Thursday, September 22, 2016

Clean Router Review: Keeping Your Home Network Safe With Hardware and Access Monitoring

The internet can be a dark and scary place, and keeping your kids (husbands, roommates or employees) safe from those dark recesses can be a daunting task. While there are plenty of options out there, it is often best to take a multi-pronged approach when it comes to security and monitoring your internet usage. This generally means using both software and hardware based solutions. This past few days we've been testing one of the newer options available on the market, the Clean Router.

The Clean Router offers users a multi-dimensional approach to internet filtering. It uses traditional networking hardware, coupled with customized firmware and back-boned with live support, frequent updates and real time monitoring. All this is setup with to allow users/parents to filter and manage everything connected to their home WiFi.

Hardware and Services
The unit we have for testing is a customized version of the Western Digital My Net N750 which is currently listed as a free option on the Clean Router website. The N750 is a few years old now so it won't be the latest greatest when it comes to networking. In fact it only supports 802.11 a/b/g/n, but not the newer 802.11ac standard. This means you will see theoretical wireless speeds up to 300Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band and 450Mbps on the 5GHz band, for combined theoretical wireless speeds of up to 750Mbps. Not bad, but you may want to opt for the Clean Router Pro version if you are a high bandwidth user!

 Clean Router

The router itself is only one link in the chain. Once you have your customized Clean Router you have to select a subscription service with prices from $12.99 to $19.99 per month. The basic subscription offers you frequent updates to your Clean Router’s filtering software so it is always on top of blocking new threats, along with free technical support via phone, email and live chat, regular updates to black, white and grey lists, Emailed Reports, Time Restrictions, new features, and several of their ongoing performance improvements. The updated subscription offers you access to Smartphone apps and monitoring, YouTube filtering and a few more options.

Ideally we'd like to see a third option added for just the customized router itself, but part of the biggest incentive to using Clean Router is the added benefit of having frequent updates to your firmware and blacklists. For most geeks we could do this all on our own, just keep in mind the market they are tackling is the typical home user that likely can't/won't bother with those updates. This in and of itself makes the subscription worthwhile.

Content Filtering and Safe Search
In order to "keep you safe" while searching the web Clean Router uses customized firmware that has built in blocking. These "blacklists" filter out most sites and search terms which would contain "questionable material". Blacklisted sites are filtered by a number of variables  all of which are categorized into 10 different channels. Art Nudes, Naturism, Malicious Software, Porn and Bitorrent sites are blocked by default, as are Ads and Image Sites. Users may also choose to block Drugs, Gambling, and a catch-all category of Guns, Violence, and Weapons.

In addition to blacklisting several sites and search terms out of the box, the Clean Router will also blacklist multiple search engines. Bing, Yahoo, AOL and several other top names are all blocked by default. This allows Clean Router to force your system to run searches through Google, (which it does without encryption). This allows the router to capture search terms and enforce Safe Search further blocking more material.

Advanced Features and Time Scheduling
For those that want a bit more control and are willing to get into some of the more advanced features the control panel offers several other options beyond the basics. Here you can add or remove specific URLs from Clean Router's whitelist, either manually or by clicking a button in the list of blocked sites. Likewise, you can blacklist URLs manually or by clicking a button in the list of sites visited. You can also add to the list of keywords that will trigger a blocking action. There's also an option to block entire top-level domains—maybe you don't want your kids connecting to any .cn or .ru sites, you can exclude all of those with a click of the mouse!

You'll also see the option for one of the more useful features, and one of the more challenging for home users to setup, time scheduling.

Time restrictions are device-specific, and in order to configure a schedule you must identify the correct device by its Media Access Control (MAC) address. Finding this can be a bit of a challenge but there is a quick easy way to make it easier. First, you can try logging in to the router setup page from the specific device you want to set schedules for then select Time Restrictions, and click the link titled This Computer. In the same way, you can exclude your own computer from filtering by clicking This Computer on the Exclude from Filter page, rather than trying to figure out its MAC address.

If you can't log in through each specific device you'll need to find the devices you want to block in the DHCP Clients list in the Router Info section. Here you'll have a full list of all of the devices connected through the router, along with the IP address, MAC address, and device name. Reviewing each name should give you a good idea of which devices you'll want to add. 

Activity Reports
You can view a list of all sites visited or all sites blocked, though the reports have some limitations. The basic list just shows the domains in question, with a button to blacklist (for visited sites) or whitelist (for blocked sites). Clicking an item in the list exposes more details, specifically the computer that was used, the precise URL within the domain, and the date/time of the visit.

This doesn't tell you who tried to view naughty photos, just which computer or other device was used. That's logical; a product that filters at the router or DNS level is never going to be able to identify individual users. However, you still may have trouble identifying the device involved, given only its IP address. I sure wish there were some internal mechanism to identify each device by a friendly name rather than an IP address or MAC address.

You can view activity for any particular day, but not cumulative activity over a longer time period. You can also have Clean Router email you an attractively formatted activity report at the end of each day.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion
For someone looking for a great parental control option that adds a couple layers of security and convenience the Clean Router definitely works well and definitely does what it promises. Just about anyone can setup it in just a few clicks, and since most things that most people want to block are set by default, you'll be up and running in no time.And since your subscription service does most all of the work for you, you can pretty much set it and forget it.

This doesn't mean it isn't without issues, and it won't catch absolutely everything, but for the most part you won't be disappointed.

I will say this though, if you are one of those people that has to rely on your kids  to keep your tech going then you likely won't get the  most out what the router and service offer as both can be easily bypassed by even the most novice of users. That being said however, what it does give you, is a little piece of mind that you are doing the best you can to keep everyone in the household safe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 Owners Apply Now to Get Your $30

Take notice all you gaming geeks out there, if you own Nvidia Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 the time is now to submit your claim for your refund! The pending class action lawsuit against Nvidia that we had reported on a few months back has finally settled and been approved. That means it is time to get stake your claim to your cold hard cash!

US residents who purchased an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics processing unit between Sept. 1, 2014, and Aug. 24, 2016, can now submit a claim for $30 cash for each qualifying device. In order to verify ownership and stake your claims you'll need to provide a verification code or proof of purchase.

Verification codes should be listed on the notices of the settlement, if you received one. If not, you can submit a sales receipt, credit card receipt or statement, a shipping manifest, a purchase order, an email confirmation, or other similar documentation. If like most geeks I know you don't keep that stuff handy (shame on you!), you can also submit a Product Identification Number found on the box, back, or bottom of each GPU or in the settings for the GPU via the software of your choice.

Once you have all your information in order, simply head to the GTX 970 settlement site, submit your claim and sit back and wait on the cash to roll. Can't be much simpler right?

The settlement is still subject to a final approval hearing, which is set to take place on December 7. Following that your check should be in the mail -- haha. Usually it takes a fews, and you'll likely forget it is coming, but unlike some other things we can think of (cough MIRs) these settlements are typically paid in a pretty timely manner.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

'The White Rabbit Project' The New Show For Mythbusting Geeks Everywhere

For all you geeks out there that still binge watch your favorite Mythbuster's episodes you'll want to take note. Netflix has announced a new show that will feature the famous M7 Build Team of Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, and Grant Imahara.

Called The White Rabbit Project, the new show was described by Netflix as a trip down a “rabbit hole” featuring investigations from the famous Mythbusting trio into events in science, pop culture, and history, including things that exist in the deepest corners of the Internet.

The company writes:
Under their microscope are topics as diverse as jailbreaks, superpower technology, heists and crazy world war two weapons. In each episode the hosts immerse themselves in experiments, builds and tests as they sleuth the truth behind these and other well googled themes.

Those on hand for the announcement have said the show was described as “Mythbusters in Wonderland” with the three hosts seemingly picking up where our old favorite Mythbusters left off. The show will be produced by Beyond Productions, the company behind the original Mythbusters. However, beyond that few other details are available besides the synopsis and a release date: Dec. 9, 2016.

For you fans looking to gain a little more insight into what the show might hold we suggest following the show's stars (Kari @KariByron, Grant @GrantImahara, and Tory @ToryBelleci. The trio has been posting a few teasers as well as offering a few insights with Kari Byron already laying to rest the "Myth" that there will be any sort of 'myth busting' on the show.

Tory, Kari, and Byron have clung to life with a few brief but fleeting show appearances, cameos and commercials since their days on Mythbusters. Tory and Kari teamed up and hosted Thrill Factor for the Travel Channel, while Grant has appeared in multiple web shows and became a spokesperson for McDonald’s, showing the world how Chicken McNuggets are made.

More details may be available soon via The White Rabbit Project Netflix page...stay tuned!!

Friday, September 02, 2016

Your New Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Has Been Recalled What You Need to Know! [Update]

[Update: If you own A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 stop using it immediately!! Samsung, with cooperation from US Consumer Product Safety Commission is issuing a full and total recall of over one million Galaxy Note7 devices. ]

Yes you've heard that correctly, Samsung is recalling every Samsung Galaxy Note 7 that the company has shipped worldwide do to an issue with faulty batteries and charging that has resulted in at least 35 incidents of batteries exploding.

The problem is estimated to affect one device in every 42,000 units. Samsung says it shipped around 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 units so far, so if the estimate is correct, only a few dozen phones sold worldwide are at risk. So the risk is actually pretty minimal, but it is always best to err on the side of caution. 

At this time Samsung has officially halted all sales and shipments of the Galaxy Note 7 and the phones have been recalled worldwide. Samsung is working on preparing replacement units for the affected devices as well as working with each carrier on how to handle the recall and replacement process, which as of now will take about two weeks, according to the company.

Full Samsung statement:
Samsung is committed to producing the highest quality products and we take every incident report from our valued customers very seriously. In response to recently reported cases of the new Galaxy Note7, we conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue.
To date (as of September 1) there have been 35 cases that have been reported globally and we are currently conducting a thorough inspection with our suppliers to identify possible affected batteries in the market. However, because our customers’ safety is an absolute priority at Samsung, we have stopped sales of the Galaxy Note7.
For customers who already have Galaxy Note7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks.
We acknowledge the inconvenience this may cause in the market but this is to ensure that Samsung continues to deliver the highest quality products to our customers. We are working closely with our partners to ensure the replacement experience is as convenient and efficient as possible.
 At this time if you want to keep and use your Galaxy Note 7 you should be fine. However, you may want to use a few of these common sense precautions in order to keep safe, which really are valid for any electronic device.
  • Stop charging your phone it if becomes too hot.
  • Stick to official Samsung chargers.
  • Don’t charge your phone in bed or anywhere it might not dissipate heat.
  • Be mindful of where you charge your phone, don't leave it in a hot car window, hot area ect.

How will the recall process work?

At this time we have no specifics on the exact details of the recall, and each carrier seems to be handling things a little different. So here is what we have gathered so far (we'll update as we get more info).
  • Sprint has said it will offer customers loaner devices, while Verizon is waiving its restocking fee for customers who want to return the Note 7 and get another phone altogether.
  •  AT&T has reportedly stated that they are in the process of determining the exchange process for their customers and how they can replace their current Note 7 as quickly as possible. The company promised more information later on today.
  • T-Mobile is offering customers full refunds to use toward another device or a replacement Note 7, which it said it expected to have available within two weeks. Plus, it said, customers can keep the free Netflix subscription it had been bundling with Note 7 purchases.

[Update from Samsung]
The US Product Exchange Program will offer consumers the following choices:
  1. Exchange current Galaxy Note7 device with a new Galaxy Note7 (as early as next week)
  2. Exchange current Galaxy Note7 for a Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 edge and replacement of any Note7 specific accessories with a refund of the price difference between devices
As a gesture of appreciation, consumers will receive a $25 gift card or bill credit from select carrier retail outlets when choosing a Galaxy S7 family device or the Galaxy Note7 within the exchange program.

Galaxy Note7 owners can contact or visit the retail outlet where they purchased their device or call 1-800-SAMSUNG to initiate a product exchange and to resolve any other questions or concerns.