu and choose ‘Run as administrator’ from the menu that appears. If you have Windows 10, simply right-click on the Start button (bottom left of the screen) and choose Command prompt (admin).

Now, at the prompt, type the following and press Enter after each command:

diskpart

list disk

select disk x (where x is the number of your non-working drive – use the capacity to work out which one it is)

attributes disk clear readonly

clean

create partition primary

format fs=fat32  (you can swap fat32 for ntfs if you only need to use the drive with Windows computers)

exit

That’s it. Your drive should now work as normal in File Explorer. If it doesn’t, it’s bad news and there’s nothing more to be done. Your stick or memory card is scrap and fit only for the bin. But the good news is that storage is cheap, and you can get a great microSD card[1] for next to nothing. 

References

  1. ^ great microSD card (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)