What Is “Military-Grade Encryption”?

Two men in military uniforms in a data center.

Many companies tout “military-grade encryption” to protect your data. If it’s good enough for the military, it must be the best—right? Well, kind of. “Military-grade encryption” is more of a marketing term that doesn’t have a precise meaning.

Encryption Basics

Let’s start with the basics. Encryption is, essentially, a way to take information and scramble it, so it looks like gibberish. You can then decrypt that encrypted information—but only if you know how. The method of encrypting and decrypting is known as a “cipher,” and it usually relies on a piece of information known as a “key.”

For example, when you visit a website encrypted with HTTPS and sign in with a password or provide a credit card number, that private data is sent over the internet in a scrambled (encrypted) form. Only your computer and the website you’re communicating with can understand it, which prevents people from snooping on your password or credit card number. When you first connect, your browser and the website perform a “handshake” and exchange secrets that are used for encryption and decryption of the data.

There are many different encryption algorithms. Some are more secure and harder to crack than others.

RELATED: What is Encryption, and Why Are People Afraid of It?

Rebranding Standard Encryption

Whether you’re logging into your online banking, using a virtual private network (VPN), encrypting the files on your hard drive, or storing your passwords in a secure vault, you obviously want stronger encryption that’s harder to crack.

To put you at ease and generally sound as secure as possible, many services tout “military-grade encryption” on their websites and in advertisements.

It sounds strong and battle-tested, but the military doesn’t actually define something called “military-grade encryption.” That’s a phrase dreamt up by marketing people. By advertising encryption as “military-grade,” companies are just saying that “the military uses it for some things.”

What Does “Military Grade Encryption” Mean?

A hand pulling a document marked "Top Secret" out of a filing cabinet.
Photo Art Lucas/Shutterstock.com

Dashlane, a password manager that has advertised its “military-grade encryption,” explains what this term means on its blog. According to Dashlane, military-grade encryption means AES-256 encryption. That’s the Advanced Encryption Standard with a 256-bit key size.

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How to Change the Default Shell to Bash on macOS Catalina

Terminal window on a macOS Catalina desktop.

With macOS Catalina, Apple is now using Zsh as the default shell. We love Zsh, but the trusty old Bash shell is still included with macOS, and you can quickly switch back to Bash if you prefer.

Zsh is only the default shell on newly created user accounts, so any existing accounts you have on an upgraded  Mac will still use Bash by default unless you change it. Each user account has its own default shell preference.

From the Terminal

To change a user account’s default shell on macOS, simply run the chsh -s (change shell) command in a Terminal window.

Change the default shell to Bash by running the following command:

chsh -s /bin/bash

You’ll have to enter your user account’s password. Finally, close the Terminal window and reopen it. You’ll be using Bash instead of Zsh.

Changing the default shell to Bash on macOS Catalina.

Change the default shell back to Zsh by running this command:

chsh -s /bin/zsh

Enter your password when prompted. After you close the terminal window and reopen it, you’ll be using Zsh.

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How Windows 10’s “Reset This PC” Has Gotten More Powerful

The Reset This PC option in Windows 10's boot-up Troubleshooting menu.

The “Reset This PC” feature has been around since Windows 8, but it’s changed a lot since then. Microsoft keeps making it better and better, and it’s easy to miss all the improvements. Cloud Download is just the latest, most visible one.

How “Reset This PC” Works

The Reset This PC feature makes it “almost like you just opened your PC for the first time,” according to Microsoft’s Aaron Lower, a project manager in charge of Recovery at Microsoft, in a Windows Insider webcast. If you’re selling or giving away your PC, you can erase your files and even wipe your drive so your data can’t be recovered. If you’re experiencing a PC problem or just want a clean Windows system, you’ll get that fresh Windows OS.

When resetting your PC, you can choose to either keep your personal files or have them removed from your PC. Either way, Windows will remove your installed programs and give you a fresh operating system.

To reset a PC, head to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery or choose the Troubleshoot > Reset This PC option in the Advanced Startup Options menu. This menu opens if you have problems booting your PC, but you can also open it by holding the Shift key while you click the “Restart” option in the Windows Start menu or on the login screen.

Under the hood, Windows will gather the files it needs and basically create a new Windows installation. It will migrate your personal files, if you choose, as well as hardware drivers and preinstalled applications to the new system.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About “Reset This PC” in Windows 8 and 10

Imageless Recovery on Windows 10

Resetting a PC from Windows 10's Settings app.

Windows Recovery goes a long way back. “Recovery partitions” began in Windows XP and were also used by Windows Vista and Windows 7. These were separate partitions containing a compressed copy of Windows and the manufacturer’s customizations, and you could restart your PC and boot into them to restore.

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How Chrome’s “Tab Freezing” Will Save CPU and Battery

Close up of the Google Chrome's logo.

Google is working on a new “Tab Freeze” feature for Chrome, which will pause (freeze) tabs you’re not using. That means lower CPU usage, a faster browser, and longer battery life on a laptop or convertible.

The Problem: Too Many Tabs

If you only had a single tab open at all times, Chrome would only need to render one web page at once. But you probably have more. Even while you’re not using them, each tab you have open in Chrome contains an open web page. That web page uses system memory. Any scripts and other active content on it continue running, too, which means the web page can use CPU resources in the background.

In some ways, this is good: Even if you switch tabs, a tab can continue playing audio or updating itself in the background. When you switch back to it, you don’t need to wait for the web page to reload—it’s instant.

But it can be bad. If you have a large number of tabs open—or even just a small number of tabs containing heavy web pages—they can use a lot of system resources, filling up your memory, taking up CPU cycles, making Chrome less responsive, and draining your battery. That’s why Chrome’s engineers created Tab Discarding and, now, Tab Freezing. They’re related features, but do different things in different situations.

How Tab Discarding Saves Your RAM

A large number of tabs open on Chrome's tab bar.

Tab Discarding was added back in 2015. This is a “memory-saving” feature, as Google puts it. In short, if your computer is low on memory, Chrome will automatically “discard” the contents of “uninteresting” tabs. Chrome won’t automatically discard a tab if you’re interacting with it, but that background tab you haven’t interacted with in hours is a prime target.

When a tab’s contents are discarded, it’s removed from your system’s memory, and the state is saved to disk. Nothing changes in Chrome’s interface—the tab appears on your tab bar and looks normal. But, when you click it and switch to it, you’ll see Chrome take a moment to quickly reload the page and get you back to where you were.

This slight delay is why Chrome only discards tab when your system’s memory is “running pretty low.” It’s good to use your RAM for caching. But automatically discarding a tab and quickly reopening it is better than forcing Chrome’s user’s to bookmark and close tabs manually.

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Is Your Old Router Still Getting Security Updates?

An old wireless router on a table in a home.
Casezy idea/Shutterstock.com

Security researchers from Fortinet recently discovered security holes in some D-Link routers. Many of these routers are still sold online, but D-Link no longer manufactures them and won’t patch them. So how do you tell if your router is still supported?

Why Router Firmware Updates Are Important

Router updates are especially important. Your wireless router is generally the one device you connect directly to the internet. It functions as a firewall and protects all your other devices from incoming traffic thanks to network address translation (NAT.)

Security holes in routers can lead to them becoming infected by malware and joining a botnet. Disabling remote access to your router is a critical security tip, as it shields your router’s administration interface from the internet. However, installing the latest security updates is vital.

Unfortunately, many routers don’t automatically install security updates and require manual security update installation. You can install them from the router’s web interface—or mobile app if the router offers an app.

RELATED: How to Ensure Your Home Router Has the Latest Security Updates

Why Are Manufacturers So Bad With Updates?

A D-Link DIR-655 wireless router.
D-Link’s DIR-655 wireless router, which is no longer receiving security updates. D-Link

When a security hole is found—whether by security researchers or by criminals who want to infect your router and make it part of a botnet—you want your router to have security updates. But they aren’t always available.

Manufacturers aren’t forced to update routers forever—or for any particular amount of time. Many router manufacturers manufacture a large number of different router models. When a hole is found, it may take quite some effort to patch it in all the different routers, which run different firmware (software.)

Worse, many router manufacturers compete on price quite a bit. If people are buying the cheapest possible routers, the router manufacturer will have to cut corners somewhere to compete in the market. Long-term support is an easy place to cut—after all, how many people will buy a router because the manufacturer promises extended security updates, or avoid a router because the manufacturer has no established policy on it?

How to Check If Your Router Is Still Supported

Is your router still supported? The only way to tell for sure is to check your router manufacturer’s website. First, take a look at your router and note its manufacturer and model number so you can check if it appears on an end-of-life list.

  • Apple: Apple’s AirPort base stations still appear to be supported with firmware updates, although the company is no longer manufacturing them.
  • Asus: Review the end-of-life product list on Asus’s website. As the official websites put it, the router’s firmware “will not be updated” after it reaches end of life.
  • Cisco: Cisco lists a variety of end-of-life and end-of-sale products on its website.
  • D-Link: Consult the official list of legacy products on D-Link’s website. Routers on this list won’t receive security updates.
  • Netgear: Netgear doesn’t appear to have an end-of-life product list—yes, that’s pretty absurd. Here’s a third-party list that’s probably incomplete.
  • Linksys: Linksys offers a list of obsolete products. That’s just the first page—be sure to consult page 2 and page 3 of the list, too.
  • Google: Google’s WiFi routers are recent, and all appear supported with updates. However, Google seems to have given up on keeping an up-to-date list of firmware updates on its website.
  • Synology: Synology offers a product support status website listing its devices and what support they’re receiving.

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