Chrome alternative: Yandex privacy browser review

Yandex.Browser is an Internet browser focused in privacy developed by Yandex, a search engine giant in Russia. Due to its Chromium interface and Blink rendering engine you will not have any compatibility problem viewing pages with this browser, websites will believe you are using the Chrome browser, if a page works in Chrome it will also work with the Yandex browser. I have been using Yandex for three months straight, every day and not once I have come across a site looking different of what it does in Chrome, in the rare event of a problem, bugs can submitted to Yandex developers with the integrated feedback form, an extension that can be removed if it bothers you.

During browser installation you will be asked what search engine you would like to use by default and given the choice of Google, Bing or Yandex. I don’t like any of those search engines, I use DuckDuckGo because it does not record my computer IP and it respects my privacy. To set a different search engine, after installation visit DuckDuckGo, or, go to Settings>Manage search engine>Find DDG on the list and select “Make default“.

Changing the default searcher is easy to do for people familiar with the Chrome browser menu interface, but for new Internet users, it will be hard to find. A browser built for privacy, like Yandex, should allow users to select a privacy searcher during installation instead of forcing them to do it manually.

Yandex privacy Internet browser
Yandex privacy Internet browser

The one thing you will find odd when you first use the Yandex browser is that tabs are not above the fold like all other browsers do, Yandex gets rid of the toolbar, hiding the URL you visit, and places the tabs below. It should not be a huge problem once you are familiarized with the set up and you will appreciate the extra viewing space, you will also notice a very cool animated background with moving clouds, I tested the CPU usage of this visual gimmick using the Windows Task Manager and I was very pleased that it didn’t utilize CPU at all. The browser background can be changed to a different animation right clicking on it and selecting “Change background“, it took me two months to discover that there are twelve different backgrounds.

Now going into the drummed privacy and anonymity features of this browser, it comes ready with various Chrome browser extensions, for security management you will find: Site Reputation WOT, indicating what sites can be trusted, AdGuard, to block pop up and flash banners, and Blocks Flash, blocking all kind of Flash. Nothing too impressive, not bad but not great either. Other extensions that come by default with the Yandex browser are Lastpass, Evernote and Save Articles for later reading, I did not understand why Yandex ships two extensions that do the same thing but they all can be uninstalled and are turned off from the beginning.

The most relevant security features of this browser have to be that downloads and sites you visit are automatically scanned in the cloud with Kaspersky, one of the best antivirus companies in the World, if you visit a site with malware you will be stopped and a red warning will cover the screen. Another singularity is that if you wish to sync bookmarks, passwords and settings Google servers will not be used, you have to open an account with Yandex own free cloud storage service, called Yandex.Disk, this can be good if you prefer a Russian company to store your personal data instead of an American one, it is your choice, myself I never sync anything with anybody, my data, my property, even if that means reduced functionality.

Yandex browser opening .doc file
Yandex browser opening .doc file

There is a Stealth mode in Yandex that is meant to block online trackers, social widgets like Facebook and third party cookies, as well as hiding your computer IP from sites you visit, I tried it multiple times and the cookies and widget blocking worked but the part where my computer IP is meant to be hidden never did.

Other unique features that I liked are that if you have a Yandex email account, available in English, the browser can notify you on new messages without having to open the page, you can read .doc and .pdf documents inside the browser without plugins, the tabs are all coloured which makes easy to distinguish them and people on metered or slow connections using 4G can take advantage of page caching, the Yandex browser comes with Opera turbo, a proxy server fetching popular pages for you and downloading them to your browser without having to visit the website, perhaps that is where the claim of Yandex hiding your computer IP comes from.

What I dont like from the Yandex browser is that when I hoover my mouse over an hyperlink I can’t see the URL address, I have no way of knowing if clicking on it will take me to a bait site or the original website, I was unimpressed too by the extensions Yandex comes with, I missed a proxy extension for anonymous surfing, and after some digging I found the help manual for the browser, it should have been placed more prominently, if Yandex is going to promote this browser for privacy, they could as well draw a comparison table explaining what makes Yandex different from Chrome.

Overall, I see myself using this browser because I don’t have dealings with Russia and prefer a company from a country at odds with the USA managing my privacy, probably Russian secret services subpoena their tech companies just like the USA, but the level of cooperation in between Russia and the USA is nothing like the direct data pipeline that UK&USA&NZ&AUS have.

Important! The Yandex addons link redirects you to the Opera addons store, a very limited out of date extension store, I was about to swap browser because they do not have the KeePass autofill password manager extension available. I have now discovered that if you visit the Chrome official extensions store with ten times more extensions than Opera, everything installs just fine, I am using chromeIPass, a Keepass extension, without any problem.

Visit Yandex.browser homepage

Review no logs VPN OkayFreedom

This review is based on the one year unlimited bandwidth OkayFreedom VPN premium service that I won online during a give away, I have been using them for two months now. I initially liked that this VPN parent company is a well known security German company called Steganos. I have tested other of their security products and most of them are excellent, I also appreciated that as a German company, in my view, Steganos is less open to government blackmail than USA, UK or Chinese companies are.

This VPN is being marketed as a tool to help you get around online content regional restrictions, bypass firewalls censoring the Internet, to anonymise your computer IP, and encrypt your Internet browsing, stopping hackers and government agencies intercepting it. OkayFreedom has servers covering all continents, you can get an IP from the USA, UK, Germany, Egypt, Singapore, Japan, Turkey and others. The VPN software is only available for Windows, no smarphone app, no Mac computer and no Linux support.

I sporadically watch Canadian TV online (GlobalTV, CTV), not having any Canadian server was a downer, I can live with it since I get most of my content out of USA TV websites, my only contention is that OkayFreedom competitors with a similar price also cover Canada.

It is very exotic getting an Egyptian or Japanese computer IP and learn how people from those countries see the web, but in reality, I can’t use any of those locations, the lagging slows down my web browsing and I always end up sticking to European or North American servers, I would imagine that it is the same for other users, so, best not to get too impressed just because far away locations are available, unless you live nearby they will not be of much use.

OkayFreedom VPN location
OkayFreedom VPN location

During installation OkayFreedom will install a browser extension for Chrome or Firefox, this is in addition to the VPN and it doesn’t have to be necessarily activated, but if you turn it on you will be able to automatically trigger the VPN in the browser when you visit websites delivering georestricted content, it worked everytime I listened to Pandora radio.

OkayFreedom VPN free edition has a shopping toolbar that pops up with discount offers when visiting e-commerce sites, in the premium OkayFreedom VPN you will not find this adware.

Be mindful that OkayFreedom does not have a full VPN interface, to switch country you have to right click on the Windows taskbar, and you can’t choose the server you want, the VPN software finds out the least loaded server and automatically assigns you the one with the best performance, you can’t choose a different city, or select an East or West coast USA IP. The upside of this is that you know this is the leading speed for that location, the downside, is that if you are not happy with one IP, you can’t manually get a new city.

I tried numerous times for more than a month to watch content in Hulu with OkayFreedom VPN and I was always blocked, Hulu detected that I was using a proxy, I had no problem using OkayFreedom to listen and watch Pandora radio, Slacker, CWTV and, Hulu was the only site that did not work with this VPN. It is only one site, but it is the most requested, if other VPN services can make it work, why not OkayFreedom?

I should give top marks to this VPN for their free no registration trial to future customers and for their 30 day money back guarantee to present customers but they get bottom marks for not allowing Bitcoin payments as an option.

OkayFreedom VPN using Pandora radio
OkayFreedom VPN using Pandora radio

For people after an advanced VPN, OkayFreedom is not for you, there are very few settings you can change, it is Windows only and selecting a city is automatic.

For people with high privacy standards, OkayFreedom is the one you should go for.

The company does not mention this on their front page but their privacy policy states that they do not keep any logs and it is impossible for OkayFreedom to link somebody with the assigned IP, furthermore, you don’t need a username or password for this VPN, a pseudo ID is derived out of your computer MAC address, a unique hardware number linked to a computer network card that can not be associated with any real name or address even if it were to posted on the Internet. As for payments, OkayFreedom never gets access to those details, a third party processes them, this is written in capital letters in their privacy policy.

This is a mixed outcome VPN review, whether you should choose this VPN or not, it will depend on what you want it for, the person who needs thousands of computer IPs and be able to manually rotate them, should choose a different provider. If  your main concern is online privacy and you don’t care about Hulu or about a full fledged VPN interface, OkayFreedom will be ideal for you.

Visit OkayFreedom homepage

DVDFab bug reports sending computer screenshots to the developers

DVDFab is a paid for Media Player made by Chinese company Fengtao Software, I was given a free license for this player in GiveAwayOfTheDay and after trying it out I was satisfied with it.

The player does not have audio visualizations and very few settings can be customized but it worked with every single video and audio file I had, it is skinnable and it needs less CPU/RAM than Windows Media Player, I decided to make it my main player because of the simplicity and ease of use.

After a few months DVDFab Media Player crashed for the first time and it asked me if I wanted to send the bug to the company, thankfully I clicked on No and out of curiosity I looked at the file that DVDFab was about to send to the company head quarters in China. The file is named “Bug Report” and it was zipped, after uncompressing it this is what I found:

DVDFab spyware screenshot send in bug reports
DVDFab spyware screenshot (click to enlarge)

A text file named log.txt containing computer hardware information and a list of the video titles played in DVDFab MediaPlayer for the last months, including date and time. The names of the videos revealed a lot about my viewing habits, as an example, if one of the videos is called “Drug problems” or “Pirated Superman movie” DVDFab developers will known about it. I was surprised to see the names of all of the videos I had played for the last months being sent instead of a single title concerning the video I was watching at the time of the crash.

Two more files sent in the bug report were registry key settings with the language file and the path to the images folder, indicating the computer username, usually the real name of the computer administrator.

Another file being sent out was called system.xml and it listed detailed computer hardware, computer MAC address, operating system with installed service packs and all of the programs installed in the computer. Encryption programs and tax filling software I had were all named. Another surprise is that the file included the MAC address of my VirtualBox software.

Another file sent to DVDFab developers is called crashdump.dmp, you need special software to open a .dmp file, it can not be read with Notepad, the filed enclosed information about the drivers installed in the computer,

And the last file being sent away was the most privacy invasive one,  a screenshot of my computer desktop showing the video player and everything opened in the background, this can include bank information opened in your password manager, whatever page you are visiting at the time or personal pictures of your kids and wife.

I  then tried to find somewhere in DVDFab settings a way to tell the player to never send bug reports and this does not exist. You only have the option to refuse sending bug reports when the player crashes. If you let your kids use the computer they could click on Yes,if are too busy you click on Yes and if you haven’t got a clue about all the personal information that the bug report contains you click on Yes. There are many ways for a person to be fooled into giving away their personal privacy to DVDFab developers in China.

One thing is to collect hardware data and another thing is to collect a list of all the videos you have played dating back months and screenshots of your computer without clearly telling the customer about it. Don’t be surprised to learn that your home computer IP is also logged when sending the bug report.

I will be astonished if DVDFab developers aren’t breaking any privacy laws in the European Union and the USA with the data they collect in their bug reports. It is totally disgusting what they are getting away with.

Don’t get enticed by DVDFab give aways and their steep discounts, if you value your privacy download an open source free player like Videolan VLC, or a closed source program like BSplayer or GOM, you have plenty of free alternatives that are not that privacy invasive.

Free anti keylogger program Oxynger KeyShield

Oxynger KeyShield is a free anti keylogger virtual keyboard to securely communicate with the page or Windows application you are typing characters in and stop malware from capturing keystrokes. You can use Oxynger KeyShield  as portable or install it in your computer, it only requires the Microsoft .NET framework present, most computers should have it.

The program works with all major browsers and it can type in passwords in encryption programs like Safe House Explorer, cloud software like SpiderOak or Bitcoin wallet Electrum. I did not manage to make Oxynger KeyShield work with more popular open source encryption programs like VeraCrypt and Keepass. You can find a list of compatible Windows applications in Oxynger homepage.

Oxynger KeyShield will protect you from physical keyloggers connected to your computer hardware, and software based keyloggers that take regular screenshots of your screen activities. It is not possible to take a screenshot or video recording of the virtual keyboard, if you try to do this a black window will show instead of the keys. Kernel, hook and API keyloggers are all thwarted when you are using Oxynger KeyShield, which in my testing was compatible with all websites I tried it on, the keyboard can be resized and moved around, remembering the size and position for the next run.

Free anti keylogger Oxynger KeyShield
Free anti keylogger Oxynger KeyShield

You also get protection from people looking over your shoulder to see what keys you click on, Oxynger KeyShield can change the mouse pointer to a tiny black dot that only someone really close to the screen can see and keyboard keys are not highlighted.

Another protective measure stops mouse logging, where a trojan reads the mouse movements. Oxynger KeyShield does not use a default QWERTY keyboard, a random lay out starts with each launch. All of these security settings can be easily configured inside menu options.

Be aware that the on screen Windows virtual keyboard that comes with all Windows operating systems has not been designed to stop keyloggers, it is there to help people with disabilities to type, you can not rely on it to defeat keyloggers.

The best computer protection you can have is an updated antivirus and firewall to make sure that no virus or trojan ever gets in your computer, but antivirus programs do not always pick up everything. Using a virtual keyboard to log into financial sites will considerably strengthen your security. A program like Oxynger KeyShield should be a must have on an Internet cafe, library or work computer where you have no control over the hardware and operating system.

Oxynger KeyShield is not as complete as paid software like SpyShelter Stop-logger or Zemana antikeylogger but it does a good job and it won’t cost you anything.

Visit Oxynger KeyShield homepage

Stop online tracking with the CyberDragon privacy browser

CyberDragon proxy edition is a highly configurable open source privacy browser that will hide your online identity blocking tracking cookies, advertisements, scripts that can be used to gather information about your computer and allowing for HTTP and SOCKS proxies configuration.

The browser comes with over 30.000 privacy rules blocking 6.000 different trackers and identifies itself to websites as CyberDragon Safari using the QtWebkit rendering engine, this means that compatibility wise, any website that works in Apple Safari should work with the CyberDragon browser.

With the download you will find a PDF manual explaining what cookies and proxies are and how some of the browser privacy settings work, how to modify default privacy rules, and how to add Tor to the browser or automatically download a list of proxies for you to use.

Those who like privacy technologies will love the high configuration and wealth of information that CyberDragon browser provides about each website you visit. For example, under custom cookies rule there is a smaller window listing all cookies that have been blocked, the time stamp, domain, value, path, expiration, and security (https or not). And you get access to this information with a quick glimpse on the right.

CyberDragon privacy browser
CyberDragon privacy browser

Something that you will notice in this browser is that privacy settings always remain open as you surf the Internet, no more going into menus to see them. Moving your mouse and ticking a checkbox will change settings on the fly, the tabbed interface makes it easy to swap to a different privacy context.

The proxy settings tab has a “Get proxies” button that downloaded over 100 free proxies for me to use when I clicked on it once, the next step I did was to click the “Check proxies” to automatically probe the list of IPs port number and latency, the information showed on the screen together with the country the proxy belongs to. An extra click on “Set proxy” quickly allowed me to browse the Internet as if I was in Korea.

Further proxy settings include ticking a random proxy hoping checkbox, and another box to change your proxy with each visited page or after a determined length of time. CyberDragon’s proxy component was one of my favourite features in this browser.

Travellers will be happy to know that you don’t have to install CyberDragon, you can run it from inside a USB thumbdrive when on the go. The browser is set to store Internet cache (visited pages) in the same folder where the the program is and nothing will leak to the host computer, you can see the computer folder path where files are saved on the window and you can instruct CyberDragon not to save any cache at all, which will make page loading slower but protects you better in case of losing the USB thumbdrive.

The only downsides to this browser are the not very good looking interface, losing a third of the screen view to the to the browser settings and not having auto complete when entering a URL. I would not make CyberDragon my main browser but I would doubtless set this browser as my second browser to visit sensitive sites or to take it with me on a USB drive.

Proxy settings CyberDragon browser
Proxy settings CyberDragon browser

CyberDragon it is also an ideal browser for people living in countries hampering full disk encryption privacy by making it a criminal offence not to disclosure your encryption password to the authorities. You can use CyberDragon portable from inside an encrypted container and nothing will leak outside, besides the browser name in the Windows registry, even that can be cleaned up a privacy Internet cleaner.

This is the kind of privacy browser you want to be using if you believe the site you visit could try to trick you into downloading a virus, scripts will be blocked. It is also a browser that will stop the NSA ruse of using cookies and Google adverts to track down Tor users over the Internet, a technique mentioned in top secret NSA documents leaked by Snowden.

I have used privacy browsers like Comodo Dragon and the Epic Browser, and tested dozens of privacy addons in Firefox and Chrome. Without a doubt, what appears to a be a one man developed privacy browser, is going to make it into my list of must have portable privacy tools.

With exciting new features planned for new releases, like HTTPS everywhere, I think that you should try CyberDragon browser at least once and see for yourself how superior its privacy benefits are in comparison to similar offers.

Visit CyberDragon browser homepage

Review password manager Sticky Password

StickyPassword is a Windows program that will help you securely store your unique online passwords and sync them across Android or iOS devices. The latest StickyPassword 7 optional cloud synchronization requires an annual fee and gives you access to a web interface where you can add or remove devices to your account.

When you first launch StickyPasword dekstop you will be asked if you would like to create an online account to back up and sync your passwords in the cloud. There is a virtual keyboard to stop key loggers if you are worried about this, but in my opinion using a virtual key logger all the time it is very time consuming and although ideally you should use it, practically it is not possible unless time is not a concern for you.

After the optional StickyID on the cloud has been created you will be asked to compose a master password that will be used to encrypt the local database, both passwords are independent of each other. A password meter indicates how strong the password is but it did not impress me much. For testing purposes I made up a weak password consisting of a dictionary word with a number repeated twice and the meter signalled it as very strong.

StickyPassword sync
StickyPassword sync

One thing that StickyPassword should be commended for is forcing people to tick a checkbox saying that they have read and understood the paragraph stating how important remembering the master password is. Most people tend not to read instructions during software installation and this is a good way to get their attention to something extremely important.

I admired the number of browsers that StickyPassword supports, it detected my Comodo Dragon browser correctly, and Opera, Seamonkey and other little used browser are all supported even the email  client Mozilla Thunderbird.

StickyPassword database is saved as .spdb and encrypted in your computer using AES256bit after some salting. If you selected to sync it, the data will be send encrypted to your cloud account so that if anything bad happens only encrypted data would leak.

This password manager has a truly fascinating tabbed interface that emphatically integrates with Windows 8 and it has been admirably structured. Besides passwords you can store bookmarks, notes and online identities, each section is further grouped into interests, classifying data is straight forward and uncomplicated.

Auto filling in Firefox worked fine, no problems at all, a configurable hotkey allows you to auto login to save time. When you register in a new site StickyPassword will automatically ask you if you would like to save the new credentials into the database. This is a tidy and attractive password manager very easy to use.

StickyPassword virtual keyboard
StickyPassword virtual keyboard

One of StickyPassword  downsides is the annual fee to sync passwords in the cloud, you can have the same feature for free with Lastpass. But the my biggest concern with this program does not belong to StickyPassword alone, it is a criticism of proprietary password managers in general. My experience has been that you have to be ready to keep paying to upgrade the software every year during your lifetime.

Future password manager versions might not come with a compatible database format or support might be dropped for old programs, the kind of upgrade persuasion that always works. When your whole digital life access is stored in a single place you have no choice but to pay for it.

My advice is that unless you are willing to pay for a password manager license every year, it is best you go with an open source password manager like Keepass or Password Safe, they are not as complete and easy to use like StickyPassword but they will save you money and they are equally secure or even more.

If you are the type that just needs a good interface for your password manager and annual licenses are not an issue, StickyPassword is probably the best choice you will find for Windows.

Visit StickyPassword homepage

Encrypt email messages with Chrome addon Cryptobrowser

VPN4ALL Cryptobrowser is a free addon for the Chrome browser to encrypt and decrypt email communications with AES256-bit. It works with any web based email service, like Yandex, Gmail and Yahoo, and it can also be used to post encrypted messages to securely communicate with your friends in social media platforms like Facebook or Linked In, exchanging encrypted private messages.

After installing this addon you will see a new button in your browser labelled number 4. To encrypt an email all you have to do is to highlight the text you would like to secure, right click and choose “Encrypt“, Cryptobrowser’s password box will then open allowing you to choose a password or generate a random one.

You can save this password in the same box so you don’t have to write it down and a  meter will let you know if it is strong or weak word.

Cryptobrowser VPN4ALL email encryption
Cryptobrowser VPN4ALL email encryption

Encryption and decryption is executed locally in your browser with javascript, no third party server is involved for sending or encrypting messages, this makes it impossible to install a backdoor or log anything. However, if you suspect that your email provider is spying on you this addon will not help you because services like Gmail automatically save drafts as you type the message, and encryption will not be in place until you finish composing it.

Cryptobrowser is promoting this addon as a way to stop the NSA from spying on you but I don’t think it can do that since there is the possibility that automatically saved drafts in Gmail servers could be accessed by the NSA. For real security you should not compose any sensitive email message in your web mail, and Cryptobrowser unfortunately does not work off the browser.

The second problem I see with this encryption addon is that you need to convey the password to the receiver for him to be able to decrypt the message and you can’t use the addon to do this. Calling someone over the phone to tell them the password is possible, but then, if you are subject to state surveillance your phone will possibly be wiretapped. A third problem is that file attachments can not be encrypted, the addon only works with text.

Cyptobrowser makes it easy to encrypt and decrypt emails, but due to the reasons outlined above, I would not trust it to secure my communications against state surveillance. In fairness to them, encryption browser addons all fall foul of the automatically saved drafts problem.

If you want to beat the NSA is best to encrypt everything offline and then copy and paste the message in your webmail. An uncomplicated solution to do this would be to store your message inside a password protected .rar or .7zip file.

Visit CryptoBrowser Chrome Addon