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How to Backup your computer online for free

Welcome to the Pittsburgh Tech Guy!  Your local source for good, dependable technical support and information!  Keep up with the latest Tech news here!

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Monday
Jul242017

Windows Paint is now officially not getting updated any more

The venerable Windows Paint program, known to many by the name of its executable, mspaint.exe, has been marked as deprecated in the forthcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, The Guardian reports.

Deprecation states formally that the feature is no longer actively developed, and it serves as a warning that Microsoft may remove the feature in a future release. Removal isn't guaranteed, however; there are parts of the Win32 API that have been deprecated for 20 years but still haven't been removed. It's possible that Paint will continue to ship with Windows in a kind of zombie state: not subject to any active maintenance but kept around indefinitely since it's self-contained and not a security risk.

Indeed, the end of the development of Paint is not going to surprise anyone who actually uses the thing; the last time it received any non-negligible improvements was in Windows 7, when its user interface was updated to use a ribbon control. Before that, it had an interface that had been largely untouched since Windows 3.1. As such, Microsoft's official deprecation is merely confirming something that was already obvious; it's not an indicator that anything has actually changed.

While mspaint.exe isn't exactly good, it is at least basically adequate for simple tasks such as redacting information from screenshots. While there are plenty of zero-cost alternatives—I use paint.net—there's a certain convenience to having something in the box. Microsoft is still developing its Paint 3D program, but in spite of the nominal similarity, it currently has little overlap with the 2D painting app. Microsoft's other painting application, Fresh Paint, is strong from a creative perspective, with its simulations of natural media, but similarly, a weak alternative to Paint when it comes to cropping screenshots or adjusting individual pixels.

Sunday
Jul232017

Hackers are targeting hotel Wi-Fi with particularly evil malware

Just because your hotel offers complimentary Wi-Fi, it doesn’t mean you have to take it. Hackers may be lurking, looking to compromise your computer, especially if you’re a high priority target staying at luxury hotels around the globe.

The DarkHotel hacker group has been active for more than 10 years, ZDNet explains, and they’re back with a new malware threat.

The hackers apparently target cherry-picked guests, including political targets, but also CEOs and high-ranking corporate officials.

The attack is conducted in stages. The Wi-Fi network is compromised at first, either by exploiting vulnerabilities in server software, or by getting physical access to a hotel’s infrastructure.

Once that’s done, the hackers use a series of phishing and social engineering tricks to infect targeted computers.

The new malware is known as Inexsmar, and the attack begins just like plenty of other phishing schemes: an email. However, the email is individually designed to be interesting and convincing to the target. So this isn’t your regular bulk phishing attack.

“The social engineering part of the attack involves a very carefully crafted phishing email targeted to one person at a time,” senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender Bogdan Botezatu told ZDNet.

The email comes with a self-extracting archive page that begins the Trojan download. The malware payload isn’t delivered all at once, as the malware downloads it in steps, to avoid detection from the victim. A Word file may be opened on the computer to trick the user from looking at what else is happening on computer.

The multi-stage Trojan is an evolutionary step, researchers say, as it helps hackers avoid detection.

The DarkHotel group has been covering its tracks so well that researchers have no idea who they are or what their intentions might truly be. Given the complexity of the attacks, the researchers can’t ignore the possibility of this being a state-sponsored hack.

What are the hackers after? That’s a question the Bitdefender researchers can’t answer.

Sunday
Jul232017

Add This PC, Recycle Bin, And Control Panel Icons To The Desktop In Windows 10

With the new Start menu in Windows10, you will find yourself with a much cleaner desktop. You can add and access just about anything from the Start menu including folders, playlists, specific websites, and even movies. What’s more is that you can group these items and have an awesome dashboard to work with in the form of the Start menu. That said, you might miss having My Computer and the Recycle bin icons on your desktop. If you go searching for a way to enable them in the Personalization section of the Control Panel app, you won’t have too much luck since a direct link to the option is no longer there. Here’s the easiest way to get these icons on the desktop.

Open the Settings app and go to the Personalization group of settings. Click the Themes tab and under Related Settings, click ‘Desktop icon settings’.

 

win10-themes

You will see this familiar window that was far easier to bring up in Windows 7. Simply check the box against the icon you want to add to your desktop and click Apply at the bottom.

win10-desktop-icons

If you want to go through the Control Panel desktop app to get to this window, use the search bar to look for the desktop icons option and then access it from there. If you’re looking to add This PC to the start menu, just open File explorer, right-click This PC in the navigation pane and select the Pin to Start option.

Friday
Jul212017

What happens when an Office 365 subscription expires?

cw office data accessibility Credit: April Montgomery / IDG

Microsoft's pay-as-you-go Office 365 is, first and foremost, a subscription. And like other subscriptions -- think newspapers (remember them?) or an online storage service -- missing a payment doesn't immediately mean you're cut off.

Because it's less expensive to retain a current subscriber than find a new subscriber as a replacement, providers sometimes go to great lengths to keep customers on the rolls.

When a business misses an Office 365 payment, or cancels the service, the applications and data don't immediately disappear. Instead, Microsoft steps a customer through a three-stage process that gradually decreases both employee and administrator access, but for months leaves the door open to a renewal.

Here are the stages of an Office 365 breakup.

1-30 days after subscription ends: Expired

Microsoft dubs the first stage "expired," but it could just as well be called "grace period," since everything works as if the customer's payments remain up to date.

Users have normal access to all Office 365 applications and services under the company's plan. Already-installed applications can be launched, no data will be scrubbed from Microsoft's servers -- such as email messages or files stored on OneDrive for Business -- and additional applications can be added to a user's devices.

Note: macOS versions of Office provided via an Office 365 subscription do not include the 30-day grace period; they immediately enter the "Disabled" state. See below for details.

Administrators can access all functions from the Office 365 admin center portal, including assigning licenses to new or existing employees. If the firm plans to depart Office 365, data may be backed up.

The subscription can be renewed by the global or billing administrator during this 30-day span.

31-120 days after subscription ends: Disabled

During months two through four, the subscription sits in the "disabled" state. Another label could be "admin only," as administrators can continue to access the admin portal. The IT staff can most effectively use this period to back up employee data stored on Microsoft's servers. Admins cannot assign licenses to workers during the 90 days.

Users are unable to log into their Office 365 accounts and so are blocked from Office 365 services included in the plan, ranging from hosted email to OneDrive for Business. The locally-installed applications will drop into what Microsoft's calls "reduced functionality," meaning that most features and tools are unavailable. Files may be opened, viewed and printed, but not edited or saved. The applications may not launch from the desktop, but they will open after clicking on an appropriate document.

A subscription can still be renewed by the global or billing administrator during this stretch.

121 days and up: Deprovisioned

At the Day 121 mark, the Office 365 subscription is not only dead, it's really, really dead.

No one, administrators included, can access service or applications, so backing up employee data is impossible.

In fact, Microsoft will begin to delete the subscription's data from its servers starting on this date. The company does not provide a done-by deadline, saying, "You can expect data to be permanently deleted in a reasonable timeframe after the 120 days have elapsed." Enterprises that want data erased as soon as possible may request "expedited deprovisioning" by calling support. Microsoft will then delete the pertinent data within three days.

Global or billing admins may not restore a subscription -- and thus access to the cloud-based data and the Office applications -- during this period. Assuming the firm wants to continue using Office, it must purchase new Office 365 subscriptions or standalone, perpetual licenses.

Monday
Jul032017

How to Stop the NSA Spying on Your Online Activity

Everything we do online leaves a digital footprint. Typing something into Google, checking e-mail, watching a video, even just clicking through a random website, it all leaves a trail. Depending on your privacy practices this trail can offer a little or a lot of information about yourself, everything from your name and address to your grocery shopping and video watching habits. Government agencies like the NSA can use this digital footprint to monitor everything you do online.

Digital surveillance casts a wide shadow and is becoming more common as the years go by. The NSA isn’t the only government agency that engages in this sort of surveillance, either. Fortunately there are tools that can help average users protect their privacy and put a stop to online spyware and tracking.

Stop the NSA from Spying: First Steps

The weakest link in everyday privacy is human error. From forgetting to log out of social media accounts to typing passwords into the wrong box, when small amounts of data find their way into the world, it can be just as much our fault as anyone else’s. That’s why establishing a baseline of smart practices while eliminating risky habits should be your first step in preventing NSA spying.

The number one rule for maintaining privacy online is this: don’t open or download anything that’s even a tiny bit suspicious. Spyware frequently finds its way onto personal computers and mobile devices simply because users clicked a link they shouldn’t have. If something looks out of place, just leave it alone, plain and simple.

Use the tips below to start protecting your privacy online:

1. Remove browser extensions – No matter which browser you use, the first thing you should do is take a look at your installed extensions. Although they may seem innocent enough, extensions often have the ability to read or transmit browsing history, essentially turning them into spyware plug-ins. Some of them even inject ads or include tracking scripts that harvest your data. Uninstall any extension you don’t absolutely need, and for the ones you keep, make sure they don’t have access to private information of any kind.

2. Stop using social networks – Social networks such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook serve as vast repositories of personal information that people intentionally contribute to. Putting up photos from your vacation or talking about the awesome lunch you had seems innocent enough, but it’s what companies can do with that data that compromises your security. Social networks can share or sell information you add, and if a government agency such as the NSA makes a data request, the company has to comply. If you want to end the spying, stop using social networks, especially Facebook.

3. Use cryptocurrency for purchases – Using a decentralized digital currency like bitcoin can all but guarantee your privacy when making online transactions. Credit cards and PayPal accounts are extremely easy to trace, especially for the NSA. By leveraging the anonymous power of cryptocurrency, you can make purchases without leaving a trail.

4. Keep devices and operating systems up to date – Important security patches are often delivered via small but frequent updates and fix vulnerabilities exploited by the latest malware and spyware. It may be annoying having to update all the time, but where your privacy is concerned, it’s a small price to pay.

5. Don’t let unnecessary devices online – As home appliances and other tech devices get more advanced, the first thing they do is request access to the internet. Ideally this would only be used for updates and notifications and not much else, but the sad truth is even your Smart TV or internet connected camera can deliver private information to unknown sources. Unless your refrigerator needs internet access to function, don’t let it online.

6. Cover up or unplug your webcam – It sounds like something a paranoid person would do, but simply putting a piece of tape over your laptop’s webcam and microphone is a surprisingly effective spyware deterrent.

7. Incognito mode doesn’t stop spying – It’s worth noting that private tabs on browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari won’t prevent the NSA from spying on your online activity. These modes simply remove local traces of activity, not your online trail.

Browser Extensions to Stop NSA Spying

The web browser is a hub for most of our online activity. Every click, every website, and most private communications pass through it on a daily basis, making it a prime starting point for boosting your privacy to prevent spying.

After culling your add-ons list of unused and potentially dangerous extensions, it’s time to incorporate new tools to help lock down your private information and prevent NSA onlookers. The suggestions below are widely used by the privacy community and are available for most modern browsers, including Chrome, Opera, and Firefox.

  • HTTPS Everywhere – An extension made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that forces a number of popular websites to use a secure connection.
  • Privacy Badger – Another add-on made by the EFF. This one blocks invasive ads, spying trackers, and helps discourage browser fingerprinting.
  • NoScript – A phenomenal anti-tracking add-on for Firefox and other Mozilla based browsers.
  • Disconnect – A powerful privacy tool that helps prevent data leaks and keeps your information safe.

Use a Search Engine that Doesn’t Track You

Have you ever seen an advertisement for a product directly related to something you were looking at earlier in the day? That’s search tracking at work, and it’s an enormous invasion of privacy that makes it easy for the NSA to follow your activities. Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and nearly every other search engine out there keeps extensive records of search queries. Whenever you type something into Google, that string is stored and associated with your browser and IP address. All the NSA has to do is ask and that information can be theirs.

There’s really only one solution to avoiding tracking like this: use a different search engine. DuckDuckGo is extremely popular and offers the ironclad promise of never storing personal information, never following you with ads, and never tracking your activity. Ever. By changing your default shortcuts to use DuckDuckGo instead of Google, you’ll regain some privacy and put another roadblock between you and the NSA spies.

  • DuckDuckGo – The privacy focused search engine.

Switch to a Secure E-mail Provider

E-mail was never designed for security. The simple communications protocol was developed when the internet was in its infancy and privacy wasn’t really an issue. When you type a letter to your boss or a friend it’s sent in plain text from your device to your e-mail server, from that server to your friend’s e-mail server, then to your friend’s device, possibly crossing a number of nodes in-between. At each step the content is readily available to anyone monitoring the network, affording neither party even the most basic levels of privacy.

Plain e-mail is a lot like sending a postcard: whoever comes across it can read it. The simplest way to protect the contents of a mailed letter is to put it in an envelope. In digital terms, this means adding encryption, something even the NSA will have a hard time cracking

There are several e-mail services that offer end-to-end encryption and basic data privacy. Switching means giving up your old e-mail address, which can be as frustrating as changing phone numbers, but the added security and privacy is well worth it.

  • ProtonMail – By far the best and most well-liked encrypted e-mail service provider around.
  • Lavabit – A reliable encrypted e-mail provider with extremely powerful privacy features.
  • Tutanota – A relative newcomer in the industry that delivers private e-mail without the hassle.

Change Chat Programs

Instant messaging and voice chat programs like Skype are notoriously bad at protecting user data. If the NSA wants to eavesdrop on your conversation, there’s an open door for them to walk right in. If you need to instant online communication and aren’t willing to give up your right to privacy, switch to one of the programs below.

  • Bleep – Private messaging from the team that created BitTorrent. Leverages peer to peer communications to cut out the central server, making spying pretty difficult.
  • Off-the-Record plug-in – An add-on for the Pidgin instant messaging service,  OTR encrypts online messages for more private conversations.
  • Semaphor – Encrypted group chat and file sharing.
  • Jitsi – A more secure Skype alternative that offers encrypted video chat.

Use Antivirus Software

The first step in blocking spyware is to make sure it doesn’t have a chance to run on your computer. Even cautious users can stumble upon a virus from time to time, which is why having good, up to date antivirus software can come in handy.

Unfortunately, the antivirus world is rife with invasions of privacy. Popular programs such as Avast and the free version of AVG have been shown to record and store a list of the websites you visit. They still offer basic protection from spyware, but because they function as spyware themselves, they’re not exactly good solutions.

If you use Windows and prefer not to use the option below, Microsoft’s own Defender software is a useful second-best. Note that Microsoft was named as part of the PRISM program (see below) and shares information with the NSA, so it’s not the most secure option available.

  • Clamwin – Free and open source antivirus that doesn’t track anything.

Replace Common Software with Privacy Conscious Alternatives

We used dozens of different kinds of software and apps each day, both at home and at work. Many of them are known to store and share user information with third parties and government agencies, including the NSA.

Most common programs and apps have more secure alternatives, especially if they’re designed to handle sensitive information. The software below gives you an extra layer of security against data leaks and theft by providing encryption and other privacy-centric features.

  • Signal Private Messenger – Private, encrypted calling and SMS app for iPhone and Android.
  • SpiderOak One – An encrypted, zero-knowledge cloud hosting alternative to Dropbox and Google Drive.
  • ENCRYPT.One – Share files with an encrypted browser-based interface.
  • Atlantis Word Processor – A feature rich word processor that lets you encrypt files with just a few clicks.

Secure Your Cell Phone

Smartphones carry an enormous amount of personal data, everything from our home address to contacts, banking information, e-mails, and more. They’re high value targets for thieves and hackers, and the NSA knows it can get a lot of information from a single source. Keeping the contents of your cell phone safe should be a high priority.

In addition to online data theft, mobile devices have the added risk of being physically compromised. It’s easy to forget your phone at a cafe or have someone lift it from a purse or backpack. They can install spyware or key loggers, both of which can route data directly to government agencies without your knowledge.

In addition to using common sense and keeping your device with you at all times, there are a few things you can do to boost privacy and prevent the NSA from tracking your phone.

Use a strong screen lock passcode – It’s tempting to set lock screen passcodes to simple four digit combinations or swipe patterns. After all, we unlock our phones dozens of times a day, that could save a ton of time! By switching to a six digit passcode or a six node swipe pattern, however, you increase the complexity of your password exponentially, making it difficult even for a supercomputer to crack.

Turn on airplane mode – If you’re not actively making calls, switch on airplane mode to stop transmitting information to local cell towers.

Remove the battery – Phones can send location data as long as they have power. With no battery, nothing can be sent.

Encrypt your device – Local phone encryption locks down files on your device and makes them unreadable without the proper decryption keys.

Treat your phone like a computer – Do you use firewalls, VPNs, adblockers, and encrypted chat on your PC? Don’t forget to do the same on your phone.

Unfortunately, cell phones will never be perfectly secure. In order to send data to your device the cell phone company needs to be able to find it. That means transmitting location information wirelessly, which is a dead giveaway to NSA spies. Make sure you read our guides on securing an iPhone or an Android phone. And what are the best VPNs for iOS and Android.

The number one workaround for this is to stop using a smartphone altogether.

Use the Tor Browser

The Tor network was built for anonymity. Tor works by encapsulating data in layers of encryption and passing that data through a series of computers called nodes. Each node peels back a layer of encryption, which reveals instructions on which node to pass the data next. When the last layer is peeled back, the data is delivered to its destination. This allows digital communication to occur without leaving a direct trail, making it extremely difficult if not impossible for the NSA to follow your activity.

The Tor Browser is a highly customized version of Firefox that uses the Tor network for all of its traffic. Instead of using Chrome or Safari to do your daily tasks, you can use the Tor Browser and take advantage of the security and anonymity it provides. You won’t be able to watch most online videos or take advantage of content that utilizes JavaScript, ActiveX, Java, or QuickTime, and the Tor Browser is much slower than your regular browser thanks to the encryption it provides, but you’ll be able to carry out most of your searching and browsing activities without advertising your presence to the NSA.

Invest in a Good VPN

One of the most powerful things you can do to ensure your online privacy is to use a virtual private network. VPNs act like a tunnel between your computer and the internet at large. Instead of sending raw data ISPs can collect and hackers can steal, a VPN encrypts everything and sends it to servers located around the world. Your personal details aren’t attached to this traffic, and even if they were, it’s encrypted and nearly impossible to decrypt.

When shopping for a VPN there are a number of factors you’ll want to consider. Privacy is at the top of the list, and a good indicator for how seriously the VPN service takes your privacy is to make sure they have a strict zero-logging policy. DNS leak protection and kill switches are also nice features that help prevent data loss.

For more information on how to find the fastest, most secure, and most feature rich VPNs, check out our guides below:

Switch Operating Systems

It’s a big hassle to change your operating system, but both Windows and MacOS have been shown to leak user data and provide backdoors for the NSA to spy on users. Windows is particularly vulnerable to spyware and trackers, too, and both operating systems have features that shares user information with the developers. Circumventing these problems with any degree of certainty is nearly impossible, as the are deeply integrated into the operating systems and can’t easily be shut off.

How can you avoid the operating system tracking trap? By switching to Linux. Free and open source Linux distributions are built by privacy aware people and have some extraordinary tools to help prevent online tracking. Nearly all of the programs and apps you use will work just fine on Linux, and the installation process isn’t nearly as complex as you might believe.

  • Ubuntu – One of the most user friendly Linux distros ever made.
  • Linux Mint – Recreates a traditional desktop environment with a focus on ease of use.

Use the Tails OS

Tails is a lightweight live operating system built for the sole purpose of protecting user privacy. The OS runs from a DVD, SD card, or USB stick and uses powerful encryption to scramble every piece of data that leaves the device. It also leverages the Tor network and the Tor Browser and uses a secure instant messaging service, making it extremely difficult for the NSA to track your activity.

Tails OS wasn’t made for everyday computer tasks, although it’s surprisingly capable given its size. If you have sensitive work to carry out or want to ensure a higher level of privacy for certain searches or downloads, keeping a copy of Tails handy is a great idea.

Use the instructions below to install Tails:

  1. Use your web browser to download Tails OS.
  2. Run the Tails installer and follow the on screen instructions.
  3. Restart your computer and boot directly into Tails OS.
  4. Enter your Wi-Fi or connection details to access the internet.
  5. Open Tor (included with the Tails download) and browse the web at your leisure.

What is the NSA PRISM Program?

PRISM is a code name for a program operated by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that collects digital communications from at least nine major internet companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, YouTube, AOL, Skype, and Apple. This data includes everything from e-mails to text documents, photos, location information, IP addresses, browsing history, and video call content, all of which was legally given to the NSA without user permission.

The PRISM program is the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA reports, which is a clear indicator of just how widespread digital surveillance has become. Nearly everyone who’s used the internet has visited sites operated by the companies above, which means the NSA theoretically has access to their personal details. Privacy has never been more important than it is today.

Monday
Jul032017

How to Get a U.S. IP Address from Any Country

The popularization of the internet has made more content available to a wider range of people almost overnight. You don’t have to be in Japan to watch sumo wrestling or in Pakistan to watch cricket, and you don’t have to live in the U.S. to watch movies, TV shows, and sporting events made in the United States.

Although it’s possible to access all varieties of media from around the globe, content restriction laws often stand in the way. Fortunately there are a number of ways to get around this frustrating limitation, the most common of which is to change your IP address to one located in the U.S. This simple measure is all it takes to trick content blockers into thinking you moved, allowing you to keep up with your favorite shows and sports no matter where you live or where you travel.

What is an IP Address?

An internet protocol address, or simply IP address, is an identifying series of numbers given to each computer that connects to a network. Other devices are also assigned an IP address when they connect, including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, cameras, printers, and so on. Each IP address is unique to that particular device and helps identify it for traffic routing, networking, and other common data delivery tasks.

IP addresses come in two basic forms. One is the classic layout of numbers separated by decimal points that most people will be familiar with. The other is a newer and more complex version created to allow more devices to connect to the internet. Regardless of which version you see, both are used to identify devices on a network.

Two types of IP addresses with essentially the same function:

  • 123.45.678.9 (IPv4)
  • 2001:db8:0:1234:0:5678:1 (IPv6)

What are IP Addresses Used For?

The basic purpose of IP addresses is to identify a device that’s requesting information so data can be directed straight to it. When you connect to a local service provider your device is given an IP address, and when you type in a URL you send a request through the ISP’s servers. These requests are tied to your IP so the information can find its way back to your computer once it has been fetched from the internet.

An IP address can be broken down into smaller parts to narrow down the assigned device’s location by country, city, zip code, etc. Websites can also use this information to deliver content specifically tailored to your region, such as customizing which restaurants show up when you search for something to eat. Sites can also use IP addresses to block content altogether, which is how government and business level censorship usually works.

Advantages of a U.S. Based IP Address

Having your internet connected device identify as being located in the U.S. has a number of benefits, both for citizens abroad as well as residents of other countries. With the right IP you can surf the internet as if you were sitting in the U.S., opening up a massive amount of content to download and stream.

Here are some of the advantages of using a U.S. IP address:

1. Access streaming videos blocked in your area – It’s frustrating using a service like Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, or YouTube and seeing a message that the content isn’t available in your country. International laws restrict when and where movies and TV shows can be shown, making worldwide content availability a tricky feat to pull off. If you’re interested in streaming Netflix or Hulu content, you should be aware that NordVPN, ExpressVPN and VyprVPN all provide this possibility. The majority of popular streaming media comes out of the U.S., however, which means you can easily access it with a U.S. based IP address.

2. Download games not available in your region – The U.S. gets a lot of games before other regions of the world. Timed releases are usually set to deliver content to North America first, followed by Europe, Asia, and Australia at a later date. Some online games run servers that restrict access to certain countries, but if you have a U.S. IP address, you can simply change your virtual location and download whenever you please. This works for many online game marketplaces, including some mobile app stores.

3. Circumvent censored websites – Many governments, universities, and businesses restrict certain sites on their network, making it nearly impossible for people to access common resources like Google or Facebook. By switching to a U.S. IP address, you can identify your device as being from another area and use whatever websites you want.

4. Access accounts while abroad – Some U.S. based banks only allow online access from IP addresses located in the United States. If you’re traveling and need to check your transactions, you’ll have to switch virtual locations before signing in.

Best Option: Use a VPN for a U.S. IP Address

The easiest, the most reliable, the most secure, and the most feature-rich way to use a U.S. IP address is to get a VPN. Virtual private networks are services set up to help protect your privacy while browsing. They act as sort of a tunnel between your computer and the internet, encrypting data so that ISPs and hackers won’t be able to identify the source or the content of the traffic. With a VPN server’s IP address attached to your encrypted information, you can browse the internet safely and securely.

The best side benefit of using a VPN is location variability. VPN providers run networks of hundreds of servers located around the world. You can access these servers with just a few clicks, changing your virtual location from Portugal to Paraguay in an instant. Each server has its own IP address that will identify your device as being in that region. So, if you need access to content in the United States, simply open your VPN software, find a fast server in the U.S., connect, and suddenly you have a U.S. IP address, just like that.

Evaluating the Best VPNs

Finding a good VPN requires a little research. There are a number of sub-par providers on the market that will charge too much money, offer poor support or server selection, and endanger your privacy more than they’ll protect it. For every shady VPN there’s a reliable one, however. We used the criteria below to find the best VPN services that offer U.S. IP addresses no matter what country you live in.

  1. Server distribution – If you want a U.S. IP address, you need servers located in the U.S. Most good quality VPN providers have dozens of servers located throughout the United States. Any of these will provide the IP address you need, but if there are more options closer to your physical location, you’re likely to have a faster connection.
  2. Logging policy – If you’re using a VPN, you’re sending all of your data through another company’s servers. Those companies can keep logs of user activity and store them indefinitely, making it easier for hackers or government agencies to get their hands on the information. The best way to ensure your privacy is to only use VPNs with zero-logging policies. If no logs are kept, no data can be leaked.
  3. Kill switches and DNS leak protection – An often overlooked area of VPN security are small data leaks that can happen when connecting to the service or if you forget to open your VPN software. The best VPN providers check for this, and they also have built-in kill switches to stop any data from escaping in case of an outage.
  4. Speed – The U.S. is an ocean away from most of the world, making latency and server speed a serious issue when connecting from another continent. Good VPN providers compensate for this by fine tuning their network to deliver faster connections.
  5. Business jurisdiction – Although U.S. IP addresses offer a number of content availability advantages, servers located in the country do have a serious drawback: government oversight. Laws in the U.S. do very little to prevent digital surveillance or protect user privacy, which can put your data at risk. A simple workaround is to use VPNs that aren’t based in the U.S. but who still operate servers inside the country. This allows them to be governed by foreign regulations while gaining the benefits of U.S. IP addresses. All of the providers below are based outside of the United States but still have dozens of servers within the country’s borders.