How to pin drives to the Taskbar on Windows 10

The taskbar is for pinning apps. You’ll find that if you want to pin anything that isn’t an app e.g. a file or a folder, you will have to look for a workaround. That said, it’s still possible to pin a file to the taskbar. If you’re looking to pin a drive to the taskbar, you will again need a workaround. The good news is that the workaround, in this case, is really simple. Here’s what you need to do.

Pin drives to the taskbar

Open This PC and right-click the drive you want to pin to the taskbar and select Create Shortcut from the context menu. The shortcut will be placed on your desktop.

Go to your desktop and right-click the shortcut for the drive. Select Properties from the context menu. On the Properties window, go to the Shortcut tab. Click inside the Target field and enter the following at the very start and add one space after.

explorer

Click Ok. The icon for the shortcut will change to that of File Explorer and the address in the target field will also change. You can pin the shortcut to the taskbar now but we’re going to change the icon first so that you can tell that it’s for a disk.

Again, right-click the shortcut and select Properties from the context menu. Go to the Shortcut tab, and click Change Icon. You will see an address field where the icons are displayed from. Enter the following address in the field and tap Enter. Look through the icons and pick the drive icon. You can also use your own, custom icon if you like. It’s fairly easy to make one.

C:\Windows\system32\imageres.dll

Click OK. Once the icon has been updated, right-click the shortcut and select Pin to taskbar from the context menu. The shortcut to the drive will be pinned to the taskbar. When you click it, the drive will open in File Explorer. You can do this with local drives, and with network drives.

If you’re looking to pin multiple drives to the taskbar, it’s a good idea to use custom icons. If you go with the default icons that are available on Windows 10, all the pinned drives will look the same. You can reveal which drive a pinned icon will open by hovering the mouse over it but the tooltip takes a little time to appear and it’s counterproductive. You can use either a custom icon or you can remember which drive is which. If you want, you can also separate the pinned drives from other apps by adding dividers to the taskbar.

Read How to pin drives to the Taskbar on Windows 10 by Fatima Wahab on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

How to get a power cable connected/disconnected alert on macOS

macOS normally doesn’t alert users to hardware changes. You get alerts when you move files, or delete them but those are software changes. Hardware changes such as connecting a disk, a phone, or the power cable aren’t normally accompanied by any sort of audio alert but there is a built-in mechanism that can be used to enable these alerts. Here’s how you can get power cable connected/disconnected alerts on macOS.

This trick may be limited by hardware but generally speaking if you have a Mac model that was released in 2015 or later, it should work. Click the Apple icon in the menu bar and select About This Mac to see what year your model is from.

Power cable connected/disconnected alerts

Open Terminal and run the following command.

defaults write com.apple.PowerChime ChimeOnAllHardware -bool true; open /System/Library/CoreServices/PowerChime.app &

Connect, or disconnect the power cable from your Mac and you will hear an audio alert. There will be no visual/desktop alert telling you what the sound means.

If you later decide you can do without the alerts, you can disable them with the following command.

defaults write com.apple.PowerChime ChimeOnAllHardware -bool false;killall PowerChime

If you have the sort of power cable that lights up when it connects to your MacBook, the alert won’t sound until the light on it comes On. It doesn’t matter if the MacBook is fully charged or charging. The light indicates that a power connection has been established with the device and that’s what triggers the chime.

This command will likely also enable alerts for other hardware connect/disconnect events e.g. when you connect a USB you will likely hear another audio alert.

If you compare macOS and Windows, you’ll find they’re practically polar opposites in this area. On Windows 10, each and every hardware related event is accompanied by an audio alert, and sometimes even a visual/desktop alert e.g. when you connect a phone or external drive. It does not, however, give users an alert when the power cable is connected or disconnected and it has no built-in mechanism to do so.

macOS simply doesn’t send alerts when there is a hardware change but it has the ability to do so. This allows users to enable the alerts natively and not have to rely on a third-party app to do the job for them. Once the alerts are enabled, they include alerts for the power cable connecting/disconnecting as well.

Need power cable connected/disconnected alerts on Windows 10? You will have to use an app.

Read How to get a power cable connected/disconnected alert on macOS by Fatima Wahab on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

How to set up an Android X86 virtual machine on Linux

Sometimes an Android emulator isn’t enough if you want to use Android apps on a Linux PC. Sometimes, you need the real thing. The best way to get real Android on a Linux PC is with an Android X86 virtual machine. In this guide, we’ll go over how to set one up.

Install VirtualBox on Linux

To virtualize the Android operating system on a Linux OS, you must install the VirtualBox virtualization software. Thankfully, VirtualBox supports nearly every Linux operating system without issue, and as a result, it is straightforward to set up.

To start the installation of VirtualBox on your Linux PC, open up a terminal window by pressing Ctrl + Alt + T or Ctrl + Shift + T on the keyboard. From there, follow along with the installation instructions that correspond with the Linux OS you currently use.

Ubuntu

On Ubuntu, install the VirtualBox app with the following Apt command.

sudo apt install virtualbox

Debian

On Debian, you must manually enable a VirtualBox repo. To enable it, enter the commands below.

wget https://www.virtualbox.org/download/oracle_vbox_2016.asc
sudo apt-key add oracle_vbox_2016.asc
rm oracle_vbox_2016.asc
sudo apt-add-repository 'deb http://download.virtualbox.org/virtualbox/debian bionic contrib'

Finally, install VirtualBox on Debian.

sudo apt-get install virtualbox

Arch Linux

To install VirtualBox in Arch Linux, use the following Pacman command.

sudo pacman -S VirtualBox

Fedora

If you’d like to use VirtualBox on Fedora Linux, first head over to this guide to learn how to enable RPMFusion (both non-free and free) on the system. Then, when you’ve set up RPMFusion, use the Dnf command to set up VirtualBox.

sudo dnf install VirtualBox

OpenSUSE

On OpenSUSE Linux, install VirtualBox with the Zypper command.

sudo zypper install virtualbox

Generic Linux

Oracle makes a “.run” binary release of VirtualBox available to install on every Linux operating system. If your OS does not carry VBox, and you need to install it, head over to the site here to download and install it.

Download Android X86

Now that Oracle VM VirtualBox is set up on your Linux PC, it is time to download the Android X86 release so that we can use it to set up the virtual machine.

To download a copy of Android X86, follow the step-by-step instructions outlined below.

Step 1: Head over to the Android X86 webpage where the latest OS images are located.

Step 2: On the Android X86 webpage, locate the blue “Download” button, and click on it with the mouse to move to the “Download” page.

Step 3: On the “Download” page for Android X86, you will be asked to choose a download mirror. Pick the “OSDN” mirror with the mouse.

Step 4: On the OSDN mirror page, locate the version of Android X86 you would like to use. It must be an ISO file!

In this guide, we will be using Android X86 8.1 release 3, as it is much more stable than 9.0. Download 8.1 here.

Setting up Android X86 in VirtualBox

Setting up the Android X86 virtual machine in VirtualBox can be confusing if you’re not familiar with virtualization. To make it less confusing, we’ll break down the set up into a step-by-step process. Follow along below to get your VM working.

Step 1: Launch VirtualBox on your Linux PC. Then, find the “New” button, and click on it with the mouse to create a new VM.

Step 2: Find “Name” and write “Android X86” in the box.

Step 3: Locate “Type” and change it from “Microsoft Windows” to “Linux.”

Step 4: Locate “Version” and change it from “Oracle (64-bit)” to “Other Linux (64-bit)”.

Step 5: Find the “Next” button and click on it with the mouse to move on to the next page.

Step 6: Set “memory” to “2048 MB”. Or, go higher if you’re feeling brave.

Step 7: In “Hard Disk,” select the box that says, “Create a virtual hard disk now.” Then, click the “Create” button.

Step 8: On “Hard disk file type,” select the “VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image)” box with the mouse. Then, click “Next.”

Step 9: For “Storage on physical hard disk,” select the option “Dynamically allocated.” Click “Next” to continue.

Step 10: In “File location and size,” leave the drive size at 8 GB. Or, set it to 32 GB if you need more space. Then, click “Create” to make the new drive.

Step 11: Find “Android X86” on the sidebar in VirtualBox, and select it with the mouse. Then, right-click on the VM, and select “Settings.”

Step 12: Inside of “Settings,” find “Display” and click on it to access the “Display” settings. Then,  find “Enable 3d Acceleration” and check the box next to it. Click “OK” to apply the settings.

Step 13: After exiting the VM settings, find Android X86 in the sidebar. Then, click the “Start” button to start up the VM.

Step 14: In the “Select start-up disk” window, find the folder icon with the green icon, and click it with the mouse. Then, go to “Downloads” and select the Android X86 ISO file to load it into the VM. Then, click “Start” to start the VM.

Using your VM

When Android X86 starts up in VirtualBox, find the “use without installation” button, and press Enter to gain access to Android instantly.

Or, if you prefer to have a permanent installation, select the “Installation” option to start installing Android.

Read How to set up an Android X86 virtual machine on Linux by Derrik Diener on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Alternative Encryption Methods to Save Net Neutrality

For many people, encryption is just a software feature that you turn “on” to make the Internet safe. But, VPNs with alternative encryption methods enable you to do so much more. In an age where net neutrality is no longer guaranteed, use our recommended VPNs to restore and maintain access to the free and open Internet.

With net neutrality officially repealed in the United States, the future of a free and open internet hangs on the balance. While there are still windows for the motion to be overturned, no one’s waiting around for the worst to happen.

Savvy internet users are loading up with knowledge about encryption methods and other ways to preserve their own online freedoms. VPNs are a great place to start, but they’ll likely be the first thing ISPs start blocking. Good thing there are several other popular, workable, and almost unblockable alternative encryption methods you can use to save net neutrality on your own devices.

Encryption – How it Works, Why it Works

Encryption is simple in concept but complex in execution. Fortunately you don’t need a double PhD in higher mathematics and computer science to put it to use. At its core, encryption is all about complex cryptography patterns forming mathematical puzzles that are practically unsolvable without the right set of keys. No human could ever break encrypted data, and it would take an advanced computer millions of years to crack it by force. For this reason, encryption is perfect for keeping information hidden from outside eyes. It’s that safety that makes it perfect for saving net neutrality, as well.

The Encryption Process

Encryption is a lot like sending a postcard through the mail. It starts at your home, on your PC, smartphone, or other internet connected device. You want to send a packet of data out to the world wide web. Let’s say it’s a simple request to load a website or fetch your e-mail. The normal method is to send the packet through your router stamped with your devices local IP address, a rough equivalent to your return mailing address. Your ISP gets this packet, sees the destination written on the outside, then sends it out to the internet. Once the data is retrieved the ISP looks at the IP address and returns the information to your device, all in fractions of a second.

The downside to this process is that anyone can read what’s on your postcard, as there’s nothing there to hide the information written on the outside. This is where encryption comes into play. With the right software enabled each packet of data you send will get wrapped in an envelope of cryptographic code before leaving your device. The postcard gets an envelope, but not just any envelope, one that’s impossible for anyone to open without the right key code. Each encryption method handles the specifics differently, but the end result is the same: your secret postcard is sent along without anyone except the intended recipient knowing what’s inside.

Encryption Creates Privacy

Encryption is great for everyday use and should be called upon whenever possible. Where net neutrality is concerned, though, it’s practically a prerequisite. Some of the biggest concerns with the loss of net neutrality is ISPs being able to throttle your connection or even block websites based on which subscription packages you purchase. They do this by examining the packets of data sent from your device. Did you request something from Facebook? Well, you didn’t pay for the social media premium plan, so you can’t access that.

What if the ISP can’t read your packets, though? What happens then? In all likelihood they simply pass the data on to its destination. If your Facebook request is encrypted, your ISP doesn’t know what you’re attempting to access and can’t prevent you from reaching it. There are ways for ISPs to work around this, of course, but then again, there are also workarounds for those workarounds. The point is encryption provides an excellent foundation for private access to the internet, even in the complete absence of net neutrality.

Method 1 – SSH Tunneling

SSH tunneling, or secure shell tunneling, is an extremely common method of encryption that’s been around since the mid-90s. It’s estimated about 2 million people use it on a daily basis, a number that rises drastically if you include automated scripts and similar file transfers. SSH tunneling is generally used to send small files to a web host via terminal commands. It can be repurposed to do more than that, though, which is why it’s a viable method for helping to save net neutrality.

Benefits of SSH Tunnels

The biggest benefit of SSH tunneling is that most ISPs would never block these types of transfers. SSH is used for a lot of legitimate online work, especially by businesses. Blocking it would shut down a reliable and secure form of communication. We can take advantage of this fact by using SSH tunnels for more than just server-client transfers. By sending data with SSH encryption, you can slide right by anti-neutrality blockades and censorship firewalls to access a free and open web.

RELATED READING: How to Hide OpenVPN Traffic with an SSH Tunnel

Drawbacks to SSH Tunneling

SSH is an old protocol built when the internet was much smaller than it is today. Transfer speeds isn’t its strong point, which means downloading gigabyte movies or streaming HD videos doesn’t really work. This cuts out a vast swath of online content and prevents SSH tunneling from becoming a true competitor to things like VPNs.

How to Create an SSH Tunnel

If you know what you’re doing, creating an SSH tunnel is pretty easy. There are a few setup steps you’ll need to follow, though, along with some prerequisites you have to start with. We’ve written a complete guide to SSH tunneling, so go check it out and enjoy your new encrypted connection.

Method 2 – Shadowsocks (SOCKS5 Proxy)

The Socket Secure protocol is a method of exchanging packets between a server and client through the use of a proxy server. When using the newest SOCKS5 version of the protocol, data is also encrypted and authenticated, ensuring only the intended parties can access the proxy server. SOCKS is a deep level protocol that’s been in use since the early ’90s. In modern computing it’s mostly used as a circumvention tool to bypass internet filtering, especially in areas like China where censorship is a major concern.

Benefits of Using SOCKS5

The SOCKS protocol pretty much only exists as a tool for hacking and restoring internet freedom. It’s fast for an encryption method, offers a wide range of configuration options, and works on most devices, including smartphones and tablets. It’s also one of the few alternative encryption methods suitable for torrenting, as the way the protocol passes traffic through ports doesn’t interfere with swarm downloading.

Drawbacks of SOCKS5

The only real drawback to using SOCKS5 comes from the method of employment. If your VPN supports it natively, you can switch it on and not notice anything different, only better privacy and less online censorship. If you use shadowsocks it’s practically the same situation. Shadowsocks does require a dedicated server to work, however, which is complicated to set up on your own.

Using SOCKS5

Unless you have a VPN that supports SOCKS5, most people will turn to shadowsocks when it comes time to use an encrypted proxy. This piece of software was specifically designed to put the old protocol to use as a tool to restore online freedoms and defeat censorship. The tagline “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself” hints at just how effective shadowsocks can be. Your data will be so secure, you won’t even be able to hack yourself.

You’ll need two things to use shadowsocks: a server and a client. Server software is deployed remotely and serves as the actual proxy that passes data. Client software runs on your active device and handles the encryption and traffic routing. All of the instructions you need are on the shadowsocks website. Follow the steps below and you’ll have an incredible method of online privacy ready in minutes.

  1. Visit the shadowsocks website.
  2. Go to Download > Servers and follow the instructions to install on a remote host.
  3. Back on the shadowsocks site, go to Download > Clients to get the appropriate software for your device.
  4. Enter your server details into the client software.
  5. Connect to shadowsocks and browse the web with full privacy.

Method 3 – SSL/TLS Tunnel

Have you ever seen that little green padlock icon in your browser window, the one that shows up when you visit a webmail or online shopping site? That’s SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption at work. SSL is the predecessor to Transport Layer Security (TLS), both of which are encryption methods used to secure data on the web. The technology can easily be repurposed to do more than lock down a single connection to a single site. By creating an SSL tunnel you can encrypt all of your online traffic to break through censorship walls and bypass anti-neutrality filters with ease.

Benefits of SSL/TLS Tunnels

There are two huge benefits of using TLS tunnels to connect to the internet: the widespread nature of the protocol, and the low odds an ISP will block the traffic. As stated above, SSL/TLS is used by a large portion of the web today to send and receive ordinary traffic. When you buy something online, chances are the site is secured with SSL. This means ISPs are highly, highly unlikely to block this type of traffic, as doing so would shut down millions of legitimate connections. If you use an SSL tunnel to break through censorship barriers, chances are you’ll get through without any problems.

Drawbacks of SSL Tunnels

Speed is always an issue when using an alternative encryption method, as nothing really matches the balance provided by a good OpenVPN connection. SSL tunnels can suffer a bit from the same slowdown effect, especially if you’re downloading large files or streaming HD videos. SSL tunnels are also not supported by most VPNs, which means you’ll need to set up and configure your own using a separate piece of software, a method that can be complicated and time consuming.

How to Use SSL Tunnels

To use an SSL tunnel you’ll need to download the stunnel software, which, honestly, is best left to experienced hands. The site has tutorials and how-to guides for the entire process, but you’ll need extreme familiarity with terminal commands to get things running the right way.

Method 4 – Tor and Onion Networks

The Tor networks runs using onion routing, a process of wrapping data in multiple layers of encryption and passing it through an anonymizing network to remove traces of the host’s identity. Tor is best put to use with the Tor Browser, which runs in place of your current Firefox, Chrome, or Safari installation. With Tor you can often break through censorship efforts and access the free internet with ease. Best of all, you barely have to do anything out of the ordinary to utilize this method, just grab a browser and start surfing.

Benefits of Tor

Tor’s simplicity is probably its number one feature. The protocol can be used by a wide variety of software, especially the Tor Browser. All you have to do is download the file and run Tor, then you’re set. It’s also an incredible anonymizer, making it a great choice for people in restrictive areas where accessing the open ‘net could be dangerous to their livelihood.

Drawbacks of Tor

Speed is a huge issue with Tor. Utilizing the network means no videos, no torrents, and no streaming of any kind. By default a lot of modern web technologies are disabled in the browser, including any kind of applets or Java. Tor is best used for simple website browsing and e-mail communications. Using the browser itself also means your cloud storage or other outside connections won’t be encrypted or anonymized. The Tor network is also frequently blocked in the most restrictive of countries, making it useless in places like China or Syria.

How to Use Tor

This is the easy part. To use Tor, simply download the browser and run it like you would any browser software. It’s open source and works on a variety of platforms, including Android and iOS. You’ll notice an immediate drop in speed, but you can surf safe knowing your identity and location are safe. For more information about using the browser, check out our feature How to Use Tor: A Guide to Getting Started.

Method 5 – Obfsproxy

Obfsproxy, short for “obfuscation proxy”, is a tool that circumvents censorship by transforming encrypted traffic to make it unrecognizable to ISPs or other third parties. This is incredibly useful in scenarios where outgoing packets are scanned for signs of Tor encryption or VPN use and blocked as a result. Obfsproxy makes it nearly impossible to tell Tor/VPN packets from other packets, giving users another tool for bypassing censorship firewalls and gaining access to the open internet.

Benefits of Obfsproxy

Obfsproxy is best used in areas where net neutrality is long gone and ISPs are blocking things like Tor and VPNs. These extreme case scenarios are already in play in places like China, Ethiopia, Iran, and Syria, and they could spread as net neutrality dies a slow death. It doesn’t really slow down your traffic, but it can affect things like torrents or HD movie streams by nature of how those transfers are handled.

Drawbacks of Obfsproxy

Obfsproxy is slow and difficult to set up on your own. If your current VPN doesn’t support it by default, you’ll need to build your own VPN server and configure everything yourself. That can take time, it requires several pieces of external software, and it’s also not free.

How to Use Obfsproxy

If you need to use obfsproxy, your best bet is to sign up with a VPN service that offers it by default. Some of the more popular options include Mullvad and IVPN. NordVPN also offers the setting by default, along with a lot of other privacy and security options you’ll find useful. With one of these installed, you’ll simply run the software and select obfsproxy from the configuration menu.

Method 6 – VPN Encryption

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are incredible tools for saving net neutrality. They’re fast, easy to use, and they’re surprisingly effective, as well. Most VPNs use the OpenVPN protocol for encryption. This method is seen as a “nearly perfect” form of encryption that keeps data secure without being a heavy drain on resources. VPNs can use this and other protocols to mask your identity and provide a safe, open connection to the internet. Choose the right one and you’ll be set, no matter how strict the regulations are in your area!

Best VPNs for Saving Net Neutrality

The alternative encryption methods above do wonders for restoring free and open internet access. They’re best used by experienced hands, however, which can be a strong barrier to entry. VPNs by comparison are fast, easy to use, and even easier to install. Some of them even go the extra mile to provide access to some of the encryption protocols above, making them better choices for staying safe online. Below are two recommended VPNs that help make sure your online activities are as private as possible.

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is one of the fastest VPNs around. They accomplish this through a network of over 3,000 servers distributed in 94 countries around the world, each one finely tuned for low latency and speedy video streams by default. Connections are always secured with 256-bit AES to lock your data down tight, and you’ll also be protected by a zero-logging policy on traffic, DNS leak protection, and an automatic kill switch. Best of all, ExpressVPN is incredibly easy to use. Simply sign up, run the software, then connect to the fastest server with a single click.

ExpressVPN allows for SSL tunnels on its main apps, which provides similar obfuscation as the other methods listed above. It’s a great extra that helps defeat censorship blocks and restore an open internet connection no matter where you live.

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

Pros

  • SPECIAL OFFER: 3 months free (49% off – link below)
  • Reliable and fast connections
  • Govt-level AES-256 encryption
  • Strict no-logging policy
  • 24/7 Customer Service.
Cons

  • Priced slightly higher.
BEST ENCRYPTION METHODS: ExpressVPN is a full featured VPN with multiple encryption methods and a robust global server network. Get 3 months free and save 49% on the annual plan. 30-day money back guarantee included.

2. NordVPN

NordVPN is a great VPN provider no matter how you look at it. The service runs a huge network of over 5,100 servers in 60 different countries, offering fast connections to six continents and cities around the world. Some of these servers are also tasked to unique jobs, as well, including DDoS protection, double encryption, and the truly rare onion over VPN feature. Alongside these extras, all NordVPN users get to take advantage of a zero-logging policy that covers everything from traffic to bandwidth, IP addresses, and time stamps, DNS leak protection, an automatic kill switch, and 256-bit AES encryption on all connections on every device.

In addition to its double VPN and onion over VPN features mentioned above, NordVPN also offers both obfsproxy and SSL tunnels through its apps. All you have to do is dive into the configuration settings and switch them on, then you’re surfing the web with a free, open, and private connection.

Read our full NordVPN review.

Pros

  • Optimized servers for unblocking Netflix
  • Over 5,400 servers in 61 countries
  • Tor over VPN, double VPN
  • “Double” data protection
  • Live Chat Support.
Cons

  • Very little
  • Sometimes slow in procesing refunds (but always do).
BEST BUDGET VPN: Get a huge 70% discount for signing up for the 3-year plan, taking the monthly price down to only $3.49. Also note that all plans come with a “no hassle” 30-day money-back guarantee.

Conclusion

Saving net neutrality for the world is a long and involved process that requires constant fighting with local governments and powerful corporations. While this battle rages on, running a VPN or using alternative encryption methods can ensure your connection is safe and anonymous for full access to the open web. Know of any other services that help restore net neutrality? Let us know in the comments below!

Read Alternative Encryption Methods to Save Net Neutrality by John Anthony on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter

Restoring Net Neutrality with the Decentralized Web

There’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the FCC’s effective repeal of legally codified net neutrality. But with adversity comes innovation, and the decentralized web is a concept for Internet infrastructure that can help people retain their digital rights. Today, we’ll explain it in full, plus present the top 4 VPNs for restoring net neutrality.

With net neutrality under threat in the U.S. and around the world, more and more people are looking at alternatives that keep the internet open and free. Efforts like decentralization and the decentralized web aim to push content into a digital world that isn’t controlled by any centralized authority. ISPs or government agencies can’t dictate what information you see or how fast it’s delivered on the decentralized web, allowing everyone to use an uncensored, completely neutral internet no matter where they live.

Today, we’ll take a look into what the decentralized web is, how it works, and the ways it can help preserve net neutrality.

Problems with Centralization

Current web communications protocols function in almost the same way as the earliest version of the internet. Data is stored on servers, users request pieces of that data, then it’s displayed in a browser–pretty straightforward. There are exceptions to this set-up though, most notably things like torrents, cloud technology, and blockchains, but the vast majority of web traffic is delivered using this one-to-one relationship. Want to watch a Netflix movie? Stream it from the servers they run, that’s your only option.

Big Business Interests

The early internet was actually decentralized. It used a mesh network of nodes that pinged information back and forth at incredibly fast speeds, no central authority necessary. As the internet took hold and businesses started to get involved, however, interest groups began biting little corners out of this distributed net. Those corner bites grew larger until suddenly most of the network was owned and operated by powerful businesses.

This is where the problem of centralization starts to become apparent. Google is probably the largest internet company in the world. If Google decides all searches for “rhubarb pie” should be blocked, for example, there’s nothing preventing them from doing so. Suddenly no one can find rhubarb pie recipes unless they go to a search engine that doesn’t rely on Google’s servers. The same holds true for any big web company. You can’t post on Facebook or Twitter without using servers they own, they control, and they manage.

The natural extension to this centralized model is pretty scary to think about. As web companies get bigger and gain more leverage, they can control larger chunks of the internet, affecting millions of new users. Even if they claim to be “for the people”, the only interest that drives them is maintaining their power and revenue streams. We’ve seen examples of this with deals made on the corporate level pushing certain services over others because money changed hands.

ISPs as Gatekeepers

Centralization gets really tricky when you look at internet access as a whole. What’s the first thing you do when you move to a new apartment? You call an internet service provider (ISP) and set up an account. ISPs control all web access because they operate the lines that transmit the data. You connect through their servers every time you access the web, no matter what site you visit or which device you’re using.

This incredible amount of power has so far been kept in check by government-level regulations. Until recently, ISPs in the U.S. have been required to deliver service as a public utility. They couldn’t shape traffic or choose which sites you visit because net neutrality laws were in place preventing them from doing so. Drop those laws, however, and the centralized ISP gatekeepers can do just about anything they want.

Decentralization and Net Neutrality

The closer net neutrality is to being destroyed, the more talk you’ll hear about decentralization. It’s not exactly a magic bullet for all neutrality-related issues, but it’s a great start for providing free and open access to information that isn’t shaped by one single entity. With a decentralized web, good services rise to the top because they’re good, not because your ISP or Google says so.

Concept of Decentralization

When we talk about decentralization we mean just that: creating something that doesn’t rely on a single center. Decentralization isn’t limited to technology, after all. Nearly any complex activity that requires individuals or individual pieces to operate can be decentralized. A decentralized government would move power away from senates or presidents, giving control over wider and smaller groups, for example. A decentralized human body could theoretically even survive without many of its organs, as no single function would be limited to a particular area.

The advantages of decentralization largely depend on the system that’s being decentralized. The main benefit common to all systems is a shifting of functions away from one location. Lose one part of the system and the rest survives, no matter what part you lost. Did a bunch of servers go down? Don’t worry, they were just part of the decentralized group, the network still survives. And if you’re a certain fictional dark wizard who wants to gain immortality, decentralizing your horcruxes is a really, really good idea.

Decentralized Infrastructure

The decentralized web isn’t some foreign thing separate from the internet you know and love. In fact, many parts of the web right now run on decentralized systems. To the end user everything on a decentralized web looks and acts the same. Type a URL into your browser, get a website, that whole business. Instead of having your traffic shaped or blocked by single companies, though, you get completely open access to the internet.

If net neutrality is lost on the common internet, a big shift towards using decentralized infrastructure may occur. In practice this means using technologies like torrent and blockchain to host content outside of company-owned servers. You’ll probably have to change the way you access the internet, but once you’re connected you won’t notice a difference.

Decentralized Web Products

Decentralization isn’t an all-or-nothing affair. The concept has only been growing in popularity over the years. Right now, thousands of apps and services are built on a decentralized platform, cutting out the middle man in favor of distributed hosting.

  • Diaspora – A federated social network that operates as a decentralized alternative to Facebook.
  • Mastodon – Alternative to Twitter that doesn’t rely on a single site or set of servers to run.
  • Cryptocurrencies – You’ve heard of bitcoin and litecoin? These digital currencies are completely decentralized.
  • Ethereum – The crypto-powered blockchain network hosts a huge variety of decentralized apps and services, everything from music platforms to crowdfunding.
  • BitTorrent – Decentralized, distributed file hosting that doesn’t need a single host to function.

Plans for Decentralized Web Access

Let’s say net neutrality is lost around the world. A decentralized web is in place, however, providing access to all the content you could ever need. There’s still one big issue facing the common user: how do you get online? If ISPs control access to the internet itself, how can you sidestep them? Don’t worry, the good people of the Earth have thought of that one, too!

Meshnet Plan

Data passing through wired or wireless connections is broken into packets, each one tagged with your device’s unique IP address. ISPs pass these packets to their destination and return the data to your home network. This happens through the use of routers, just like the one sitting in your living room. Routers can communicate with each other just like they communicate with ISPs.

RELATED READING: How to Set up a VPN Router

The meshnet plan (wireless mesh network) aims to provide internet access to massive groups of people by pinging data across distributed sets of routers. The basic idea would have individuals running specialized software on their routers that helps packets “hop” from one local node to the next. Your request is passed along until it reaches the internet, then returns just like normal. It’s slower than a standard ISP connection and it requires enough local participants, but it works.

The interesting thing about meshnets is they build to a certain threshold, then suddenly explode. Imagine thousands of small groups each building their own little meshnet, such as neighbors in apartment buildings or houses along the same street. This has limited or even no functionality on its own, but if enough people do it, suddenly the network comes alive. You go from small and separate meshnets to one big meshnet that provides worldwide internet access to everyone, and all they had to do was a little tinkering with their home hardware.

Existing Mesh Networks

Meshnets aren’t a thing of the future. Several communities have already started building their own functioning mesh networks, bypassing ISPs and providing open internet access to everyone. The biggest example of this is NYC Mesh, which has active nodes in downtown Manhattan from Chinatown to the East Village.

Blockchain Network

One of the more technical but promising methods of sidestepping ISP access involves creating a blockchain network incentivized by cryptocurrencies. A blockchain network would work much like a mesh network only with a wider reach. Any web-enabled device could run software in the background that turns them into a network node. Each node passes requests just like routers in the mesh network example, providing slow but functional internet access to anyone on the block network.

Incentivizing this type of plan could be the key to high rates of adoption. If a mesh-based cryptocurrency were tied to the node software, users could get paid each time they handle a request. This would encourage more people to get involved, or even set up dedicated blockchain supernodes to provide more reliable access, all while getting paid!

Saving Net Neutrality

Meshnets and the decentralized web have their own benefits and drawbacks, even without net neutrality in the picture. Saving the open internet is in everyone’s best interest, however, regardless of their location. People are protesting and petitioning and taking action in a number of ways. Add your voice to the group to make sure our ‘net stays free!

Support Net Neutrality Organizations

ISPs and big internet companies are constantly trying to control more and more of the web, and they’re not afraid to cut us out of the picture in the name of profit. Fortunately there are groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that work year-round to protect digital freedoms and online privacy. The EFF has been one of the big proponents of net neutrality, as well, providing outreach programs and legal action to keep the internet free.

Get Political

Net neutrality decisions are largely spearheaded by politicians. Getting the right people in office and sharing your concerns with current representatives are both key to keeping net neutrality safe now and in the future. BattleForTheNet has tools, contact information, and starter scripts to help you find local congressmen and stay informed about elections in your area. Don’t hesitate to call or write your representatives, that’s what they’re there for!

Share the Information

Awareness is a huge part of saving net neutrality. The more people who know about the dangers of losing it, the better. Talking about the issues with friends and family and sharing content on social media are great places to start. If you run a website, even if it’s just a small blog, Break the Internet has copy/paste images and scripts you can use to spread the word to visitors, as well.

Protect Your Freedoms with a VPN

What net neutrality boils down to is the freedom to browse the internet without third parties stepping in the middle. ISPs want to charge more for site access and faster speeds, and big companies want you to use their product over their smaller competitors. You just want to be left alone to enjoy the unrestricted world wide web, and that’s why using a VPN is a good idea.

Virtual private networks help mask your identity by encrypting data before it leaves your device. ISPs can’t read the packets, either, making it nearly impossible to determine what websites you’re visiting. This is a great way to regain some online freedoms, even in the wake of net neutrality repeal. Below are a few recommended VPN providers that will get you started.

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is a superb VPN that provides great speeds and smart software for a wide variety of devices. It starts with a network of 3,000 servers in 94 countries around the globe, each one tuned for fast downloads no matter your location. You’ll also get to take advantage of 256-bit AES encryption, a great zero-logging policy, and both kill switch and DNS leak protection features for added privacy. If easy security and one-click connectivity on PC or mobile devices is high on your list, ExpressVPN is definitely for you!

Read our full ExpressVPN review.

Pros

  • Unblocking Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime
  • Fastest servers we have tested
  • Secure encryption & VPN protocols
  • No personal information logs kept
  • Customer Service (24/7 Chat).
Cons

  • Power-users configuration options.
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2. NordVPN

NordVPN does some wonderful things for the VPN community, all thanks to its enormous network of 5,100 servers in around 60 different countries. Need extra features like double encryption or DDoS protection? No problem, there’s a server for that! How about onion over VPN or a dedicated IP address? NordVPN has you covered. Along with these incredible added features, you’ll always stay safe with standard 256-bit AES encryption, kill switch and DNS leak protection, and one of the most thorough zero-logging policies in the industry.

Read our full NordVPN review.

Pros

  • Unblocks American Netflix
  • Over 5,400 servers in 61 countries
  • 256-bit AES encryption with perfect forward secrecy
  • Strict zero logs policy on both traffic and metadata
  • Money back guarantee policy.
Cons

  • Very little
  • Can’t specify City or Province in App.
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3. IPVanish

The balance of speed and security is tough get just right, especially if you’re a big VPN provider. As a general rule, the stronger your encryption, the slower your connections. IPVanish breaks that trend with impressive speeds and privacy features that keep you safe and anonymous each time you go online. IPVanish operates a network of over 1,300 servers, all of which are secured with 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, an automatic kill switch, and a zero-logging policy on traffic. Simply sign up and stay hidden online, it’s that easy!

Read our full IPVanish review.

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4. VyprVPN

VyprVPN provides privacy like no other VPN, all thanks to a little feature called Chameleon. This exclusive protocol wraps metadata of each data packet in an extra layer of encryption, defeating deep packet inspection to help bypass even the toughest censorship blocks. This is alongside the company’s standard 256-bit AES encryption, DNS leak protection, kill switch feature, and a zero-logging policy that covers traffic and DNS requests. What’s more, VyprVPN maintains a modest but entirely self-owned network spanning 700+ nodes in 70 countries worldwide. No matter how bad things look, VyprVPN can keep you safe.

Read our full VyprVPN review.

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Conclusion

The decentralized web can help restore the open internet to users around the world. When combined with efforts like the meshnet plan, it can even serve as an alternative to ISP web connections. Even if net neutrality is preserved, both offer benefits over the increasingly centralized nature of the modern internet. If you know of any other decentralized projects we should know about, mention them in the comments below!

Read Restoring Net Neutrality with the Decentralized Web by John Anthony on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter