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Connected Devices connected security HVAC Internet of Things IoT security

Addressing Security Challenges in an IoT Dominated World

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Adding connectivity with a degree of intelligence to household appliances gives rise to the Internet of Things (IoT). Integration of these inter-connected appliances, with our daily routine, inside our personal spaces, is resulting in smart homes, and the adoption is already exponential. Here is how we are addressing security challenges in an IoT dominated world.

Many industries are deploying the IoT concept, such as security and surveillance systems, home appliances, manufacturing, automotive, and recently we also experience numerous innovations in the HVAC industry (cielowigledotcom – HVAC tech). All players’ goal is to provide connectivity plus automation, resulting in comfort and even energy savings.

Smart homes promise an automated living experience, with in-built convenience and an efficient style of living. As per IDC projections in 2015, there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, with a market worth 1.7 trillion USD. This widescale acceptance of IoT is a fascinating part of the future. It bodes well for the times to come for the smart home industry. But with all good things, there is a catch. Security of data is the most significant risk to such large scale integrations. Moreover, preventing any backdoor entries into a secure home should also be an emphasis on IoT security.

Smart home devices’ mass use provides a larger pool for potential hackers and data attackers to target, resulting in a significant disruption of service, financial loss, and physical loss instead of promised convenience and energy savings.

Erosion of confidence in smart home appliances through security risks is a stark reality for the IoT industry. It would consequently lead to a slowdown in the adoption of smart home products by consumers.

IoT Vulnerabilities

Wi-Fi connected devices create a great volume of sensitive data, creating an inherent risk of data and identity theft, device manipulation, and server/network manipulation, and providing many avenues for hackers to exploit.

As per Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), IoT vulnerabilities include inherent insecurities in the web interface, mobile interface, cloud interface, network services, and firmware. The vulnerabilities also include insufficiencies in authentication/authorization and security configuration. The lack of transport encryption, privacy concerns, and poor physical security also adds up to the list of vulnerabilities.

Limited memory and computational power of microcontrollers is another challenge that is unique to IoT. Both these components are essential to convert dumb appliances into intelligent connected devices. Implementation of security at the device level is a big problem for IoT solution providers. They have to keep in view the balance that needs to be maintained between the security and marketability of the end product.

Often, resource constraints within the design of the product do not allow sufficient computing resources, which are necessary to implement strong security. Consequently, many devices are unable to provide advanced security features. As a case example, temperature and humidity sensors cannot handle advanced encryption protocols and various security features.

Even over the air (OTA) updates are not utilized, with many IoT devices used in a “set and forget� mode. High-end manufacturers are the exception to this, though. They can provide regular FOTA updates and a robust security mechanism all the way from the cloud protocols to on-device safeguards. Other manufacturers are not so forthcoming, prioritizing low-cost development and a faster timeline for conception to sale.

Strategy to Mitigate IoT Vulnerabilities

An all-encompassing strategy is to mitigate any potential vulnerabilities from design conception to end product. Post-sale software updates are a critical part of aftersale support. Without being hampered by cost restrictions, a security-centric approach needs to be adopted. The strategy must include proven security practices, prioritization of security measures, and transparency across the whole eco-system.

Another major issue that needs to be addressed in the amalgamation of legacy assets with modern technology. The security challenges of today were not kept in mind when older generation devices were made. Outright replacing the legacy structure with new-generation devices is a very cost-prohibitive venture. This is why smart home providers are more focused on retrofitting already installed equipment with plug-and-play devices and sensors.

But the cross-link between a legacy device and smart sensor will inevitably leave a little gap in the proverbial door and can be exploited by those with malicious intent.

Time restrictions are also a cause for concern. Many smart solution providers only cater to updates for a few years, after which their after-sale support becomes only rudimentary. With devices running around for a much larger time period than support provision, this can be a security lapse. Achieving security at par with the current standards can be challenging without assistance from manufacturers.

Industry Acceptance

A major component of security protocols and networking is industry-wide acceptance through well-established standards and procedures. Although multiple independent security frameworks operate in somewhat isolated bubbles, a single, comprehensive, industry-wide standard needs the hour. Major manufacturers and service providers utilize their own internal protocols.

To develop these protocols, a large number of resources have been put in. But smaller companies are at a disadvantage. They have to resort to making do with third-party frameworks, which are often not up to the mark. Moreover, they can also be incompatible with other major players in the industry. Due to this, not only is security an issue but also inter-operability.

Putting IoT Security Strategy Vehicle into Action

The IoT solution providers have to involve security issues at all stages of the IoT cycle. Emphasis should be on cybersecurity. Security begins at the design stage with a special focus on threat modeling, secure component selection, component adaptability to future security measures, and finally, resilience testing. The FOTA functionality is a must for remote updates, failure patching, and data protection in case of security breaches.

The options of standalone operations in case of connectivity problems can also give greater confidence to users. The manufacturer must also educate the users for setting stronger user preferences through user configurations.

The users on their part can reduce the risk of security breaches by using strong passwords for device accounts and Wi-Fi networks, use of stronger encryption method when setting up Wi-Fi networks such as WPA2, disabling the remote access to IoT devices when not needed, and disabling features that are not currently in use like location information.

Privacy is an Essential Part of Security

Privacy issues have lately been at the forefront of the discussion on networking. IoT has the potential to provide unprecedented amounts of personal information. Such information may land in the hands of information abusers. OEMs would need to provide privacy policies on how they handle such data. They should also adopt best practices to avoid reputational damages and adherence to regulatory requirements.

IoT is here to stay. The sooner this realization comes in –the better it is for both the consumers and smart solution providers.

A robust framework is needed by the industry to ensure that consumer confidence in IoT is not hampered in any way. Rather, the focus should solely be on providing the utmost in convenience and comfort to the world.

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Data and Security Hack infoSec Platforms security Tech Web WordPress Security

WordPress Security Fundamentals

wordpress security

WordPress dominates the global market of content management systems (CMS). Its tremendous popularity makes it a lure for malicious actors. The WordPress Core in its current state is fairly secure by design, which explains the relatively small number of hacks exploiting it. Here is a guide to WordPress security fundamentals.

Cybercriminals are increasingly adept at piggybacking on flaws related to WP plugins, themes, hosting providers, and website owner’s security hygiene.

Who is Targeting WordPress and Why?

Most incursions zeroing in on WordPress sites are orchestrated through the use of automated tools such as crawlers and bots.

These entities are constantly scouring the Internet for crudely secured websites. If they pinpoint a documented vulnerability, they take advantage of it in a snap.

Spam

Here’s a little bit of wiki information: spam accounts for roughly 50% of all emails sent.

Malefactors may gain a foothold in your server via a security loophole in a plugin or an outdated version of the WordPress engine to repurpose the server for generating spam.

Siphoning Off Server Resources

Cybercrooks may infiltrate poorly secured WordPress sites, access the underlying servers, and harness their processing power to perform coin mining surreptitiously.

Black Hat SEO

One of the growingly common WordPress hack scenarios is to gain unauthorized access to a website’s database and furtively embed keywords and hyperlinks related to another site.

Embedding keywords and hyperlinks is a shortcut to hijacking and boosting the rankings of an attacker’s site on search engines.

Info-Stealing Foul Play

Seasoned hackers know the true value of data, especially in such areas as e-commerce and user behavior patterns. Felons can rake in hefty profits by retrieving this information and selling it to interested parties on the Dark Web.

Your Top Priority 

WordPress security should be every webmaster’s top priority as remediating a hacked WordPress site is easier said than done. You have to assess every single line of code to spot dodgy content, eliminate it, and re-enter valid strings.

Another thing on your to-do list is to change all authentication details, including database and server passwords.

Another facet of the issue is that the search rankings of a compromised website may deteriorate dramatically down the road, which translates to fewer visitors and lower monetization.

An extra thing to consider is that people won’t go to a site unless they trust it. A breach will most likely impact your reputation, which takes a lot of time and effort to restore.

WordPress Security: The CIA Triad

In information security terms, the CIA acronym stands for “confidentiality, integrity, and availability.� This CIA model is the stronghold of every digital security initiative. When it comes to WordPress, the anatomy of CIA is as follows:

Area 1: Confidentiality

  • Sensitive Data

WP plugins, themes, and global variables are a Pandora’s box filled with confidential information or breadcrumbs leading to such data. If you slip up by setting the value of WP_DEBUG parameter to “trueâ€� rather than “false,â€� this will unveil the path to your websites’ root directory. You don’t want that.

Author pages can also be verbose in this context because they often include usernames and email addresses. An attacker may try to guess or brute-force an author’s password. If it isn’t strong enough, a site compromise is imminent.

  • User Credentials

To its credit, the WordPress platform takes password strength seriously, helping users avoid the scourge of weak credentials. However, these efforts might not be enough.

An additional technique that can make an attacker’s life harder is to enable two-factor authentication. Restricting the number of failed sign-in attempts is worthwhile, too.

Area 2: Integrity

  • Data Verification

WordPress is committed to handling data securely and does a lot to ensure this. But, these mechanisms don’t work beyond its core, so web developers should get the hang of validating the rest of the code.

Using a site’s database directly could be a less secure approach than leveraging features like “update_post_meta.� The latter can fend off SQL injection, a sketchy tactic aimed at executing harmful code via forms embedded in a web page.

The harmful code tactic can become a launchpad for depositing dangerous strains of Windows and Mac malware onto visitors’ computers.

To thwart SQL injection raids when running a complex query or when handling a custom table, it’s best to apply the WPDB class combined with the “Prepare� function for all queries.

  • Query Sanitation

Queries related to WordPress site management are generally secure as long as SSL is turned on and you resort to trustworthy hosting services. But not all hosting services are trustworthy, so this isn’t a bulletproof ecosystem.

It’s in your best interest to monitor user intentions and ascertain that an incoming query comes from a registered user.

WordPress employs what’s called nonces to verify actions initiated by users. These security tokens are formed alongside every user-originated request. Since nonces are paired with specific URLs, they are subject to mandatory inspection on the receiving side before the request is executed.

  • Third-Party Code

Most WordPress compromise incidents revolve around vulnerable plugins, themes, and unpatched versions of the WordPress engine. In other words, the less third-party code the smaller the attack surface.

In case you can’t do without a specific WP component of that sort, be sure to do your homework and scrutinize it first. The things you should pay attention to include the user feedback, the date its latest build was released, and the PHP version it supports.

Additionally, check expert reviews on well-established security resources such as Wordfence.

Area 3: Availability

  • Updates

As far as the WordPress engine is concerned, it gets security updates automatically. However, the process isn’t as hassle-free with themes and plugins. You may have to check for updates and install them manually.

Furthermore, it might be a bumpy road because you can’t be sure that these third-party entities work flawlessly until they are tested extensively. Users often go through a lot of trial and error with them.

  • User Roles and Privileges

Sensitive data should be safe as long as it’s in the right hands. Therefore, you need to diversify access permissions to ascertain that each user can’t access more information than they actually need. A great way to manage privileges is to create user roles. The user roll technique will also prevent third-party components from tweaking the WordPress Core files.

  • Email

WordPress works with email at the level of the server it’s installed on. To protect it from snoops, you should consider using the SMTP communication protocol.

There are numerous plugins that facilitate the process of sending emails via a tamper-proof SMTP connection.

You will need to add a new Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record, which requires access to the domain name’s DNS settings. The above-mentioned record is tasked with ensuring that the domain allows the SMTP service to send emails.

  • Auditing

The importance of keeping tabs on data integrity stems from the fact that attackers will be able to modify the code if they manage to access the server.

Thankfully, this issue can be addressed by means of specially crafted plugins. For example, the security plugin by Sucuri is a good choice. It checks your entire file database for a plethora of harmful code samples.

  • Backups

If you’re using a trusted hosting provider, it most likely performs the whole backup routine for you.

Even if your provider doesn’t offer an automatic backup feature for your site, there are plenty of alternative options to choose from. For instance, some services can back it up to cloud storage like Amazon S3 or Dropbox.

  • Hosting services

Low-quality hosting services are a common source for adverse scenarios where WordPress websites run obsolete PHP versions. There tends to be a big gap between managed hosting and one that simply provides a directory with database access.

You would always be better off finding a reputable managed hosting for your WordPress site. Although this could be a pricey option, you can rest assured that the security will be at a decent level.

Summary

The WordPress engine itself is getting regular updates that deliver patches and improvements, and the ecosystem around it isn’t nearly as secure.

The good news is, if you follow safe practices when installing themes and plugins, adding new user roles, and writing new code, your website should be on the safe side.

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digital transformation IT Asset Management security Tech

How Strong IT Asset Management Organizes Modern Business

How Strong IT Asset Management Organizes Modern Business

If someone asked, could you give an accounting of all of the different technology licenses your business manages? If your answer is ‘no,’ you’re not alone. Most of today’s businesses rely on so many devices, SaaS tools, and other tech infrastructure that it’s impossible to keep track of it all, and that can lead to serious problems down the line. That’s why it’s important to ​implement robust management via IT asset management software, yet many otherwise successful, modern businesses have failed to make this leap. What’s the holdup?

In the simplest sense, many companies have failed to adopt comprehensive ​IT asset management software and systems ​because they think they’re performing just fine without it. Most don’t realize how significant the knowledge and performance gaps within their systems are. But, maybe worst of all, many of these companies worry that they’ve fallen so far behind in terms of system upkeep that they’ll discover an unmitigated disaster if they do choose to adopt IT asset management software. The news isn’t so bad, though. With the right tools, your business can get a handle on its internal technology landscape and take steps towards greater efficiency.

IT Asset Management 101

In order to understand IT asset management, it’s important to first understand what is included under the heading of IT assets. A persistently growing category, IT assets include both the software and hardware used by a business. These are likely to be some of the most valuable items a company owns, and they’re critical to daily operations – which is why it’s important to

know what a company owns, where it’s operating or who is using it, whether the technology is properly updated and secured, and it’s final disposition when it’s time to retire a given asset.

Taken in its entirety, asset management accomplishes several major goals. In particular, proactive asset management practices increase productivity​ by allowing your business’s IT team to prioritize tasks, to automate processes as appropriate, and can even help your business save money. Most importantly, IT asset management is integral to your business’s security infrastructure. What may seem like little more than an inventory list at first, quickly reveals itself to be an integral part of your operation’s strategy.

Systems And Shortcomings

Now that you have a clear sense of what IT asset management is and why it should be considered mission critical, the question remains, how do companies manage this process? Historically, most have used suboptimal, manual approaches – and many are still mired in these outdated practices, which are labor intensive and yield imprecise results. Such approaches include using lists or spreadsheets to identify current assets and their deployments, manual data collection and analysis​ that can’t keep up with data generation, and piecemeal deployments and upgrades.

Just how cumbersome are such manual approaches?​ ​According to an EY report​ on fixed asset management, current approaches have resulted in a situation in which 56% of IT teams verify asset locations once a year, and 10-15% of teams verify their deployments only every five year – and that’s for the assets they’ve accounted for. Given that only 66% of companies​ ​have a complete IT asset record​, those evaluations are certain to be incomplete, and the problems with manual asset management don’t end there.

The other core issue with manual asset management is that, in the age of big data, such an approach can’t account for the full extent of information available. Instead, it tends to analyze isolated moments in time, and leads to substantial data accuracy problems. As noted by Enterprise Management Associates, IT teams currently spend​ ​more than 10 hours each week attempting to reconcile systems data – time that could be used on other mission critical tasks that can’t be automated. And time waste isn’t the only problem with poor data management. In fact, it’s far less significant than the operational issues that stem from insufficient data analysis. Still, at every level, manual management is expensive and inefficient at a time when there are better options available.

An Enhanced Process

A big part of improving the IT asset management system involves organizing and automating a variety of internal processes, which makes sense if we consider the direction of data systems today overall; as with so many other processes, better asset management actually demands businesses​ ​undergo a digital transformation​. Particularly, AI-driven tools can rapidly tackle the types of tasks that otherwise consume IT departments, from deploying updates to collecting and analyzing data – but you need the right ​IT Asset management software​ if you want to automate those tasks.

A leading IT Asset Management software​,​ ​AssetSonar provides easy-to-use tools​ for functions are diverse as basic inventory, license compliance, and data management. When these functions shift from manual, surface-level processes and instead become fully realized analyses of critical systems, suddenly your business is able to accomplish so much more. Businesses often think they can see the bigger picture, from the programs they rely on to the inefficiencies holding them back – until they take that important step forward and start automating and digitizing the IT asset management process. Then it suddenly becomes clear that a lot of details were missing, and your company needs to take a closer look.

The Missing Links

Speaking of missing elements in the IT asset management process and the importance of the digital transformation process, it’s important for businesses to recognize that IT asset management today also needs to include the in-house service process – and this is a big transition. Where before your company’s IT department was likely overwhelmed by the process of identifying assets and performing basic maintenance, they’re now in a position to perform much more high-value upkeep tasks. And now you need a system for managing those services.

IT services management includes tasks like ensuring service request tickets are issued in an orderly manner, that the IT department has all the information they need going into service appointments, and that they have access to any relevant technology’s past service history. Such services management elements contribute to a lifecycle-level understanding of a company’s assets and can help companies recognize when to phase out older equipment for functional and security reasons.

Trimming The Fat

Recall from above how many companies don’t have complete asset listings – and the consider the ramifications of those gaps. If a company can operate without knowing what technology it relies upon, hardware and software alike, it’s unlikely to be running efficiently. And particularly with the growth of software as a service licenses, rather than individual product purchases, that sort of inefficiency is expensive. ​IT asset management software​, then, allows companies to eliminate overspending on technology and prioritize funding for those tools that provide the most substantial benefits.

​A Critical Security Boost

When companies invest in ​IT asset management software​, most see security gains from automated patching and upgrading, but the improvements don’t stop there. In fact, one of the more valuable and surprising security boosts companies see stems from the platform’s ability to recognize the impact of outside devices on the whole system. From breaches related to public internet use to employees using their own devices on the company network, the reality is that a lot goes unseen on most networks. But when companies use a comprehensive IT management platform to audit their system, all of those potential problems rise to the surface – of course, that also means they can finally fix these issues.

Escaping The Dark Ages

It’s time to stop treating your company’s asset management needs the way an old-fashioned shop managed its dry goods – with penciled-in lists and manual sales trends. That era ended long ago, or at least it should have, yet so many companies are still insistently addressing their technology needs in this way. Even if your company has taken steps towards digital transformation in other areas, if you haven’t taken appropriate steps to modernize your IT asset management process, it doesn’t matter. IT asset management lets you see the big picture. The bigger question is, what will you find?

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Data and Security DNS ReadWrite security VPN

How to Use a DNS Server to Increase Security and Work Around Geofences

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As this year is shaped with worldwide self-isolation, the tendency is to move activities online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. People are seeking reliable means to protect their devices from malware for work and broaden their reach of new content for leisure. Here is how to use a DNS server to increase security and work around geofences.

The conventional way to achieve geofencing is to use a VPN that offers security and privacy protection.

On the one hand, you can use a VPN to achieve privacy and allow users to override geo-restrictions, on the other.

However, there is another option that works well for individual and small-scale consumers: DNS-based solutions, such as Smart DNS and DNS Firewall. They offer more targeted solutions for the problems we face in our daily activities at a lower price. This distinguishes them from comprehensive enterprise tools that protect extensive business networks. 

What is DNS?

Generally speaking, the Domain Name System, or DNS, is the way that domain names are located and translated into IP addresses. You can compare DNS to a phone book where every domain name is mapped to a specified IP address. 

When we surf the Internet, we use domain names, like google.com or facebook.com. However, Web browsers use Internet Protocol (IP) addresses like 69.63.181.15 to access the website. What DNS does is matching these addresses. When you type an URL in a Web browser, it sends a request to a dedicated DNS server that returns a corresponding IP address. The web browser can then use it to access the website. Without such a system, we’d have to memorize all IP addresses.

At the same time, DNS is much more than just a directory. You also can use it to bypass geoblocking and enhance security while surfing the web. But does this mean that DNS could replace a VPN connection?

Smart DNS and geoblocking

Probably, every Internet user has encountered a geoblocking problem.  You want to watch a new episode of your favorite series on Netflix or click on a video on Youtube. But suddenly, all you can see is the error saying that the video is unavailable in your region. Such limiting access to a particular region is called “geoblocking,� and it is widely used by video-streaming sites, like BBC’s iPlayer, Netflix and ABC iView.

The underlying principle is quite simple: each device connected to the Internet has a unique IP address. IP addresses are allocated in blocks to internet service providers (ISPs) who in turn, allocate them to customers. This scheme makes IP addresses traceable to a geographic location. Thus, companies can limit access only to IP addresses from a particular region.

The way to trick geoblocking is to change your IP address — or make it so the website in question wouldn’t be able to detect it properly — so that its location would seem eligible. Smart DNS is a technology that directs a user to a proxy server to mask the IP address. Because of that, you can gain access to geo-restricted content.

How it works

DNS address assigned by your internet service provider contains info about your geo-location. Smart DNS replaces it with the address of a new Smart DNS server. A Smart DNS provider uses proxy servers in the region eligible to view the requested content. The Smart DNS server can be located anywhere in the world.

When you are connected to this server, your traffic is routed through it. Smart DNS intercepts your connection requests to the server you want to access, and carefully replaces any data in those requests that can leak your geo-location.

Modern apps run smoothly on any platform and device with an internet connection, from routers to smart TVs and video game consoles. These modern apps have a truly global network of servers unblocking the most popular video streaming platforms, including American Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now.

Smart DNS vs. VPN

At first glance, it seems that the features of SmartDNS and VPN are quite similar. Like a VPN, Smart DNS tools hide your real location. However, in contrast to a VPN, they do not change the IP address of your device.  They only mask their original IP address. With a VPN, you connect to a secure local server in another country directly. You use that server’s internet connection – and its IP address – as your own to stream certain content.

Another crucial difference from a VPN is that a Smart DNS doesn’t encrypt your traffic. Without data encryption, the connection between your device and the webserver is much faster than through a VPN tunnel that masks and encrypts all traffic. Hence, the biggest advantage of SmartDNS over a VPN is the speed, as it allows streaming from popular channels in 4K Ultra HD without any lags or delays, limited only by your network speed.

For a user who is looking for a fast and straightforward way to bypass geo-restrictions without the necessity to dig into the device configuration, a Smart DNS is the best option. Since it doesn’t require any installation, it is wrapped in an intuitive and easy-to-use DNS Proxy app. The DNS proxy app shares the same DNS IP address across multiple devices; it becomes an optimal solution if you simply want to get access to a new series at your leisure time.

At the same time, you cannot use a Smart DNS to ensure security and privacy protection. If these are at stake, it’s worthwhile to sacrifice the speed of connection and choose a suitable VPN protocol.

Enhanced Protection with DNS Firewall

At first sight, it might seem that when it comes to online security, encryption, and online freedom, the winner is always the VPN. However, a VPN can only ensure your privacy.  It won’t shield you from malicious websites. To stay protected against possible attacks, users need a DNS firewall, a network security solution that intercepts DNS resolution for known-malicious websites.

How it works

According to the Cisco 2020 Security report, 91% of malware uses DNS services to build cyber-attacks, which makes DNS-based malware one of the most common cyber threats. To answer the threat, a DNS Firewall was designed. This solution selectively intercepts DNS resolution for known-malicious Internet locations, such as domain names, IP addresses, and name servers. The interception can entail rewriting a DNS response to direct a web browser to a “walled garden.� Another option is to make the malicious network assets invisible and unreachable by the device.

As a result, the DNS Firewall works as a cloud barrier between a device and the internet traffic from malicious servers.

The same applies to phishing websites aimed at stealing the user’s confidential data that are increasingly popular during email-based attacks, ransomware, and botnet command and control sites. A DNS Firewall effectively detects and blocks all phishing links keeping the user safe online. Besides, with its quite intuitive interface, even less tech-savvy users can blacklist websites by specific categories (like gaming, gambling, or adult sites).

In certain solutions, users can block sites with pop-up windows or undesirable content by category or by a specific domain.

DNS Firewall vs. VPN

While these technologies share much in common, they do not overlap. A VPN masks the user’s identity, and the DNS Firewall blocks external threats. There is a way to ensure safe web surfing that combines online anonymity, VPN encryption and effective shielding from cyber-attacks. You can use a combination of VPN and DNS technologies as a bundle or as standalone projects.

Similar but complementary, the two technologies can bring cybersecurity to a new level. While a VPN is essential to protect your internet privacy as it provides an encrypted connection between your device and the Internet, DNS-based tools perform a range of complementary tasks, such as unblocking geo-restricted content, like a SmartDNS, or protecting you and your children from unwanted content and phishing attacks, like a DNS Firewall.

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