VPN and web blocker questions

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Mustapha Mond Daring to be stupid
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I put NordVPN on my phone and laptop a little while ago (I know someone here recommended an alternative, but Nord was the best choice where and when I made it), and I'm hoping someone can help me out with some oddities.

tldr: I could use insight into Thing #1. Things 2 and 3 are mostly out of curiousity because I'm sitting around half-bored and half-overwhelmed and I need to occupy my mind and I won't be disappointed if you ignore them.

Thing #1
Some websites and apps don't seem to work with my VPN, and I can't figure out why.

For example, if I use the Amazon app on my iPhone with the VPN on, it works fine. If I got to the Amazon website via my Mac with the VPN on, it doesn't work.

Similarly, if I try to access my school's learning management system and our various employee portals via my Mac with the VPN on, nothing works. But I can access those things fine through their iPhone apps.

On the reverse side, I have a Nike training app and one or two others on my phone that don't work unless I turn off the VPN.

Google tends to go into an infinite circle of Captcha Hell if I go to it via my phone, but it seems to work fine when I use my Mac.

I've tried adding domains to the white list, but that hasn't made a difference, and I can't figure out any rhyme or reason for the discrepancies.

Fix this would be great but it's not a huge problem, though I'd like to at least understand it.

Thing #2
What does it mean when a web blocker app says "No DNS queries are logged"? (I put a blocker on my phone because being in quarantine has brought out some serious self-control deficiencies within me.)

Just to clarify: The VPN problems above existed before I put the blocker on and persist when the blocker is turned off, so I don't think they're related.

Thing #3
How secure is a VPN plus a dedicated "privacy/incognito browser"? (I don't know if there's a better term for that, but I'm thinking of something like "Private Browsing White" by SavySoda, which just deletes everything as soon as you leave the app.)

Like, let's say I've joined a cult and I don't want anyone to know, so I visit their web page via "Private Browser" with a VPN, would someone be able to see where I'm browsing if they were watching my phone send and receive info to and from the web? If someone had my phone, would there be any evidence left on it of what sites I went to?

To be clear, this is not a serious concern. Someone commented to me that they thing VPNs should be illegal because it's a tool that helps criminals and terrorists commit crimes. It was the old "if YoU aRen'T DoiNg AnYtHiNg wRoNg..." argument. The debate itself is dumb, but I'm curious about the degree to which VPNs and private browsers can enable criminals.

I hope you're all enjoying quarantine.
obvs To hell with toilet paper. I own a bidet
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  1. If you can imagine an old person who needs a legal guardian, a VPN is like that. Your computer communicates to it, and then the VPN is responsible for passing that information on to the outside world. As far as anyone in the outside world is concerned, your computer is at the exact same location in the world as the computer it's connected to. So it's possible that your VPN is based in another country.

    The problems you experience with Amazon and with other sites may be do to them feeding you the pages intended for people in those other countries and denying access to pages and content that are supposed to be for people in this country only.

    I don't know whether NordVPN has access points in this country, but the alternative I mentioned(Private Internet Access) does.

  2. Every device on the network has a numeric address. (Not counting AI) Computers don't understand English. DNS is like the phone book of the internet. You know a website's name, and you request that site from whatever DNS server you're using. The DNS server looks up the domain name, finds the numeric address, and sends that back to your computer. Your computer "calls" that numeric address and says "Is macstack.net there?" The computer on the other end says "One moment, please." And then finds the page you've requested, and "puts that on the phone"(sends back the right page).

    Caching DNS requests means keeping track of which websites your computer requested to look up.

  3. Encryption is like talking to a friend who lives far away, and you're using a language only both of you understand.

    Also, networks work like one big game of telephone, where a piece of information is handed from one device to the next to the next to the next.

    When you're browsing the internet, there are a few different ways to keep track of what you're doing. Until really recently(and for some people, even today), a lot of the information that was sent over the network wasn't encrypted, meaning any device along the way could read that information. Now that most of it's encrypted, that's often not the case, but DNS requests in many cases still aren't encrypted, so unless you're using encrypted DNS, anyone along the way can see that you've made a request for pornhub.

    Incognito browsers have nothing to do with that. Incognito browsers deal only with your computer's own record of its own browser history. If you use incognito, your browser doesn't keep a record of where you've been, and doesn't store any kind of settings for sites you've visited. So in an incognito browser, if you change a font size, sign in, yadda yadda yadda, and then quit, your browser basically has amnesia and loses memory of whatever you'd done in the window.

    None of that affects the ability of the devices between your computer and the ones its communicating to from keeping track of all of the requests they passed along and where the final destinations seemed to be for that data.

    VPNs should definitely be legal. The easiest example is when working for your employer. You save information containing private information that your employer doesn't want to become public(even things like which companies your employer works with). By directing all information through one computer, it reduces the possibility of attacks on individual people's computers. Other information includes things for people working for the government(sensitive government information, military information).
    Or people's personal medical information.

Just keep in mind:
  1. VPNs with encryption prevent people from eavesdropping, but your browser still has a history of where you've been.
  2. Incognito windows prevent your browser from remembering where you've gone, but unencrypted data can still be remembered by any device that handled it along the way to where it was going. This includes information sent *by* your computer(like requests for pages) and sent *to* your computer(like the web pages and media that are sent back)

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ukimalefu Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.
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Some websites know you're using a VPN and don't like it. One reason is security. You used to login from the US and suddenly you want to login from Europe? nope, that's suspicious, get out.

You may need to disable the VPN for banking stuff and sites like amazon (who handles transactions with your credit card)

White listing doesn't work? I don't know what to say. MAybe disable the VPN completely and try again? maybe delete the site's cookies and try again?
Mustapha Mond Daring to be stupid
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Nord seems to have access points in the US. I tell it to connect to a US server from time to time, so I guess that's an access point...? Nord itself is located in Panama IIRC.

It looks like I'm going to have to play around with settings and maybe delete and reinstall a few things.

I'm concerned that the white list should make a difference at least if I'm using a server that's in the US, so there's that to figure out too.

Fortunately, this has only been a minor annoyance, because anything that involves the inner workings of the internet or even networking in general just baffles me for some reason.

Re #3: Does a VPN typically encrypt DNS requests?

I'm looking at Private Internet Access and might make a switch. Though I've already paid for two years of Nord. Overall I like NordVPN, but now I'm not sure if it's missing important features.

Re: That picture with the straws: I can't decide if that's kinky or gross.
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Mustapha Mond posted:
Re: That picture with the straws: I can't decide if that's kinky or gross.
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VPN and web blocker questions