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Anker's $49.99 truly-wireless earbuds are a cheap alternative to Apple AirPods

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:50

If you're looking for a cheap alternative to Apple AirPods, then you've come to the right place. Amazon has the newly released Soundcore Liberty Neo earbuds on sale for only $49.99. That's a $15 discount and the lowest price we've seen for the top-rated headphones by Anker.

The Soundcore Liberty Neo earbuds come in a compact carrying case that doubles as a charging station. You can get 3.5 hours of playtime from a single charge, and an extra 9 hours in the charging case. The ultra-lightweight earbuds also come with three different sizes of ear tips and wings so anyone can find the right size and comfort. Despite its compact size, the earbuds deliver excellent sound quality with graphene-coated drivers that produce crystal-clear clarity with powerful bass and audio. 

Truly Wireless earbuds have become increasingly popular since Apple launched its AirPods back in 2016. Apple AirPods currently retails for $159 which is almost three times more than the cost of the Anker earbuds. We can only imagine the upcoming AirPods 2 will cost even more!

This is a fantastic price for a pair of truly-wireless headphones so you should make sure to take advantage of this stellar deal while you can. 

You can shop more of the best cheap wireless headphone deals and sales that are currently going on.

If you're interested in Apple AirPods we also have the cheapest AirPod prices, sales and deals that are available now.

Categories: Tech News

Starfield: release date, trailers and news

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:32

Starfield is going to be huge for Bethesda. It's the gaming giant's first new IP for 25 years and will be a single player game that marks the start of an all-new epic franchise. But just what is the game about? And, more importantly, when will we be able to play it?

Bethesda's E3 2018 conference had plenty in store for fans of its much-loved franchises. We got concrete details for its upcoming Fallout 76 MMO, news of its Fallout Shelter spin-off coming to Nintendo Switch, a reveal of a Doom sequel, and confirmation that The Elder Scrolls 6 was officially in development (finally).

One of the most shocking announcements, however, was for an entirely new IP named 'Starfield': what Bethesda director Todd Howard called "our next-generation, single-player epic".

Starfield will be a brand-new single-player RPG from the developer behind the Fallout and Elder Scrolls games. Instead of the medieval fantasy or post-apocalyptic wasteland of its other tentpole franchises, however, this new game will be taking players to outer space.

[Update: Bethesda has announced that its E3 2019 press conference will take place on Sunday 9 June, with Doom Eternal its first confirmed highlight. Could Starfield enter our orbit at E3 too with some concrete details? Read on for more info.]

Cut to the chase
  • What is it? A single-player RPG in outer space from the makers of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls
  • What can I play it on? It's almost certainly coming to PC, PlayStation and Xbox, but we might have to wait for the next generation of consoles
  • When can I play it? No word yet, but we may be looking at 2019 or 2020
Starfield release date

So far, what's been released is a title, trailer and, well, promise of greatness to come.

With details so thin on the ground, and a major Fallout release coming later this year, the earliest we'd expect to see a Starfield game would be 2019, though it could easily be later.

Bethesda Game Studios Director Todd Howard has stressed that "everyone should be very, very patient". 

In Bethesda's E3 presentation, Howard referred to the first Starfield game as "next-gen", suggesting it might not see a release before the next generation of consoles (either the PS5 and Xbox Two).

He might, however, just mean the game will use the capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One's recent mid-cycle upgrades, in which case late 2019 or early 2020 would be a more likely window.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Howard elaborated:

"What systems we put it out on - what's the hardware requirements - is still to be determined. We're pushing it; we're thinking very, very far in future so we're building something that will handle next-generation hardware. That's what we're building on right now, that's where our mind is, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't exist on the current systems as well."

Starfield trailers

We saw our first glimpse of the game on June 10th in the teaser trailer below. it's not much more than a title and setting at this point, but the video does introduce us to an unnamed planet, a floating satellite or space station, and some sort of... glowing wormhole?

Starfield news and rumors

Bethesda's E3 2019 showcase dated and confirmed

Bethesda's E3 2019 showcase kicks off at 5.30pm PDT on Sunday 9 June, with the horror shooter Doom Eternal taking center stage. But could we see some surprises too? First announced at last year's E3 show, could we finally get a glimpse at Starfield?  It's no secret that Starfield is a long time away from public consumption, but with the PS5 and Xbox Two  apparently around the corner, we're hopeful that Starfield could be revealed alongside them. From what we gather from Bethesda's chat around the game so far, it looks the perfect accompaniment for new, super-powered hardware.

A whole new world

Bethesda has reportedly been talking about making Starfield for years now.

There have been rumours flying around about the game since Bethesda publisher Zenimax filed a trademark for the name as far back as 2013. 

Given how much mileage Bethesda has achieved out of its other tentpole IPs – Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, which have both seen various spin-off entries and MMO variants – it is presumably hoping to make Starfield a far-reaching franchise in the same vein.

...and whole new systems

The idea behind Starfield has been floating around as far back as 2004, and Howard has said it has the recognisable Bethesda DNA to it – so expect deep character customisation and open exploration. But also expect all new ideas entering into the mix – this won't just be Fallout or Skyrim in space. Speaking to Eurogamer, Howard stated "[...] it has a lot of new systems we've been thinking about for a while that fit that kind of game really well." So don't be surprised if there's some sort of on-theme space flight element involved too.

Bigger than ever before

Both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series have shared a similar character progression system and open-world backdrop, partially rooted in their sharing of the same gaming engine.

While we haven't heard specifics on gameplay, Starfield looks set to follow in the same vein, albeit in a more galactic setting. But the final frontier could hold much larger potential for exploration, allowing players to travel across various planets and encounter unknown civilizations.

There's a big gap in the market for sci-fi RPGs

With the future of the space-opera RPG series Mass Effect looking uncertain, and the unfulfilled promise of the planet-hopping exploration game No Man's Sky, Starfield will be entering a gaming market hungry for a sci-fi RPG done right. With the proven success of Bethesda's other franchises, could the developer have the next Mass Effect up its sleeves?

Keep checking back here for all the latest Starfield news 

  • Keep up to date with all our game coverage of E3 2018
Categories: Tech News

Slingshot into AR: Angry Birds in augmented reality coming to your iPhone and iPad

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:09

Angry Birds is taking the battle to another dimension: ours. The popular franchise’s next mobile game, Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs, will harness augmented reality to let players knock down pig-filled fortresses animated over your everyday world.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because a version of this game had been announced in fall 2018 as Angry Birds: First Person Slingshot...for the Magic Leap. There’s even a VR version of Isle of Pigs that launched in February 2019 for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. But we did say mobile: you’ll be able to play this new edition of Isle of Pigs on most iOS devices as a free-to-play game.


TechRadar got an early look at the title in the weeks leading up to GDC 2019. Rovio Entertainment, the studio behind the Angry Birds franchise, gave a live demonstration of Isle of Pigs, which was developed by Resolution Games (as were the earlier Magic Leap and VR versions). TechRadar saw how it will play on a smartphone...and the answer is, surprisingly well.

Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs has the same basic goals as the puzzle games in the franchise: toss different kinds of birds into elaborate forts populated by the villainous pigs. As players progress, fortifications become more elaborate, requiring precision and novel tactics to topple targets and win the day.

Except this time, the forts are superimposed over objects in real life, and you’re launching birds from a first-person perspective, altering your aim by tilting your phone and firing with real-world telemetry.


Like other AR games, Isle of Pigs uses your iOS device’s camera to situate a digital object in real space (don’t worry, you won’t need fancy specs to play the game – any ARKit-compatible iOS device works, including the iPhone 6S and newer iPhones, iPad 5th and 6th generations, and all iPad Pros). And that means, like other AR games, you’re able to physically walk around these levels to fire your birds from any direction to find better angles. 

That’s something dynamically new to franchise, which has previously kept its puzzle gameplay on a flat plane. Not all game concepts translate well from 2D to 3D, but when it came to classic Angry Birds slingshot gameplay, the transition was surprisingly straight-forward, Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm told TechRadar over email.

“One difference from the 2D gameplay is that in the AR version you can place the slingshot wherever you want,” Palm said – as in, you physically move around to change the angle of your shot. “We did this to encourage the player to move around, which makes the game feel more real, and achieve that balance of using the physical space within the gameplay. But, that created a challenge for us as the levels had to be designed for this, which took fine-tuning to make it feel just right.”

We saw this careful design in the short time we had to try out the game (on an iPhone XS Max, if you’re curious). Rovio Creative Director Sami Ronkainen guided us through the neat parts of the title. AR is so new that the Resolution Games team had to “teach” people how to physically walk around the level by showing off dynamic visuals – like a domino effect, for example. 

Once players learn to circle around levels, they’ll find what the devs have hidden around the levels – mostly just better angles to topple structures, but sometimes they’ll discover a dynamite pack nested in the middle of the stage. Players will have to examine levels from different perspectives to form a plan of attack that will get them three-star level completion.

And the Resolution team got to have a little design fun with AR, too. In the fading evening light filtering through the Manhattan loft, Ronkainen pointed out how stone and wood blocks reacted differently to the real-world sunlight. This changes in the various biomes players traverse between in-game worlds, which all have their own signature materials.


There are limits when adapting a game from the $2,295 (about £1,731 or AU$3,073) Magic Leap to work with smartphones that might be four years old. Ronkainen “placed” the game on a broad off-white table in the loft, noting that iOS device cameras don’t see white surfaces well, and black surfaces aren’t seen at all. This is limited by the ARKit software, its machine vision and what the phone camera is actually able to “see” in its visual tracking.

But AR as a whole is early in its development, and a lot of cool ideas just aren’t possible right now – on any AR platform.

“We discussed having levels where you could bounce birds off of walls in order to get pool table-like shots, but currently plane detection is better on horizontal surfaces so we cut that idea in an early phase,” Palm said. In essence, featureless (often white) walls make it harder to detect surfaces, as distinct features are better for AR. 

But even at this early stage of AR, bringing big and experimental titles to mobile is a huge jump. Not everyone has the money to buy bespoke devices like Magic Leap or other ML-equipped and VR platforms – but almost everyone has a smartphone.

And making AR accessible to the masses opens up different kinds of play and design. Unlike previous Angry Birds titles that lock you at a distance, this one lets you literally walk up to the targets and let loose your furious fowl projectiles. It felt like cheating – but an Apple representative kindly told us it wasn’t. It was all part of the strategy in a new AR world.

Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs will be available for preorder starting today (March 19) – essentially just to be alerted when the game comes out later this spring, since it’s free-to-play. The game will only be compatible with ARKit-supporting iOS devices, though they’re investigating other AR supported platforms.

Categories: Tech News

After Anthem, The Division 2 shows Bioware how to make a looter shooter

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:00

The Division 2’s story is as bland as a bowl of hot water. We can’t recall much of what’s happened in the 30 hours we’ve spent with it, other than we’ve killed a lot of bad people, and we can remember perhaps two of the NPCs we’ve met. And yet, as much as we usually crave a good story, we can’t stop playing it.

It’s a reminder that solid shooting, a world full of varied activities and a generous loot system are more than enough to hold your attention, even if you don’t care about the characters. After Anthem, it feels like a palate cleanser - Bioware’s looter shooter was boring and repetitive, but The Division 2 consistently surprises us.

Where Anthem was stingy with its loot, The Division 2 showers you with it. Every mission, every side activity, every random stroll around post-apocalyptic Washington DC rewards you with something new and shiny to grab. 

We upgrade on the go if we pick up something that’s obviously better than what we’re currently wearing, but we like to blast through a couple of missions and then spend a solid 20 minutes sorting through out items, tweaking our loadout to find the perfect combination. 

Stacking stats

It’s not just that your numbers are constantly ticking up, although that’s admittedly part of the appeal. Gear feels unique, even if it doesn’t look it (military browns and greys are still unfortunately in vogue). Items have extra bonuses and attributes beyond their core function, and the way these stats interact can meaningfully change your playstyle from one story quest to the next.

For example, from levels 20 to 25 we wore a combat harness that had the restorative talent, which granted us 10% health when we kill an enemy. It was a lifesaver, and we turned down items that had better damage protection to keep it equipped. That same harness granted us 4.5% extra headshot damage and a 10% boost to SMGs. For that reason, we opted for a Tommy Gun over a shotgun as a secondary weapon.

In the later game, these stats are more than just numbers. We’re currently carrying a shotgun that, with every bodyshot, stacks extra damage onto our next headshot. It dictates the way we play, and we deliberately aim for the body hitbox before blasting an elite boss in the head. 

The talents of top-tier items will make you want to build your loadout around them: we’ve found some high-end gloves that boost your damage when the chance of a critical hit is low, so we’ve deliberately equipped weapon mods that reduce that chance.

What’s more, gear is made by manufacturers, and wearing more than one item from the same company grants you further bonuses. We’re decked out with Providence Defense equipment, which gives us 8% extra health, a 5% weapon damage boost across the board as well as extra ‘skill power’. This last stat determines how effective your skills - gadgets, basically - are, and most skill mods require a certain level of skill power before they work, making it another differentiating factor between your various bits of gear.

All these numbers mean that, at the end of each mission, not only do you have 20 new sets of knee pads, backpacks, gloves and body armor to sort through, but you have proper decisions to make about which ones you want to equip, and you won’t necessarily go for the one that has the highest armor value.

For the love of loot

But loot without fun quests would mean nothing. Anthem’s missions were dull, and we felt we were completing the same objectives over and over in slightly different settings. It even put unimaginative tick box objectives - kill 50 enemies with a melee attack - in the main questline. The Division 2’s missions, on the other hand, are consistently fun. 

We’ve fought in a planetarium as the stars whizzed by, stolen the Declaration of Independence, escorted the President out of a bank vault to a waiting chopper, and battled through exhibitions of ‘50s memorabilia in the American History Museum. As forgettable as the plot of these missions is, the set pieces are memorable, and every story mission has at least one moment that we want to screenshot for safe-keeping. 

When you’re done with an individual mission, you’re spat back out into the open world, ready to take on another. Anthem booted you back to its Fort Tarsis after every quest - in The Division 2, you’re a two-minute sprint from your next objective, and you’ll likely pass four different side activities on the way. 

We haven’t yet tired of these distractions, probably because Ubisoft rewards you handsomely for competing them with XP and, crucially, better gear. Most Control Points follow the same pattern, but you unlock a supply room at the end of it that’s packed with goodies, so we take on every one we see. We’ve also found some of our best gear outside missions, particularly in underground sewers we’ve explored out of pure curiosity, which gives you a constant reason to explore.

It helps that The Division 2’s combat mechanics feel great. Anthem’s combat was probably the best part of the game, but we enjoy The Division 2’s firefights more. The enemies’ aren’t as vulnerable to damage as in the first game, so you can down grunts with a single burst of fire. More importantly, they seem much smarter, and will coordinate their attacks. While one throws a flashbang and locks you down in cover with suppressing fire, another will wrap around your flank and fire a tank of grey, sticky goo that holds you in place, giving other enemies free shots at your head.

Change the world

Although we haven’t cared for The Division 2’s story, we’ve enjoyed the way the world reacts to us. Capture a control point and you’ll see friendlies wandering around the area on patrols, or ferrying supplies back and forth to settlements. As you complete story missions, those settlements around the city evolve, adding new points of interest as well as visual upgrades. Just like the ever-changing loot, it gives you a sense of constant forward progress. 

Every time we finish a mission, we open our world map to find five or six quests that excite us, which simply didn’t happen in Anthem. Each has new enemies to kill, over-the-top set pieces to be a part of and - most importantly - a new pair of slightly better gloves to discover.

(Image credits: Ubisoft)

Categories: Tech News

Best printers of 2019: inkjet, color, mono and laser printers

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 12:00

Welcome to our list of the best printers of 2019. Whether you're looking for a new printer for your home or your office (or both), then you've come to the right place, as we've listed the very best printers right here.

From all-in-one printers that can handle scanning and photocopying as well as printing, to specialised photo printers that can produce lab-quality printouts of your photographs, we’ve put together this list of the best printers of 2019 so that you can spend less time shopping and more time getting some work done. 

The best printers come in every shape and size these days, which means there’s a lot to choose from when you’re shopping for a new printer – we’re here to help.

We went ahead and discarded the jargon to make buying your new printer as simple as possible. We’ve also split this list into the best inkjet printers and the best laser printers, and we include standard printers alongside more complicated units. Regardless of the kind of printer you’re looking for, you’ll find it right here, and our exclusive price comparison tool will help you get the best printers for a bargain.

Image Credit: TechRadar

By Xerox standards, this is a modest machine, but it has the specifications and features to suit almost any small to medium business. The print speed is only average, but the consistent quality of it colour and mono prints is impressive. So too is the intuitive touchscreen interface that gives you easy access to a wealth of features such as dual-sided scanning and a broad selection of security features. This feels like a premium product and it’s well supported by modular upgrades.  

Read the full review: Xerox WorkCentre 6515

Image Credit: Brother

Given its ability to print on A3 paper, this is a surprisingly compact multifunction device, that will happily share a desk with your PC. It prints clearly in monochrome, while colour photos look quite vibrant on photo paper. The touchscreen is rather small and it’s not the fastest duplex printer around, but it hits a near perfect balance balance between quality, performance and features.

Read the full review: Brother MFC-J5330DW 

Image Credit: Epson

The compact, lozenge-shaped design belies this MFD’s surprising ability to print on A3 paper. Without taking up much space in your home office, it can turn out superb quality documents and make high-resolution scans. There’s no document feeder or fax facility, but Epson’s six-ink system more than compensates by printing remarkably accurate photos on photo paper.   

Read the full review: Epson Expression Photo XP-960

Image Credit: TechRadar

Canon has managed to shrink all of the features a small business might need into a multifunction device that could fit inside a filing cabinet. The five-ink system gives great quality photo prints and the large touchscreen makes it especially easy to use. The print speed is a little slow, even for an inkjet, but it is well featured with both Bluetooth and Wi-fi connectivity and a handy SD-Card slot at the front.

Read the full review: Canon Pixma TR8550

Image Credit: HP

If you have the space for it, this multifunction device will serve a small business well thanks to its consistently crisp print quality, useful 35-sheet automatic document feeder and automated photocopying skills. This is a mono machine and it’s not the fastest laser on the block, but it’s quicker than any inkjet and offers an attractive blend of features and performance.   

Read the full review: HP LaserJet Pro MFP M227fdw

Image Credit: TechRadar

What looks like a oversized breadbin is actually a highly efficient and reliable colour laser printer. You can fit 500 sheets in the deep main paper tray and with Kyocera’s high capacity toner cartridges installed, the cost per page works out favourably. The interface is cramped and difficult to see, but it prints very quickly and quite quietly too.

Read the full review: Kyocera Ecosys P6230cdn 

Image Credit: Oki

This heavy lump of a laser printer is distinguished by a seven-inch touchscreen that makes it very easy and secure to call down print jobs when your standing at the machine. It prints very quickly in duplex mode in either colour or mono, while its high capacity toner cartridges ensure a competitive per page cost. Wi-Fi is not built in, but for hardwired workgroups in a busy office, this machine would serve well.  

Read the full review: Oki C542dn  

Image Credit: TechRadar

Epson’s second generation of EcoTank printers refines its refillable ink system and is deployed here by a highly capable inkjet MDF. Photo quality is excellent and the ability to print on A3 paper is a real boon. The interface lacks a touchscreen and printing is slow, but the pages are well worth waiting for. If the price tag appears prohibitive, that’s because there are two sets of ink bottles in the box. Enough to print 3,600 photos!

Read the full review: Epson EcoTank ET-7750

Image Credit: Lexmark

It might look a little top heavy, but this all-in-one A4 printer feels well made and offers plenty of features for the footprint that it takes up. Duplex scanning from the ADF and rapid automatic photocopying are performed flawlessly, while the print quality in both colour and mono is excellent. Duplex printing is not the fastest, but a wealth of security features and an easy interface more than makes up for the shortfall.  

Image Credit: Kodak

Kodak’s entry-level printer cannot compete with more expensive models when it comes to print speed, or outright quality, but for value, design and ease of use, it excels. Kodak’s replacement cartridges are more affordable than most inkjets and the interface is especially user-friendly. The ingeniously compact design makes it hard to begrudge a multifunction device with a footprint that’s little bigger than a sheet of A4.     

Read the full review: Kodak Verité 65 Plus

Categories: Tech News

Half of organizations lack the security talent needed to remain secure

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:53

The global shortage of cybersecurity talent is having a detrimental effect on businesses with nearly 50 percent of organizations lacking the necessary talent to remain secure, according to new research from Trend Micro.

The cybersecurity firm surveyed 1,125 IT decision makers in the UK, US and EU to reveal that 69 percent of organizations believe that automating cybersecurity tasks using artificial intelligence (AI) would reduce the impact from the lack of security talent.

Trend Micro's report comes at a time when 64 percent of organizations have experienced increased cyber threats in the last year.

Today's IT security teams are understaffed and overextended as they deal with an increasing number of security alerts. To make matters worse, the challenge of what to prioritize along with the shortage of expertise in the area can be overwhelming for these teams as it introduces risk.

Automating cybersecurity tasks

Of those surveyed, 63 percent of IT decision makers plan to leverage AI technology to automate their security processes. However, automation alone is not enough to handle such a daunting task and trained cybersecurity professionals are still needed to analyze the results and manage the overall security strategy of their organization.

Demand for cybersecurity professionals is expected to remain high with Gartner predicting that the number of unfilled cybersecurity roles will grow from 1m in 2018 to 1.5m by the end of 2020.

Cybersecurity architect at Trend Micro Ian Heritage provided further insight into the report's findings, saying:

“Protecting the enterprise from cyber threats is like a game of whack-a-mole. Not only do IT and security teams have to maintain constant vigilance on their cyber defenses, they also have to communicate these risks to business leaders to ensure sufficient budgets, and don their HR hats to recruit the necessary skill sets. The CISO’s role is harder than ever before and the demand has never been higher for automated and hosted solutions.” 

Categories: Tech News

The best Steam games 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:48

If you're keen to get into PC gaming, then Steam is the best place for you to hunt for new games. That's because there are more than 23,000 available through the platform (and counting). 

One of the biggest advantages that Steam has is that it lets you buy a game, and install it as many times as you like on as many devices as you own. You’ll also have access to automatic updates, too, so you don’t need to go through the work of redownloading and checking to see if everything’s updated.

The only problem is that there’s too much on Steam these days. That’s not the worst problem to have, but it does mean that you can get lost in Steam’s giant labyrinth of games and become tempted by its frequent sales, ending up with a stack of games you’ll probably never get around to playing.

Luckily, we here at TechRadar have your back. We’ve gathered up our favorite Steam games, including recent releases and golden oldies. We update this list regularly, so be sure to come back soon for more suggestions.

Kenshi

Some of the best steam games are those that couldn’t really exist anywhere else. Complicated RPGs and strategy games that need the unique features of a gaming PC. And, Kenshi is a perfect example. 

Taking inspiration from the old Mount & Blade games, Kenshi is a sandbox, squad-based RPG where you make your own story. You’re dropped in the middle of a massive world – think Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall huge – and you’re not limited by any of the gameplay systems. You can simply build a home for yourself, or set off on an epic adventure. 

You’re going to get hours upon hours upon hours of gameplay out of Kenshi, because the world is the game, not just a setting. 

What Remains of Edith Finch

This indie smash arrived in 2017, but as it recently won a 'best game' BAFTA award, it’s time to give it another plug. What Remains of Edith Finch is a narrative-led adventure in which you walk, first-person style, around as Edith Finch, exploring the house in which you grew up.

You look over the preserved relics of dead family members and are sucked into vignettes that tell the stories of how various Finches died. This sounds grim, we get it. However, its charming style and magical realism tilt make What Remains of Edith Finch involving and touching rather than depressing. 

It plays out a little like an interactive movie. You can’t fail as such, aside from getting lost, and the entire experience lasts 2-3 hours rather than 20. 

Don’t buy this if you’re going to feel short-changed by its length, but if you’ve played and enjoyed Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Gone Home, you’ll love What Remains of Edith Finch.


Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdon

The first Ni No Kuni game was a collaboration with Japanese animation masters Studio Ghibli. Ni No Kuni II is not, but retains the same charming art style. 

It also changes the fighting mechanics. Instead of training up avatars to fight for you, Ni No Kuni II has a fun real-time battle system. You command three fighters with fast, slow and magic attacks, and the ability to dodge. There’s a more action-packed feel this time. 

It’s not all about action, though. While Ni No Kuni II is an action-adventure RPG, you also build up a kingdom, which plays a role in earning bonuses for your characters. This part is surprisingly moreish.

The story is more conventional than that of the first game, which might be down to Studio Ghibli’s limited involvement. However, there’s plenty of fantasy fuel and it’s more involving than your average game.  

Into the Breach

Not every top steam game is an epic open world title that would sell for $60 on PS4 and Xbox One. Into the Breach is an elegant sci-fi strategy blast you can play on your lunch break at work. 

It is made by the team behind Faster than Light, still one of our favourite PC games of the last decade. And for the handheld gaming veterans out there, there are shades of Advance Wars to it too.

Earth has been invaded, and almost taken over, by aliens. In Into the Breach you control groups of mechs sent from the future to reverse this fate. 

That may sound like a mind-bending premise, but it actually proves the plot doesn’t matter too much here. We know Earth will come out tops, it’s just a case of how.

Each encounter takes in an 8x8 block grid, your battlefield. Play unfolds in turns, and your mechs have to stop aliens from destroying too many of the field’s buildings and outposts. It has the tactical purity of chess. As you play you can upgrade your mechs to improve your chances. 

Like FTL, Into the Breach is moreish, smart and deceptively deep. 


Surviving Mars

Some screenshots make Surviving Mars look like The Sims: Red Planet edition. However it’s closer to Sim City meets The Martian.

You build an outpost on a patch of Mars, and have to keep it running to avoid your colonists dying in on the planet’s harsh surface. It’s harder than it sounds. 

Mis-managing resources in Sim City or Civilization may make your inhabitants angry, or lower your income. But in Surviving Mars it can cause a chain reaction that sees life support systems fail. 

You’ll hear “a colonist has died”, and be left scrambling to fix the problem before other inhabitants start dying like bubbles popping as they touch the ground. 

There’s work to be done on Surviving Mars’s interface but its survivalist approach to “city” building is compelling.  

Final Fantasy XV

After the massively-multiplayer Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix has finally turned back to the series’s single player roots with Final Fantasy XV. It came to PS4 in late 2016 but was only ported to PC in March 2018. 

However, you do get all the DLC released on consoles and, if your PC is beefy enough, better frame rates. 

Final Fantasy XV is a little different to the FF games of old. You travel around an open world packed with Americana-style buildings, all your companions are human and the combat plays out in real time, not as turns. However, you can tell this is a Final Fantasy game just by watching a 15-second clip of it in action. 

New Indie Notable: Descenders

The PC tends to get associated with the kind of games you sit down at for hours. Until your eyes are red and part of you begins to regret your life choices. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

You can play Descenders in quick blasts. If you can drag yourself away from its moreish-ness, anyway. You’re a downhill free rider who has to get down procedurally generated courses with as much style as possible, prefably using a gamepad. It might remind you of the Tony Hawk games, when they were good, or snowboard console classic SSX. 

The use of generated “tracks” means you can’t master courses, but it’s the mastery of the bike’s physics you’re aiming for anyway. A career mode pits you against a series of courses in the same style of environment, each with objectives. Finish the “boss course” and you unlock a new terrain. But you have limited lives for the whole run. A mix of mobile game style and unforgiving old-school progression mechanics gives Descenders a fresh feel. 

Not every game has to be about destroying aliens or shooting off the faces of unnamed soldiers. American Truck Simulator is like mindfulness meditation compared to those titles. 

You drive a big 18 wheeler-style truck over the long highways of the US, delivering cargo from A to B. Breaking the traffic codes doesn’t end in a GTA-style police chase, just a fine. This is the sort of game you can put on like a cosy slipper after a long day at work. 

There’s a business side to it too, though. At the start you’re a lowly contractor, but earn enough money and you can build your own shipping empire. 

Pillars of Eternity

PC gamers who have been playing since the 90s will remember all the fuss made about the Baldur’s Gate titles. Some of their biggest fans will get teary telling you about the memories of their favourite side characters. 

Isometric role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate don’t cut it in the AAA world anymore, but Pillars of Eternity brings back their essence for the Steam crowd. This is a difficult, slightly throwback-flavoured RPG where you control a band of classic fantasy-style adventurers. It’s made by Obsidian, the team behind Fallout: New Vegas. Pillars of Eternity II is on the horizon too. 

If you like your RPGs fantasy-themed, also consider Torment: Tides of Numenera.

Legend of Grimrock II

Another throwback to a style of game that has disappeared, Legend of Grimrock 2 is a dungeon crawler where you move in blocks, not freely. Why would you want that? It changes your relationship with the environment, making it feel more like an intricate puzzle than just an open world a texture artist has been let loose on. 

There are an awful lot of actual puzzle involved here too, in-between the bouts of classic "dungeons and dragons" style combat encounters. 

Retro as the play style is, Legend of Grimrock 2 looks fantastic, with plenty of outdoors areas to stop you from getting bogged down in dimly-lit dungeons. 

The battle royale that put the subgenre back on the shrinking map

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

When it comes to in-vogue games, few titles continue to capture the zeitgeist (and fill it full of bullet holes) like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It may have one of the worst names ever, but that hasn’t stopped PUBG from putting the ‘battle royale’ subgenre on the map and making itself into a phenomenon. Sure, there’s a lot of hype still surrounding it, but the game behind all the coverage and Twitch fascination is still one of the most addictive on Steam.

That simple premise - parachute into a map with no gear, scavenge for weapons and armour, then fight for survival with a single life in a map that continually shrinks - is still gripping, even if it has a few too many bugs. Whether you’re teaming up with friends or braving its maps alone, PUBG remains one of the most fun shooters on the market right now.

A punishing but rewarding action RPG

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

One of the most recent releases on this list, Kingdom Come: Deliverance offers an experience that’s both warmly familiar and deeply alien. Set in a fictional Medieval Europe, it’s a first-person RPG where dialogue choices shape your world as much as your ability to problem solve and your skills in melee combat. It’s a game of incredible freedom, enabling you to carve a path through its Dark Ages setting however you see fit.

You might get off your face on schnapps and get in a fight with the town drunk; you might start filling your pockets with the gold of unsuspecting townsfolk, Thief-style or stain your blade with blood in the battlefield. Part Elder Scrolls, part Dark Souls, part something else entirely, it’s an action-RPG that punishes as much as it empowers. It also runs best on PC (with the right specs, naturally) so get it on the download pronto.

A Tom Clancy success story that's fun as hell to play

Rainbow Six: Siege

Who knew, way back in 2015, that a Tom Clancy game would become one of the industry’s biggest success stories. But here we are, in 2018, with a game that boasts over 25 million registered players and its third year of consecutive content updates and premium bells and whistles. It’s one of those success stories that keeps on succeeding, and for one very important reason: it’s fun as hell to play.

Dialling back the Rainbow Six formula to its roots - two teams fight in the same map, one protecting an objective while the other attack and fights their way in - no two matches in Siege are ever the same. Barricading doors, breaching through walls, blasting through ceilings and building an operator that’s attuned to your playstyle. It might not be groundbreaking, but add in the limited time Outbreak mode (think Siege plus zombies) and you’ve got one of Steam’s most complete packages.

Celeste is one of the most memorable games we've played in years

Celeste

Coming from the indie team at gave us TowerFall and TowerFall Ascension comes one of the most rewarding pixel platformers in years. As you climb the titular mountain, flame-haired heroine Madeline will battle her innermost demons as much as the harsh and dangerous conditions around her. In its simplest form, Celeste is a tight, 2D, twitch-style platformer, but in reality it’s one of the memorable games we’ve played in many years.

As poignant in narrative as it is unforgiving in mechanics, Celeste comes with over 700 ‘scenes’ to traverse, countless secrets to uncover and a story that will grip you as much as the muscle-memory building formula of its platforming. For a game built around the simple mechanics of jump, air-dash and climb, there’s an incredible amount of depth to be found as you claw your way to the summit in more ways that one.

Get it here: Celeste

Complex combat and tactical breadth make Divinity Original Sin 2 a worthwhile play

Divinity: Original Sin 2

When Divinity: Original Sin 2 arrived in 2017, it had quite the task ahead of it: living up to the legacy of its predecessor, which just so happened to be one of the most accomplished RPGs of all time. Then what does developer Larian Studios do? It only goes and follows it up with one of the most essential additions to the genre in years. Am enchanting fantasy world, a deep and complicated combat model and one of the most gripping stories you’ll experience outside of a 1,000 page tome.

The big selling point, and the main ingredient of Divinity: Original Sin 2’s secret sauce, is the complexity of its combat. You control a party of characters alongside your own custom avatar, and you can utilise each one individually in battle. With countless skills and attributes to mix and match, the breadth of tactics available makes this an imposing yet deeply rewarding way to test your RPG abilities.

Stellaris is a new evolution of the strategy genre

Stellaris

The grand and operatic strategy genre has produced some true classics on PC, experiences consoles have consistently struggled and failed to emulate. From Crusader Kings to Europa Universalis, these are games with tactics and guile expected in bucket loads from the off. 

Well, it just so happens the developer of those very games has taken that deeply immersive concept and transported it to the dark ocean of space. Enter Stellaris, an evolution of the genre that takes the space exploration of EVE Online and Mass Effect and hits the hyperdrive button.

You’ll travel through myriad procedural galaxies, filled with thousands of planets and countless alien species, each one possessing unique traits, economies and social strata. Whether it’s the power (and consistent balancing act) of interstellar diplomacy or the deep customisation of starship designs, there’s a wealth of sci-fi lore and mechanics to delve into with Stellaris.

Dota 2 has a simple but intoxicating set up

Dota 2

By far one of the oldest games on the list - well, that is if you consider 2013 old - Valve’s MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) is still one of the most addictive titles on Steam. It’s also the only game on this list that’s free-to-play, so you don’t even need to have a healthy bank balance to enjoy its moreish battles. Valve has been consistently updating and overhauling the game since launch, making it one of the most evolved MOBAs on the market.

If you’ve never played it before, it’s a simple yet intoxicating setup: two teams of five players face off in a large map. Each one is defending a base with an ‘Ancient; inside that must be protected at all costs. Find your opponent’s base and raze it to the ground to win. What plays are are brilliant hero v hero showdowns, brutal ambushes, tactical plays and nonstop action. 

Get it here: Dota 2

Cuphead is as challenging as it is stunning

Cuphead

Run and gun platformers have carved a niche out for themselves on mobile, but they’re a rarity on PC. Thankfully, this one was built to be a Microsoft exclusive with Xbox One in mind and the result is one of the most unique gaming experiences you’ll ever have. Designed to capture the look and atmosphere of 1930s cartoons, Cuphead places you in the shoes of the titular hero and tasks you with battling across three distinct words and bosses that will capture your imagination with their ingenuity that crush your resolve with their difficulty.

Recommending a notoriously tough game might sound counter-intuitive, but the steep difficulty curve is part of its charm. With a unique soundtrack and those standout visuals at your side you’ll earn every stage clearance like piece of territory in a war, each victory feeling that bit more rewarding. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Cuphead is a must have Steam title.

Subnautica may be new but it's making waves

Subnautica

Another relatively fresh release on this list, Subnautica is already making waves (pardon the pun) despite having only dropped in January of this year. A survival game set in the depths of an ocean on an alien world, it’s unique twist on the classic template makes for a game that’s both captivating to watch and challenging in its many interconnected mechanics. You’ll explore shallow reefs, dangerous trenches on the seabed and everything in between, all the while managing your precious oxygen supply.

Oh, and there’s an entire ecosystem of alien marine life to contend with. Plenty of these fishy and mammalian critters want to add you to their menu, so you’ll need to outsmart and avoid them while searching for resources to build new equipment and tools. Like all the best survival games, the very best materials lie in the most dangerous of places. Dare you swim deep enough to find them?

Wolfenstein II is visceral and dazzling

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

With so many multiplayer shooters getting a focus in this feature, it seemed high time to pay homage to one of the best single-player FPS games ever. MachineGames gave Wolfenstein a bloody, alt-history revival in the form of 2014’s The New Order, so it had its work cut out for it when it came to bettering all that visceral Nazi slaying. Then along comes 2017’s The New Colossus, dialling up the violence and the depth of storytelling it would make most Call Of Duty titles look at the floor with embarrassment.

What makes The New Colossus so essential is how it doesn’t deviate from its formula, but excels on it in almost every way. Bigger and more challenging bosses; intense set-pieces; myriad weapons that spit glorious death; a story that asks far more questions and presents some bold answers. It’s also rock hard, and consistently unforgiving, so lock and load at your peril...

The best survival horror game for your Steam library, Resident Evil 7 is refreshingly terriflying
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard 

It’s not often a franchise as iconic as Resident Evil gets a new lease of life - especially when you consider the zomb-loving licence had descended into a lifeless farce over the past decade – but here we are with a genuinely frightening horror game with the words ‘Resident Evil’ in the title. What a world, eh?

While us PC folk aren’t allowed to scare ourselves half to death in VR yet (RE7 is a PSVR at the moment), that doesn’t mean it’s any less terrifying. Dropping the third-person perspective that’s felt tired and rote for many a year, RE7 embraces the first-person view that’s helped Outlast and the like re-energize the horror genre, and boy does it make for one chilling 8-10 hour scare fest.

With Capcom’s big budget, a creepy swamp setting (honestly, just go with it) and a storyline that feeds back into the series’ winding mythology, you’d be crazy not to add this to your Steam library.

The sixth entry in the Civilization series combines all the best elements of its predecessors – and there are a lot
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

How could we put together a list of the games to play on Steam and not include the latest offering from the master of turn-based strategy and tactical simulation? The Civilization series has been through many a form over the years, but entry number six takes all the best bits from those previous incarnations, smoothes off the edges and serves up one of the most rewarding turn-based video games ever made.

There’s nothing quite like building a nation from its fledgling roots and nurturing it into a cultural powerhouse, and Civilization VI gives you more freedom and control than ever. Removing the pre-set paths that hampered the still stellar Civ V, Civ VI transforms into a landscape that rewards plucky explorers and confident conquerors with the opportunity to expand their budding society with new technologies and alliances. Sid Meier’s name alone is part of PC gaming’s lofty heritage, so owning this little doozy is a no-brainer.

A modern classic, Undertale is full of choices, and engaging in or avoiding combat can have a real impact later in the game
Undertale

Undertale is one of those games that stays with you. A work of digital art whose charm and creativity never fail to lose their edge, regardless of how many times you play it through. And considering just how many innocuous JRPGs are out there right now, that’s a pretty impressive feat in unto itself.

So why is Undertale so brilliant? It takes all of the best elements from the ever-evolving RPG genre and creates a world built on choice, consequence and compassion. As a child dropped into an underground world filled with terrors, you’ll have to face many a monster to make it home. How you face them, and what choices you make, define your journey. 

And its Telltale-esque consequence system doesn’t just extend to dialogue choices – you can choose to spare monsters after a fight, forging potential vital alliances for later in the game. You can even end fights by telling your opponent jokes. It’s a game of such warm and affable quality you’d almost believe it was a JRPG from the earliest heydey of the genre.

Get it here: Undertale

Its superb blend of brilliant writing, challenging gameplay, and well designed missions makes The Witcher 3 our pick for the best action-RPG on Steam
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

For years, one game sat atop the dark and misty mountain of action-RPGs. Skyrim was its name, and no other franchise, be it Dragon Age or Dark Souls, could even come to close to unseating its cast-iron grip upon the genre. Then along came Geralt of Rivia, riding atop The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with a confident swagger, ready to give The Elder Scrolls a good thrashing.

If you’re looking for a game that strikes a perfect balance between length of play (you could easily spend 100+ hours across its incredibly diverse map – one that’s a good 20% bigger than poor old Skyrim) and sheer quality, The Witcher 3 is a must. There are just so many virtues The Witcher 3 has to its name – brilliant writing, unforgettable quests, genuinely challenging beasts and a pair of DLC expansions (Hearts of Stone, and Blood and Wine) make this one of the best games of this and any other generation.

If you've played Limbo, you'll know what expect from haunting platformer Inside
Inside

Inside will break you heart. Let that be your warning going in.

Don’t see such words as a deterrent, but rather as a mystery to be uncovered scene by heart-wrenching scene. Created by the same studio that made the wonderful 2.5D platformer Limbo – you know, the one about a little boy stuck in a nightmare world where a giant spider chases him endlessly – it should come as a huge shock to learn that Inside will leave you just as tearful as its predecessor.

Thing is, Inside is a brilliant piece of art. Without a scrap of dialogue, you’ll explore a world in a similar platforming vein to Limbo, overcoming various ingenious environmental puzzles and evading both the flashlights of an oppressive government and the shadow of a conspiracy that’s clearly not going to end well.

But it’s worth every second. There’s a reason it won many a GOTY award in 2016, so you’d be a fool not to add this to Steam library. Just remember to pack a few tissues.

Rocket League's central premise is football with rocket-powered cars – and it's every bit as fun as it sounds. One of the best muliplayer experiences available on Steam
Rocket League

Once upon a time there was a little game on PlayStation 3 called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. It was all about using remote control-esque cars to knock a giant football around a makeshift pitch. Thing is, no one played it and the game slowly faded into obscurity.

Then Rocket League came along, which was basically the same thing, albeit with tweaked physics and a greater focus on multiplayer. One trip into PlayStation 4’s PS Plus lineup later and the game went supernova.

And with good reason, too. It’s simple concept just works – it’s a place where skill shines through as you boost your little RC car and hit the motorised equivalent of a bicycle kick. It’s glorious, offering one of the best ways to play online (whether with friends or a bunch of randoms). Come on, who doesn’t want to spend their evening chasing a football with a car? FIFA? Pfft.

Portal 2's fiendish physics puzzles are complemented by a superb story, with voice actors including Stephen Merchant and JK Simmons
Portal 2

Portal, back in its day, was a game-changer. Sure, it sounds like we’re filling out boots with hyperbole, but back in 2007 all those portals, companion cubes and sociopathic AIs were blowing our minds on loop. Then Portal 2 came along and made the original look like a crossword puzzle in The Sun.

Okay, the first Portal is still amazing, but Portal 2 took a genuinely revolutionary concept and redefined it. Everything in this game works perfectly - the ebb and flow of its story, the growing complexity of the puzzles and the new ways you’re forced to make your mind think with portals. It’s even got Stephen Merchant and JK Simmons in it!

Portal 2 manages to take a brilliant recipe and somehow make it even more delicious, sprinkling in all new depths of platforming and puzzle flavour. If you haven’t played it, buy it now. If you have, play it again.

Get it here: Portal 2

Experience Stardew Valley's changing seasons and various enchanting festivals while making friends with the oddball locals

Stardew Valley

Charming indie farming RPG Stardew Valley sees you moving from the bustling city to your grandfather's old, run-down farm near sleepy Pelican Town. It's up to you to uncover the secrets of the mysterious town while growing a thriving farming empire.

Stardew Valley's pixelated graphics, unique soundtrack and kooky characters make for a relaxed and fun game which combines elements such as farming simulation, adventure, dating simulation and crafting. 

Get ready to become emotionally attached because once you step foot in Pelican Town, it's hard to ever leave.

Get it here: Stardew Valley

Categories: Tech News

Best business VPN providers of 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:43

Using one of the best VPNs is a crucial consideration for any modern business which has a flexible and mobile workforce, in terms of maintaining high levels of privacy and security. When it comes to precious business data, there’s clearly a vital need to keep the company network and internet connection secure, and to allow for secure remote access facilities, too.

This is especially true in the world of small businesses, which usually have limited resources to devote to managing security. Fortunately, there are business VPNs out there which are a breeze to set up and manage, plus they can be scaled to fit the organisation’s needs as it grows.

  • Check out the best VPN to get the best VPN deals on the market
Best business VPN in 2019

Perimeter 81, powered by SaferVPN, offers a great business VPN experience for users who work across multiple devices and switch from one to another frequently.

It has well-designed clients for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, is compatible with Linux and Chromebook, and includes a single-click web management console. 

While the server coverage may be slightly limited, it didn’t bother us as we got above-average speeds in our performance tests. The provider upholds a strict no-logging policy. Perimeter 81 supports IKEv2, OpenVPN, L2TP and PPTP security protocols, features automatic Wi-Fi security, and business clients enjoy priority support around the clock.

Perimeter 81 has two business plans to choose from, depending on the number of users needed – including a custom plan if required. The packages available are:

[Save 40%] Get 40% off VyprVPN's annual plans. VyprVPN is a fast, highly  secure VPN without third-parties, all  for as little as $36.00 for the  first year. Get VyprVPN here.  

(25% Off) Exclusive VyprVPN Deal: TechRadar readers get 25% off VyprVPN annual plans ($45 USD for 1 year). VyprVPN is a fast, highly secure VPN without third parties. Get VyprVPN here 

VyprVPN manages all of its own servers which definitely shows when it comes to performance levels. In our tests, we found our download speeds more than doubled compared to our normal rates with the VPN turned off – it doesn’t come any better than that.

Vypyr provides you with easy-to-use and intuitive software for overall account management, as well as apps for all major platforms. In addition to OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols, VyprVPN offers additional security features like a NAT Firewall and its own Chameleon technology for preventing deep packet inspection (DPI), VPN blocking and throttling. 24/7 live chat support is in place for when you need assistance.

Interestingly, there isn't much information listed on the website regarding the business plans. To find out more about them, and discover the exact pricing, you have to apply for a free trial or contact customer support. There are two of these plans pitched pretty closely together, starting from $299 and $349 respectively. The packages available are:

Hotspot Shield delivers a consistently fast VPN with competitive pricing for consumers, and its business offering is no different. In performance terms, our tests showed a significant increase in download speeds with a slight increase in upload speeds compared to our normal rates, and barely any change in latency.

On the downside, the number of server locations is rather low, while this business VPN doesn’t offer any management software so you only have native apps at your disposal. 

The privacy policy is favorable, not keeping any logs, and on the security front you get all the usual protocols. Additional features include private browsing and virtual locations, among others. There’s dedicated customer support in case you run into any hiccups.

You can choose from three plans, and they are quite affordable with the lower-end plan being a laudably cheap option for small businesses. The packages available are:

Corporate users benefit from the same sterling levels of security and reliability NordVPN is known to provide consumers with, alongside the added bonus of getting a dedicated account manager for business account holders. Companies also get a dedicated business VPN server for internal use, and each VPN account is assigned a dedicated IP address.

With the number of servers constantly growing, NordVPN is one of the better VPN providers when it comes to server numbers. It’s not the fastest network out there, but it’s fast enough – and more importantly, this business VPN is consistent in terms of its performance. 

This provider offers lots of security features, including double data encryption, a kill switch, and much more. NordVPN is privacy-focused, keeping no logs of user activity and requiring no company details to purchase. 

Do note that there is no dedicated management software, although you’ll get VPN clients for all major operating systems. Another caveat comes on the pricing front, as there’s no pricing scheme laid out on the website, and you have to fill in a form to get a quote. Depending on your exact needs, you can select between (up to) 5 and 100+ users.

TorGuard certainly has a huge selection of servers, meaning you should never have a problem finding a reliable connection. That said, our testing revealed only average levels of performance, with some spikes in latency. Still, the speed trade-off might well be worth it as you get tons of options to set up your VPN experience on any OS.

Every TorGuard business VPN account comes with a 24/7 dedicated account manager and access to a dedicated VPN management portal. Security-wise, TorGuard takes care of business (ahem) with all the regular protocols, 256-bit AES encryption, and a ‘Stealth VPN’ option that avoids deep packet inspection.

There are three business price plans plus a custom option. Each gets you unlimited access and support, the only difference being the number of users covered, and dedicated IP and email addresses. The packages available are:

How to choose the best VPN for business

Obviously, protecting sensitive business data is the main priority here, so you need a VPN with the beefiest levels of security. Since you’ll be handling multiple accounts at once, for multiple staff members, quality management software or a dedicated account manager are important considerations.

Having access to plenty of server locations is always a good thing, particularly when it comes to a mobile workforce, and nippy performance is handy for transferring large files or perhaps partaking of HD videoconferencing. Another important factor is the number of connections available and supported devices, which must suit the size of your firm and the hardware your employees use.

Also consider

1. Jungle disk: It is an easy, secure VPN access for small businesses supporting SSL and IPsec including remote access and site-to-site. There's no hardware purchase, no setup fees, all pay-as-you-go monthly, in a fully managed provider. It is aimed at 2-250 employee businesses with under 10 locations. 


2. ibVPN : Their VPN is best for securing your company’s data with military grade encryption while working remotely and to access business tools while traveling or when connected to public WiFi. They claim that they "provide the most complete business VPN solution offering fast VPN servers, SmartDNS and Proxies to make sure it suits all your company's needs", adding "for easy access we have developed VPN clients for major OS (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) so even the less techie can connect in seconds with a simple click."

3. Hide.me : This VPN is geared towards "any company which wants to give its employees the geographical freedom to work without compromising on their security, any company which wants to make sure that their employees are always secure even while using public Wi-Fi connections, any company which does not want to spend a lot of time on administrating its VPN solution and any company which does not want to spend a lot of money on their VPN solution."  Hide.me’s Business VPN offers a flexible Windows SDK to control the VPN connection over an API. You can bundle the SDK into your existing application or just build your GUI on top of it. With their API, you can automatically create, delete, disable, and enable VPN accounts.  They don't ask you to pay upfront and offers a monthly consolidated billing option so that you pay only for accounts that have been active. 

Categories: Tech News

Best domain name registrars of 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:35

Every great website needs a snappy, memorable domain name. Coming up with something new is a serious challenge, but once inspiration strikes, you'll need to register that name with a domain name registrar before you can use it online.

Registration isn't difficult, but first you must choose from the hundreds of companies competing for your business, and there are several issues to consider.

Pricing structures can be complicated. A low headline figure could become expensive on renewal, for instance. Prices vary between domain extensions, too, so a registrar that offers great value for a .com domain might give you a poor deal on when it comes to .org.

There may be extra costs for tasks like transferring your domain to another registrar, too. Read the small print before you sign up.

Look for any bundled or optional extras. A Whois privacy service prevents your address, phone number and email address appearing as public contact details for the domain, something which could otherwise get you a significant amount of spam email and phone calls. We've seen this cost as much as £7.99 ($11.20) a year, but several registrars provide it for free.

Many domain registrars offer hosting as an extra, but keep in mind that web hosting companies can also register domains. If you have an idea of which web host you'd like to use, check the details of its plans: you may be able to register a domain for free when you buy hosting, and that's often the cheapest option.

Finally, take a look at the support a registrar offers. You may never need any help at all, but if anything critical crops up – maybe an issue which might cause a problem with renewal – it's important that your provider is on hand to ably assist.

Balancing all these priorities can be tricky, so that's why we've created this list of top domain registrars to help point you in the right direction.


Web giant GoDaddy is the world's biggest domain registrar, currently managing more than 75 million domains for 17 million customers around the globe.

The company is well-known for its low headline prices, and it's the same story here, with .uk and .co.uk domains available for $0.99 in year one. On the other hand .com and .org are less impressive (though still apparently cheap) starting at $12.17 (£9.60). Beware, though: these aren't the bargains they initially seem.

The first catch is that GoDaddy's starting prices only apply if you pay for two years upfront, and the second year is significantly more expensive (.com rises to $18.17, .uk and .co.uk domains rise to $12, .org and .mobi are ridiculously high, $21.17 for .org and $26.17 for .mobi). 

The second problem is that there are no bundled extras, so adding something like Whois privacy – a valuable service often included for free with other providers – costs $8 (£6) a month for year one, and $10 (£7.6) on renewal.

There's clearly much better value to be had elsewhere, but GoDaddy may still appeal to web beginners looking for a bundled hosting and domain registration deal. The company has an array of products covering every possible requirement, with telephone support if you need it, and buying your domain and hosting from the same provider will make life a little easier.

Just keep in mind that other providers can also combine hosting and domain registration, and GoDaddy may not provide the best package for you. Check out our various hosting guides for possible alternatives.

Hover is a popular domain name registrar owned by Tucows, which also operates eNom and the domain reselling platform OpenSRS.

Hover's website is clear and straightforward. A domain pricing page allows for checking registration costs before you start, or you can use the search box to immediately locate your preferred TLD (top-level domain).

By default the results page displays every domain you can register and their prices, giving you a lot to scroll through and read. But a handy sidebar allows filtering domains by categories including Personal, Businesses, Audio and Video, Food and Drink, and more. It's a neat touch which could help you spot an appealing domain that you otherwise might have missed.

Prices are very reasonable, with .com domains costing $12.99 (£9.30) for year one, .co.uk priced at $10.99 (£8.3), .org costing $13.99 (£9.99) and .mobi reaching $15.99 (£11.40). Shop around and you'll find slightly lower prices elsewhere, but Hover generally provides good value.

There's a welcome bonus in Whois Privacy, which comes free for as long as the domain is managed by Hover.

The company keeps upselling to a minimum, even in the final shopping cart stage. You're simply offered three email-related extras: email forwarding at $5 (£3.60) a year, a 10GB email account for $20 (£14.30), or you can opt for a 1TB inbox, file sharing, a calendar and more, for an annual $29 (£21).

If you have any questions, support is available via email and chat, although it's not 24/7. Working hours are 8am to 8pm (Eastern Time) Monday to Friday, and 12pm to 5pm at the weekend.

Most domain name registrars offer a simple identikit service with little to separate them from the competition, but Dynadot is an interesting exception which has some unusual advantages.

This starts right at the beginning, with your initial search. You can use the website much like any other – type your preferred domain, press Enter, read the results – but you also get Bulk and IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) search tools, and advanced options allow defining which domain extensions to include in your searches, as well as setting those as defaults for all future searches.

These searches can optionally return results from domain auctions, Dynadot's Marketplace (where other customers sell domains they no longer need) and other sources. There's also a Backorder option to try and grab a domain that isn't currently available, if it's not renewed.

Prices are on the low side, with Dynadot offering both special deals on some extensions and good value at renewal. .com sites are $6.99 (£5.4) initially, $8.99 (£7) on renewal. If you’re after a .co.uk domain, that’ll set you back $6.95  (£5.2), with .org costing $10.99 (£8.35), and .mobi domains are $4.25 (£3.2) initially, $13.99  (£10.6) on renewal.

That's just the start: Dynadot also piles on the free extras. A Website Builder allows you to build and host a simple one-page responsive website. There's free domain forwarding if you'd like to redirect visitors somewhere else. DNS support allows creating 50 subdomain records, 10 email addresses, and 5 each of MX and TXT records. There's even a Grace Deletion list which allows returning a domain if you change your mind.

This requires a small fee and won't always be allowed (the details on how it works are here), but it's still a welcome extra you'll rarely find with other registrars.

Dynadot's support wasn't always as impressive, with live chat being offline when we checked. But the website does have a publicly available forum, allowing anyone to browse common questions and see how happy (or otherwise) Dynadot's customers might be.

Shopping around for a domain registrar can involve a lot of hassle as you research companies you've never heard of, try to separate genuine bargains from marketing tricks, and browse the small print looking for hidden catches. With potential savings only amounting to a few pounds or dollars a year, at best, you might prefer to simply sign up with a big-name provider that you know will give you a reasonable service, even if it does cost a fraction more.

Enter Google Domains, Google's lightweight domain registration arm, a straightforward provider that puts speed and simplicity at the top of its priority list.

Google Domains doesn't confuse you with endless sales, or 'special' deals that turn out to be not so special after all. Upselling is kept to a minimum. Instead, it's all about making the purchase process as easy as any other online shopping site: search, click, and check out.

The difference is obvious from the moment you reach the site. There are no animated ads at the top of the page, no 'Sale!' banners, no low headline prices: just a search box where you enter a single domain.

The results page is equally straightforward, with prices listed for nine common top-level domains, and an All Endings tab listing every option in alphabetical order (domain.academy, domain.bargains, domain.camera).

One potential problem is that Google Domains doesn't support all the domain extensions you'll get elsewhere, and this includes some quite common examples (.mobi, .tv). If you think you might ever want to buy something beyond the most popular extensions, it’s a good idea to check that your likely choices are available before you buy.

Prices are standardized to whole numbers, so for example .com, .co.uk and .org domains are all priced at $12 (£9). That's a little above average overall, but better than some, especially as Google Domains throws in free Whois privacy for as long as you're registered. That's a valuable extra which could cost $2.80 (£2) to $11.20 (£8) a year elsewhere.

If you do have any questions, a Help link displays articles on common problems. If that's not enough, the Contact Us page enables talking to a support agent by email, live chat or telephone (Google calls you), the highest level of domain registrar support we've seen anywhere.


Founded in 2000, Namecheap is a popular domain name registrar and web host which now manages more than five million domains.

Namecheap's excellent website allows searching for individual domains, or in batches of up to 50.

If the domain is taken, you can view the Whois record or offer to buy the domain (via DomainAgents) from the current user.

If the domain is available, results are displayed across four tabs: Popular, New, Discounted and International. This is a neat approach which makes it easier to browse the list and find what you need.

Prices are generally very good at $8.88 (£6.8) for .com domains - $12.98 on renewal, $7.58(£5.8) (currently $3.78 due to limited offer) for .co.uk - $9.58 on renewal, $12.98 (£10) for .org - $14.98 on renewal, and $16.88 (£13) for .mobi (at the moment, you can get .mobi for $2.88 for the first year). There are some special deals available, and Namecheap has an Agent 88 set of domains which are almost always available at $0.48 (£0.35) for the first year (these usually include the following: .site .website .space .pw .press .host .tech .online and .fun – but there may be others as well).

That would be good value all on its own, but Namecheap doesn’t stop there: you get  WhoisGuard domain privacy thrown in for free.

Namecheap's billing is straightforward and honest, with current and renewal prices clearly described in your Namecheap shopping cart, and Auto-Renew turned off. But if there's something you don't understand, helpful FAQ pages and live chat are just a click or two away.

Categories: Tech News

The dangers of password sharing at work

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:30

Consumers today have seen their email, retail shopping, and online banking providers go through high-profile security breaches. As a result, the vast majority of Americans (87%) are at least somewhat concerned that their personal data will be compromised online. Unfortunately for CIOs, many people may not understand the risk, or best ways to protect their data—especially when it comes to managing passwords at work.  

In a recent survey of 1,507 U.S. adults, SurveyMonkey found that one third (34%) said they share passwords or accounts with their coworkers. That means upwards of 30 million of the 95 million American knowledge workers may be sharing passwords. Almost a quarter (22%) of the people we surveyed also admitted to reusing the same password on multiple work accounts. And just 12% say they use password managers like Dashlane or LastPass, the technology most security professionals recommend for safely managing multiple passwords. In fact, many security professionals don’t even know their passwords and heavily rely on their password managers to auto-generate and store them.

Password-sharing at work carries huge risk for our organizations. Eight in ten (81%) hacking-related breaches are achieved with stolen or weak passwords, and if hackers gain entry to your system, shared passwords make it easier to access other parts of your network. A hacker discovering a document full of shared passwords in one employee’s Google account can turn a single security incident into a full-blown breach, potentially opening your organization to legal issues if customers’ privacy rights are violated.

Security implications of password sharing

Even without having malicious intentions, users could open the company up to compromise simply by sharing login credentials with people who are using insecure hardware. CIOs and CISOs work hard to secure our employees’ systems, but we don’t always know the security posture of a system being used by another person—it could be compromised, which could lead to further proliferation of account details and potentially unwanted programs (e.g., malware).

It’s also harder to establish exactly who is doing what when employees share passwords. Under normal circumstances, if an individual altered sensitive company data or made unapproved charges using stored payment methods, we could identify the user through their account credentials and take steps to correct the problem. If a dozen people are sharing a single login, that process becomes unnecessarily complicated.

Even worse, employees who have left the company could still have access to shared login credentials for everything from your customer database to the company Twitter account. They could log in after being terminated and change the password for a business-critical account, leaving their former teammates locked out.

So why do employees share passwords when it’s so risky for their organizations? Four out of ten workers say they do it to more easily collaborate with their teammates, and about the same amount (38%) said they share passwords because it’s the company policy. This shows that CIOs can intervene, provide a better way for employees to collaborate, and potentially save ourselves a lot of headaches down the road. Here’s how:

Image Credit: Pixabay

Update your password policies

I was surprised to see that almost 40% of people who share passwords at work did so in accordance with company policy. If your company encourages folks to share passwords, it’s time to stop. Make sure your password policy includes these industry best-practices:

  • Choose solutions that allow for single sign-on (SSO) whenever possible. People are less likely to share a password that's also linked to their email account.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication where you can.
  • Encourage long passwords over complex ones. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and Microsoft recently debunked the idea that passwords that use composition requirements (e.g., uppercase, lowercase, alphanumeric, and non-alphanumeric characters) were stronger. It turns out length matters more than complexity, and we should get rid of composition and reset mandates.
  • Urge employees to avoid using the same password for multiple products or services.
  • Promote the use of password technology like Dashlane or LastPass.
Reevaluate your SaaS licenses

Our survey found that more than 40% of employees who share passwords do so to more easily collaborate with colleagues. To me, this indicates that either the tools they’re using lack necessary collaboration features, or employees don’t have the seats they need. 

At SurveyMonkey, we discovered that customers were sharing account credentials because they didn't have the ability to collaborate how they wanted. In the interest of protecting our customers, we invested heavily in stronger collaboration features in our Teams accounts that would equip users to work together while using discrete logins. Invest in tools with strong collaboration features to ensure employees can work together with little friction. And to address the other side of the coin, CIOs should take a hard look at the number of SaaS licenses they’re using. Instead of squeezing users who want to work together into shared accounts, the smarter (and safer) long-term solution is to make sure everyone who needs one has a seat. 

Image Credit: Pexels

Educate employees about the risks of password-sharing

At home, 71% of people are fine sharing passwords with a spouse or partner, and maybe that’s OK. But we need to educate our employees on the difference between sharing a Netflix login and work account credentials. In your onboarding sessions and regular security trainings, make it clear that password-sharing puts the company at risk for security breaches and legal liability. 

It’s also important to highlight the downsides for employees personally—sharing passwords means they risk losing access to business-critical software if someone else changes the login information. What’s more, if employees use the same password for multiple accounts, someone could try that same password to gain access to their personal bank account, social media accounts, and more. 

Right now, password-sharing seems like the path of least resistance. Employees are doing it as a quick fix, but it’s our job to make sure they have the tools they need to work together safely and advance our company’s objectives. With a few common-sense fixes, we can make password-sharing at work a thing of the past. What people do with their Netflix passwords is another issue entirely. 

This SurveyMonkey Audience poll was conducted online from January 23 - 25, 2019 among a total sample of 1,507 adults age 18 and over living in the United States. Respondents for these surveys were selected from SurveyMonkey Audience, SurveyMonkey’s online survey panel. The modeled error estimate for the full sample is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

Brent Williams, Chief Information Security Officer at SurveyMonkey

Categories: Tech News

Firefox 66 is here, and it'll put an end to annoying autoplaying videos

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:22

Mozilla has begun rolling out Firefox 66, which now gives you the ability to block autoplaying content by default so you're not startled while you browse. Videos that are muted by default will still play, but you won't be left hunting around for the tab that's deafening you.

If you decide that you want to watch a clip that the browser has blocked, give it a click to start it playing. You can also choose to enable autoplay for specific sites (like your favorite streaming services, for instance).

To enable autoplay on a particular site, click the 'i' icon in the address bar, and set  'Autoplay sound' to 'Allow'.

Smoothly does it

Firefox 66 will also prevent the annoying problem that occurs when you're reading something online, and the text suddenly jumps down as an image or a video loads above it.

Mozilla announced this feature (known as scroll anchoring) back in January, and it should prove particularly useful on mobile devices, where page jumps can push whole paragraphs off your screen.

Firefox's search tools have received a boost too. You might already know that if you type % into the address bar, you can search all the tabs currently open on your computer (or on multiple devices if you're using Firefox Sync).

Now, you can also search from the tab overflow menu, which appears when you have more tabs open than your browser windows can comfortably show. If this happens, you'll see a down arrow beside the plus icon for creating a new tab. Click this, and you'll find a new search box, ready and waiting for your queries. It's a small change, but a handy one.

Private browsing has a new search function, as well. Open a new private browsing tab and you'll see a search bar for your default search engine, which you can use safe in the knowledge that your search history won't be saved.

Categories: Tech News

The best Kodi VPN in 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:18

If you're looking to add a VPN to your Kodi box, you've come to the right place! For those not familiar with Kodi, it’s one of the most, if not the most popular media players around thanks to its excellent interface, not to mention the fact that it’s free and open source – and boasts some impressive capabilities when it comes to add-ons which support various streaming services.

Some of those add-ons are perfectly legal, and others – not so much. Naturally, we, at TechRadar, we don’t endorse any form of piracy or illegally viewing copyrighted material.

The best Kodi VPN in 2019

IPVanish provides superb performance levels complemented with a wide range of server locations. In testing, our download speeds improved by around 15% compared to our normal rates. The provider supports a whopping 10  simultaneous connections on multiple devices. This is ideal for larger families or family/friend gatherings, as there will be plenty of free slots available for other internet activities, even if several people are streaming content.

The service offers native clients for Windows and Mac, along with Android and iOS, plus it has setup instructions for other platforms. The native Windows client, in particular, is a sterling effort with an intuitive interface and a bundle of advanced features (although on the downside, we found it could potentially be susceptible to more network issues than rival VPN software).

IPVanish has a strict no logs policy and all the necessary security in place for a smooth and carefree VPN experience. If there’s one thing that somewhat spoils the fun, it’s the cost of the service as it’s a bit on the pricey side. There is no free trial available, but the three plans include a 7-day money-back guarantee. The 1-year subscription is the best and most affordable option. The packages available are:

This British Virgin Islands provider has an impressive collection of servers spread across 94 countries with some great performance. In our tests, we recorded good speed consistency with no fluctuations of any kind. 

Setting up a VPN can be complicated even for an expert, but ExpressVPN does a great job to help you out. Their site is packed with various tutorials that will help with any common tasks and issues you might have and there is always the excellent live chat support to help you out. 

The provider offers quality clients for every major platform with setup instructions for various other devices. iOS and Android (which you can also install on Android TV) clients are especially well made and are very user-friendly. 

On the security and privacy front, the service doesn't disappoint either. The 256-bit encryption is available and you can choose from OpenVPN via UDP, OpenVPN via TCP, L2TP - IPSEC, PPTP or SSTP protocol. The service has a favorable privacy policy with zero logging of any kind.

The service is a bit pricier than most and there is no free trial, but you do get a 30-day money back guarantee. There are three plans available, with the yearly plan being the most affordable (you also get an extra three months). The packages available are:

NordVPN offers an impressive level of overall server coverage, being one of the largest VPN networks around. Its performance is far from shabby, too, providing consistently fast connections throughout much of that expansive network. 

The provider has a Kodi specific page on their website, if you need more information about unblocking Kodi. That being said, NordVPN does a good job support-wise, with their guides being right on point without being too technical so even newbies won't have any trouble understanding. The great example of that is this blog post, which shows you how to watch movies on Kodi.

This provider also has user-friendly applications for all major operating systems (there is also a dedicated app for Android TV). These are packed with useful features, along with plenty of beef on the security front. There’s Double VPN (double encryption) for maximum privacy, Onion over VPN, a CyberSec feature for blocking intrusive adverts and malicious online threats, an automatic kill switch, and more besides. NordVPN has a clear ‘no logs’ policy, too.

There is a free 3-day trial to take this VPN for a test spin, but it’s rather hidden away on the website. With the monthly billing being rather pricey, the cheap 3-year subscription provides the best value for your money. The packages available are:

Streaming content requires a fast connection and it doesn’t get much better than VyprVPN in this respect. Our performance tests revealed that this provider offers superb download speeds – twice as fast as the rates we get with the VPN turned off, in fact. Add the firm’s widespread server coverage and you have a service tailored for HD and 4K content.

While there might not be an obvious Kodi support, the website has a bunch of support resources. For instance, in the TV section of the website, you can find a guide for OpenELEC, a common Kodi platform. You can also find a web forum where VyprVPN users can post about their experiences or ask about some particular issues.

There are easy-to-use clients for all relevant platforms and devices, supported by strong security aspects. Along with the expected range of protocols and encryption, the provider’s own Chameleon technology aims to defeat VPN blocking and throttling for a faster connection. A kill switch, NAT Firewall, and VyprVPN’s own DNS solution complete the efforts on the security front. On top of that, there is no logging of traffic or online activities, but there is some logging occurring in the form of recording connection times and IP addresses.

Would-be users have a free 3-day trial at their disposal, which is particularly useful as VyprVPN doesn’t allow refunds. Commercial plans are based on monthly and annual billing, with the monthly plans carrying an expensive price tag. Your best bet is the Premium plan with annual billing as it includes all the bells and whistles (like the Chameleon protocol) for a reasonable price. The packages available are:

Performance is always a priority when streaming content and PureVPN delivered. In our testing, the provider achieved good speeds, although, on long distance servers, performance suffered, but that's nothing unusual. Combine the solid performance with a large number of servers and you shouldn't have trouble finding a good connection.

The provider offers many clients for desktop and mobile users, as well as an add-on for Kodi. If you need any help configuring Kodi with PureVPN, you can find many helpful tutorials and guides for both desktop and mobile platforms.

As for the privacy, there have been some issues in 2017 but that seems like it's all in the past as the privacy policy looks very clear and straightforward, stating that there is no logging of any kind.

Although the provider doesn't offer a free trial, you do get a 31-money back guarantee and the yearly plans are quite cheap. Speaking of cheap, the limited 5-year plan is one of the most affordable plans you can find anywhere and it offers the best value by far. The packages available are:

How to choose the best Kodi VPN

As ever when it comes to streaming content – particularly if it’s HD – you want one of the best VPNs which gives you fast download speeds to avoid those dreaded pauses while the ‘buffering’ icon hogs the screen. A large web of server locations also helps as you’ll have more options to find the fastest connection possible.

And as always, you’ll want good levels of security and a ‘zero logs’ privacy policy. An intuitive dedicated client is highly desirable as there might be some initial tweaking and fiddling required. Those who prefer viewing on the go should look out for mobile device support, and preferably native clients for iOS/Android.

Categories: Tech News

The best VPN for Amazon Fire TV Stick in 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:06

Introduced back in 2014, the Fire TV Stick is Amazon’s rival to Chromecast and Roku. The device plugs into an HDMI port to allow any TV to stream content over a Wi-Fi network, effectively turning the set into a very well-featured smart TV.

However, much of that content is geo-locked, meaning it’s only available from a certain country or region due to the likes of content licensing agreements and broadcast rights. Of course, one way you can get round such content blocking is by using one of the best VPNs and changing your IP address to a location that has the content you crave.

Best VPNs for Amazons Fire TV in 2019

ExpressVPN is our top pick for the best all-round VPN, and specifically for Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. With 3000 servers in close to 160 locations, this British Virgin Islands-based provider offers a lot of connection choices. In our testing, we found speeds were fractionally lower than our normal rates on shorter hops, with little change in long-distance connections.

ExpressVPN is known for its quality apps which include a brand new Android app that works well with Android-based streaming devices (like Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick), and it can be navigated with the remote control. When you fire it up, the app immediately recommends the location that gives you the best connection speed.

ExpressVPN offers an excellent level of technical support, including lots of troubleshooting guides and 24/7 live chat support, plus you can also get in touch via email if that’s more convenient.

The Android app uses the OpenVPN protocol, encrypting all traffic with 256-bit encryption. The privacy policy clearly explains that the company doesn't collect or log traffic data, connection IPs, or browsing activity from individual users, a huge plus for Kodi users. In our testing, we confirmed that ExpressVPN unblocks Netflix US, BBC iPlayer and a wide range of streaming services. ExpressVPN also provides Fire TV-compatible MediaStreamer DNS services, for those who wish to unblock content even when not connected to the VPN.

Price plans aren’t the cheapest, but may be worth the added cost for the best possible streaming experience on Fire TV / Fire TV Stick. The pricing is somewhat mitigated by ExpressVPN's ‘no hassle’ money-back guarantee which allows you to try the full service for up to 30 days, with no sneaky small print restrictions on bandwidth or similar. That certainly comes in handy as there’s no free plan or trial. The yearly plan offers the best bang for your buck (with three months thrown in for free). The packages available are:

In our testing, NordVPN delivered very good performance, with impressive speeds on short connections, and some very serviceable results with longer distances. There are plenty of servers to choose from, too. The provider offers tutorials on how to set up your router with a VPN or share the VPN connection from your PC in order to use the service with the Fire Stick. Since recently, there is also a dedicated Android TV app that you can download from Amazon Appstore and use it with your Fire TV.

NordVPN excels on the security front, offering double data encryption (where your connection gets passed through two separate VPN servers), along with support for all the major security protocols. On top of that, the firm has a ‘no logs’ policy, which is always good to see.

There’s a free trial but you’d never know about it unless you dig around on the website. Out of the four available price plans (all of which have a 30-day money-back guarantee), the monthly plan is very expensive, but the limited three-year subscription is a fantastic deal. The packages available are:

This Romanian/German provider has a dedicated Fire TV Stick app, which can be found on Amazon Appstore, and if there are any problems installing the app, in-depth guides can be found on their website. In our testing, the service performed quite well with some really good performance levels, and there is a considerable amount of servers, too. The client is simple to use which can be important for newbies, although, there can be some interface issues.

Security conscious users shouldn't worry as the provider uses all the standard protocols, including the IKEv2 and OpenVPN, with 256-AES encryption. While in the past there have been some privacy issues, the privacy-policy states the usual 'no-logs' policy and there doesn't seem to be any apparent privacy-related problems.

Unfortunately, Cyberghost doesn't have a free trial and the monthly plan is quite expensive. However, there is a 45-day money back guarantee and the longer-term plans are much more cost friendly, with the special 18-months plan being the clear winner. The packages available are:

IPVanish certainly delivers on the performance front, over both short hops and long-distance connections, with the former being up to five times quicker than some rivals, and the latter showing a commendable average increase of 15% in download speeds. There are plenty of servers to choose from, with impressive global coverage.

There’s also a dedicated Fire TV app that is easy to setup and use. It has some handy options like automatic IP switching and fastest server optimisation, although note that it doesn’t support the first-generation Fire Stick. IPVanish doesn’t log any traffic or connection data when you use the service.

One downside worth mentioning is that when we tested out the firm’s customer support, we found it sluggish to respond, which obviously isn’t ideal if you do run into a problem.

There is no free trial, but the three plans on offer do come with a 7-day money-back guarantee. Your best bet is the yearly subscription which is the most affordable option. The packages available are:

[Save 40%] Get 40% off VyprVPN's annual plans. VyprVPN is a fast, highly secure VPN without third-parties, all  for as little as $36.00 for the first year. Get VyprVPN here.  

This VPN is blazingly fast and delivered more than twice our normal download rates, which will be pure streaming heaven for users watching 4K content (or HD, for that matter). The server count is very impressive as well, with more than 700 servers in 70+ locations around the globe.

VyprVPN has its own Fire TV app, available in the APK format or directly through the Amazon Store. The app offers lots of speed optimization options and will automatically connect to the fastest server available, also providing you with upload and download speed graphs, a ping test and so on.

OpenVPN and Chameleon protocols are used here, with the latter being VyprVPN’s proprietary solution that’s designed to avoid deep packet inspection, and your VPN connection being detected and throttled or blocked (note that this is only available on the Premium plan).

The provider also has its own DNS solution, and maintains a ‘no logs’ policy, although that said, some session logging does take place, such as connection times and IPs – which might not be ideal for everyone.

You can test the service with a free 3-day trial – and it’s a good idea to exercise that right, as VyprVPN doesn’t allow refunds after you’ve signed up. When it comes to subscription plans, the best all-round choice is the Premium plan billed annually, because this comes with all the advanced features on offer – and monthly billing is expensive (for either plan). The packages available are:

How to choose the greatest VPN for Amazon’s Fire TV Stick

Obviously, performance is always important for streaming, so you want a VPN provider that offers fast and reliable connections. A plentiful server count is helpful for finding a swift server – the more options you have, the better – and it’s also good to have a lightweight app which won’t affect performance levels, too.

You won’t always find a dedicated app for the Fire TV Stick, though, and it’s obviously a bonus when you do, because it means you can avoid having to set things up manually. Support for Kodi add-ons is also a boon.

Categories: Tech News

Ikea's Sonos speakers could start at $120

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:00

According to a report by 9to5Mac, Ikea's long awaited Symfonisk series of Sonos speakers will start at around $120 (£90 / AU$170).

9to5Mac claims that it has seen a poster intended for Danish staff announcing that they will be entitled to a free speaker, in celebration of "the company's 50th anniversary in the country."

Although they didn't provide an image of the poster, it apparently says that between July 1 and August 1, staff "will be able to redeem [the] voucher in order to get [a] SYMFONISK Wi-Fi-speaker in white or black", and that "the speaker has a value of [DKK]799."

The poster also reportedly says that "the speaker can be placed horizontally or vertically or hung on the wall as a practical shelf", which confirms rumors that the range will include a wall-mounted speaker. 

The Sonos One
Image credit: Sonos

Sonos on a budget

Sonos' current range of speakers start from $179 (£179 / AU$299) with the Sonos One, so it looks like Ikea is offering a more budget-friendly way of owning a Sonos speaker with the new Symfonisk range.

If the speaker in question does cost $120, it's likely that it will be the cheapest one of the range, but we won't know for sure until the Milan launch event in April

A video that was recently released on the Ikea newsroom teases the new Symfonisk speakers, showing a revolving room with the speakers themselves pixelated. 

Although we can't make out any of the finer details, it looks as though the range could include a smaller bookshelf-style speaker as well as the wall mounted speaker – of course, we can't be sure until we see the speakers in their un-pixelated form. 

Via 9to5Mac

Categories: Tech News

Best eSign software solutions of 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 11:00

Signing documents is a chore. You either have to wait for a document to arrive through the letterbox or print it out from an email, physical sign the paper and either scan it and email it back or post it. In an era of constant connectivity and digital transformation, doesn’t this seem archaic?

Esignature (or Esign) software can make your personal and office life that much easier. It eliminates a tedious, time consuming task into something that can be done with a few clicks. You can sign multiple documents at the same time and get paperwork to the right people as soon as they need it.

If you've already ditched physical snail mail, faxes and paperwork filing, then you'll wonder why you haven't looked into e-signatures before...

The only downside is that your fancy signature will soon be redundant.

  • Want your company or services to be added to this buyer’s guide? Please email your request to desire.athow@futurenet.com with the URL of the buying guide in the subject line. 

Image Credit: Adobe

We're going straight in with the big boy - Adobe Sign is the e-signature solution offered by one of the most famous names in the software business.

Adobe's service offers plenty of features and functionality. It's available via both the web and mobile app, so you can easily use your e-signature when away from the office. It offers an authentication service to ensure that those applied to important documents clear basic legal compliance, and of course you can personalize your e-signature, too.

Recent enhancements include compliance for life science and pharmaceutical firms and integration with SAP SuccessFactors. Adobe Sign also works across all Microsoft Office products. Pricing for a single user is $9.99 per month.

For use between two to nine users, you'll need to sign up for Adobe Sign Team, costing $24.99 per person per month. To see whether it's worth the cash, you can try a free 14-day trial first.

Image Credit: DocuSign

Claiming to have more than 200 million users worldwide, there's no denying the popularity of DocuSign. The company is a dedicated e-signature solution provider, offering straightforward to use software to quickly and easy get your documents signed.

It's easy to get going with DocuSign thanks to its number of integrations with the likes of Google, Windows, Apple and SalesForce, as well as a number of apps for mobile devices. It puts a lot of emphasis on security, using strong encryption technologies and employing industry best practices for protecting the data it handles.

Indeed, as of March 2018, DocuSign has had its application for Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs) approved. This is the EU's highest level of certification for data transfers outside the bloc.

Its pricing isn't dissimilar to Adobe's, though single users pay a dollar more at $10 per month. Get DocuSign Standard for multiple users and you'll have to pay $25 per user per month. You can try DocuSign for free first with a 30-day trial.

Image Credit: Secured Signing

Secured Signing is a more cost effective software than the above two e-signature solutions. It's cloud-based, meaning that it's easy to access and use your electronic signature from desktop, laptop or mobile device.

We're impressed by the sheer amount of extra services it offers. For example, there's a video confirmation feature where you can identify the signer and prevent any document tampering (if that's a concern). You can invite others to sign. And there's even options for document negotiation - a one-stop service to get to the all important dotted line as soon as possible.

Secured Signing also supports PDF files, including multiple numbers of signature fields for the same witness and multi-page signing. However, do note that pricing plans work on the number of documents to sign as much as the number of users.

We also like that it's easier to customise your package and get better value as you add more users. The Team Edition starts at around $20 a month, but gets relatively cheaper for more people. Head over to Secured Signing for your tailored quote.

Image Credit: OneSpan Sign

If you want endorsements from some familiar names, OneSpan Sign has got some pretty big companies using its e-signature software. How do IBM, BMW and the US Army sound for starters?

That said, OneSpan Sign still says that it's equally useful for small and large businesses alike, with an optimized, easy-to-use workflow across devices and personnel. It can be deployed on a public or private cloud, within your computing infrastructure only or a combination of the three. But as well as flexibility, the software also has the protection of your company's security at its heart.

You can get OneSpan Sign for $20 per user per month, or give have a go for free with a 30-day trial.

Image Credit: SignEasy

Although SignEasy can obviously be used from your office or home computer, it seems to have channeled a lot of effort into making it mobile ready. It's cloud-based - so can be accessed on the go - and the mobile experience for phones and tablets is very smartly laid out.

Otherwise, it has many of the same features as the above e-signature services, but there's a real focus on simplicity (as the name suggests). You can annotate signature boxes so that it's crystal clear who needs to sign and how. And if you find that the same kind of documents need to be electronically signed over and over again, then it's easy to set up templates for reuse.

SignEasy recently passed five million downloads and has agreed a partnership with WeWork to bring e-Signatures to its community.

Try before you buy with a 14-day trial. If you're a small business, then signing up to SignEasy is on the more affordable side - $10 per month. But that's only for one sender. It's more like $60 per month for the full premium plan of 3 users.

Image Credit: KeepSolid

KeepSolid Sign is the offering from security and encryption specialists KeepSolid. It promises rapid, legally-binding signatures on any device, as well as offline access to signed contracts.

In terms of usability, there are annotation and collaboration tools alongside document tracking so its easy to make changes and work together on projects or legal processes. You can get documents from virtually any major cloud or email repository, including Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and iCloud. Simply import the document into KeepSolid Sign and add your signature.

The key selling point of KeepSolid is its security credentials as it fits into the company’s wider portfolio of safety and privacy tools and the app is protected by AES-256 encryption.

There’s a 14-day free trial, after which plans start at $99.99 a year for a Personal subscription. A small team subscription covering five users is $349.99 a year and for ten users its $599.99. There are enterprise subscriptions on offer too.

How to choose an e-signature solution

Electronic signatures, often referred to as E-signatures, are a digital version of someone’s “analog” or handwritten signature (not to be confused with digital signatures).

E-signature solutions were born out of the need to to accelerate the transition to the paperless office. There are now plenty of them in the market since the technology first came to market more than 20 years ago.

They have grown in popularity over the past few years as businesses of all sizes embrace the SaaS (software-as-a-service) paradigm which removes many of the inconveniences associated with some more traditional e-signature solutions.

Below are five important things to look for when you choose an e-signature solution.

1. Device agnostic

By that we mean that the process of signing should be seamless regardless of the device being used. Mac, PC, tablet or mobile handset. That applies to the document management part as well as in-person signing which allows third parties to sign to sign directly on your device and get the completed document delivered securely via email. Being able to do it anywhere and at anytime provides with a massive boost in efficiency, especially as it doesn’t require any application (or app), just your standard browser and internet connectivity.

2. Connect to popular business applications and services

Tight integration with existing popular online applications such as Google Docs, Zoho, Dropbox, Salesforce, OneDrive or Evernote is critical to maintain the viability of your existing document workflow. That integration should be as seamless and as quick as possible so that users can hit the ground running with minimal downtime. Look out for APIs as well as they will allow you to push the integration even further, allowing developers to tailor the provision of e-signature for specific use cases.

3. Grow with the company

APIs usually give you the flexibility of scaling as far as you want. But just make sure that your e-signature provider can support your business demands with an adequate number of API requests, should you go that route with a number of tiers that correspond to your business needs. Having a tiered approach means that businesses can grow (or shrink) their e-signature service requirements without negatively impacting their bottom line.

4. Meet security, regulatory and authentication requirements

An electronic signature means nothing if you can’t guarantee the authenticity of the sender, the recipient and the actual document. Having a robust audit trail feature helps as it provides with a shared and readily available list of who has done what and when. Make sure your e-signature provider complies at least with ESIGN (the U.S. Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000), UETA ( Uniform Electronic Transactions Act) and eIDAS (European Union Directive 910/2014). And do make sure that your solution protects you not only from forgery but also from repudiation.

5. Excellent management capabilities

Being able to manage multiple list of signees and users of the e-signature solution within the company is important to maintain the integrity of the system. Granular control of team members, for example, should be high on your list as it allows various teams (e.g. sales, HR or legal) to have access to different documents and signees while sharing the same platform. The same goes for templates; having these ready allows for faster turnaround, which translates into more efficient processes.

Eversign is a newcomer in the world of e-signature but its impressive list of features will appeal both to small companies and big enterprises.  

Categories: Tech News

AI is no longer a tech niche – 4 industries that will be revolutionized by AI in 2019

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:30

In her keynote address at Google’s conference, Next ’18, Google Chief Scientist Fei-Fei Li said “AI is no longer a niche in the tech world – it’s the differentiator for businesses in every industry. And we’re committed to delivering the tools that will revolutionize them.” 

Li went on to announce Cloud AutoML— a suite of machine learning products that enables developers with limited machine learning expertise to create high-quality models specific to their business needs. The pre-packaged solutions are designed to be easily integrated into existing enterprise workflows, and the majority will be delivered primarily through Google’s enterprise partners. 

With the accessibility that Google and other enterprises offer, artificial intelligence will eventually touch nearly every industry on the planet. Here are four ways AI is transforming certain sectors:

Agriculture

Based on research conducted by the United Nations, there will be 2 billion additional people on the earth by 2050, which presents a significant challenge—feeding those two billion. Farmers are turning to AI to produce more food using fewer resources. This includes detecting pests, forecasting what crops will deliver the best returns, harvesting crops at a higher volume and a faster pace with autonomous equipment, monitoring crop and soil health and tracking and predicting various environmental impacts on crop yield such as weather changes.

Organizations like the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture are creating machine learning that can predict yield, potential outcomes and challenges for farmers. The organization is then democratizing those tools and data by sharing it with small agricultural businesses. The CGIAR Platform aims to help farmers increase their efficiency and reduce the risks that are inherent in farming.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Photography and design

According to a study by Domo, people generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data— a lot of that can be attributed to creatives like photographers and graphic designers. As a result, creatives have dumped massive amounts of data into numerous cloud applications without proper organization or strategy, and finding the right file, especially one that you delivered to that one client, can be difficult.

Now, cloud file assurance services use artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud technology to gather, analyze, catalog and protect user’s files by aggregating them from multiple cloud storage accounts, such as Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Adobe Creative Cloud, OneDrive and others, into one safe, searchable repository.  

As users add files to the aggregator, it creates extensive, searchable metadata for each file. The service discovers a file’s content and location (GPS), performs optical character recognition (OCR) on PDFs and creates machine learning (ML)-generated vision tags for photographic images and graphics. This analysis helps photographers and creatives more effectively find files stored in their various accounts and devices.

Cloud file aggregators keep the entire history of the file, improving workflow. 

Healthcare

Artificial intelligence will be transformative for patients and healthcare providers in 2019. 

At the 2018 World Medical Innovation Forum (WMIF) on artificial intelligence presented by Partners Healthcare, leading researchers and doctors presented several areas of the healthcare industry that are most likely to see a major improvement from artificial intelligence within the next decade, such as:

  • preventative technology applications that promote and monitor healthy habits and exercise
  • early and accurate detection of illness such as cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease before the patient even shows symptoms
  • data analytics that unlocks vast amounts of health data by scanning every medical journal, symptom, and case study of a treatment faster than any human leads to fast and accurate decision making
  • robots that administer treatment by dosing medication, conducting lab work and participating in patient physical therapy, and even surgery, combating shortages in trained healthcare providers in developing nations
  • Research streamlining to cut both the time to market for new drugs and their costs

Image Credit: Pixabay

Construction and city planning

Considering the “D+” grade that the U.S. received on its “Infrastructure Report Card” from ASCE, contractors, city planners and architects will turn to high-resolution aerial imagery, combined with cloud technology and machine learning, for Reality as a Service (RaaS) through building information modeling (BIM) applications.

Combining machine learning with RaaS allows automatic detection of features such as skylights from solar panels, pools from ponds and other ground features like potholes or road imperfections. Other systems can analyze the height, width and surface area of buildings. 

Contractors and city planners will integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) into their everyday workflow—like integrating aerial captures with various design software like 3ds Max, Map3d, Recap, InfraWorks and Civil 3-D as an innovative method to improve workflows and prioritize clear communication and smart design.

Combine RaaS with another dimension—time—and you can see what has changed in an area.

AI has the potential to dramatically improve the way we work and live. As it becomes more accessible in 2019, we will see it transform industries and create new ones that don’t yet exist.

Jeff Looman, VP Engineering at FileShadow 

Categories: Tech News

Say hello to your new smart workplace assistant

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 10:30

Printers are evolving fast; from the basic devices that could once only print from a personal computer, they’ve become multifunction devices, integrated technology hubs that can operate autonomously.

Beyond scanning and copying, they can print from multiple devices wirelessly, handle document management, seamlessly manage documents in the cloud and even keep your network secure.

Meet your new assistant

The ConnectKey technology, developed by Xerox, transforms its VersaLink printers into a smart workplace assistant that can achieve far more than rival models.

That doesn’t come as a surprise given the history of innovation at Xerox, where the laser printer, Ethernet, the first prototypes of a modern PC and the graphics user interface were all invented.

ConnectKey transforms your printing experience by putting always on, connected and mobile at the very center of what it aspires to do and does so using four features:

1.  A highly intuitive user interface that mimics a familiar environment with easy to understand icons and customizable to every individual. It is so simple that even non-technical staff can create a workflow. There’s even a ConnectKey simulator to experience it. 

2.  Cloud and mobile are at the very heart of what Xerox’s VersaLink stands for: all platforms and sharing options should be treated equally. Not only apps for popular cloud storage services (Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive) are installed by default, you also have an array of native productivity-focused features like NFC pairing and the ability to convert scanned documents to text searchable versions. And you no longer need a PC to share, save, download, translate, scan and - obviously - print that content; even smartphones or tablets are optional.

3. Security built from ground up, not as an add-on. Xerox uses a holistic four-point approach to security that permeates the entire VersaLink range: all access points are protected to prevent rogue intruders, a firmware test is carried out at startup to verify the integrity of the printer, access to sensitive data and documents is controlled and monitored and data is stored securely. 

4. Customized apps to solve unique pain points across your business.  Xerox understands that no two businesses are the same. Users can access the Xerox App Gallery to locate/install apps to fit their business requirements, or custom apps can be created for unique customer needs by Xerox authorized developers. Take for example Xerox’s Audio Documents which can transform hard copy printouts into MP3 files, great for listening on the go. Check the numerous other apps in the Xerox App Gallery.

Discover the VersaLink printer range

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that ConnectKey technology comes as standard in Xerox printers that cater primarily for the SMB market who often do not have dedicated IT people and for whom the plug-and-play capabilities of the VersaLink range will be a not-so-insignificant bonus.

Consider the Xerox VersaLink® C405DN A4 Color Multifunction laser printer, an MFP which was rated 4-stars by TechRadar. Other than being one of the more affordable models in this price range (with up to $280 instant savings on offer until 12/31/2018 and 1-year onsite warranty), it continues to print in mono even if the printer is out of color toners, has auto-duplex and promises to deliver an impressive 35 color pages per minute.

Plus don’t forget other exclusive Xerox-only advantages like Genuine Xerox Rewards points and the free lifetime printer service with econcierge.

For the full range of Xerox ConnectKey VersaLink printers and multifunction devices, visit Xerox.com/Versalink.

Categories: Tech News

New ZTE Axon V and Axon S concept images show strange camera setup

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 09:58

ZTE has produced concepts for the upcoming ZTE Axon V and Axon S, and the images show both smartphones have novel camera locations that we haven’t seen before.

The images, submitted by ZTE to the IF World Design Guide awards in the Design Excellence category, show the Axon V and Axon S (as well as other ZTE handsets like the Axon M and the Blade 9) in all their glory, and we can see the bizarre camera placement in great detail. 

The Axon S, a sliding phone ZTE has planned for later this year, is shown to slide sideways, instead of upwards like previous sliding phones. The concepts show the phone in this open state and reveals a tri-lens camera setup, which the image description states totals 48MP and supports 5x optical zoom.

The concept description also mentions that the phone will have a 95% screen-to-body ratio, with the display housing an in-screen fingerprint sensor and 3D camera. This will likely be an in-screen camera, possibly similar to what Samsung is planning in future Galaxy phones.

The Axon V also has an intriguing design – it’s not a sliding phone, and looks mostly like a standard Android handset, except for the fact that its dual selfie cameras are housed in a small wing-like appendage that protrudes from the top-right of the device, creating an asymmetrical outline. We’re not quite sure what to make of this novel arrangement, although it doesn’t look like it would be very comfortable in a pocket. 

As well as the unusual design, the Axon V has another distinguishing feature: it’ll have 21:9 aspect ratio, a screen format we’ve only seen recently in the Sony Xperia 10 and 10 Plus. The screen is an 6.8-inch OLED panel, which is bigger than either of the Sony Xperia 10 phones, and like the Axon S will house a 3D front-facing camera.

Since the concepts come from ZTE itself, rather then being leaks, they’re likely to reflect the finished phones, giving us our first real look at the two devices. Both are set to launch at some point this year, although “2019” is the only release date we have so far – we’ll keep you updated with all the latest news and rumors about the phones until then.

Categories: Tech News

Skoda's app will let couriers deliver shopping straight to your car

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 09:55

Skoda is trialling a new scheme that will let you specify your car as a delivery address when you shop online, avoiding the hassle of having to wait in for parcels.

When you check out online, you'll have the option of allowing the delivery company to take your new purchases straight to your vehicle. It doesn't matter where you've parked – the courier will find it using GPS. Think of it like Amazon Key, but for your car rather than your home.

A mobile app will give the courier one-time-only access to your car's trunk during a limited time window, allowing them to open it up, deposit your new purchases, and lock it again.

Image credit: Skoda

Special deliveries

The system is currently being trialled in Skoda's home nation, the Czech Republic, with two of the country's biggest online retailers: Alaz.cz and Rohlik.cz. If all goes well, and drivers are happy having packages dropped in their cars, the company hopes to roll it out more widely.

"This pilot project provides a concrete look ahead at how everyday life can be made even simpler and more convenient in future by using state-of-the-art technology," said Jarmila Plachá, head of Skoda Auto DigiLab, the company's workshop for developing new connected car technology. "I’m looking forward to further developing this project together with our partners.”

Categories: Tech News

A recipe for avoiding disaster in the cloud

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 09:30

A business doesn’t get to choose when disaster strikes. Whether it’s as mundane as a server outage or as serious as a fire, disasters always take us by surprise and leave us to deal with the consequences. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare for the worst. Indeed, careful planning and backup solutions can mitigate the worst effects of almost any crisis. 

Over the years, countless regulations have helped businesses to protect their workers and customers. However, as data grows in strategic and business value it must also be made part of the equation. In the event of a disaster, securely transferring data and applications to an external environment is critical. For many companies, the cloud has emerged as the ideal location for this; it is large, secure and easy to deploy data to and from. Yet it can’t cure all ills by itself.

When automation is lacking and an organisation depends on manual processes and human supervision, data is always at risk. Valuable company data can be lost, while time is wasted by IT departments attempting manual restores. In such an environment, it’s imperative that all data and applications be transferred to a cloud-based back-up infrastructure. To do without this system, each manual transfer that staff perform reduces the efficiency of the disaster recovery process, costing time and money. 

Consider these essential steps to ensure all your critical data remains protected:

1. Meet your deadlines

Every business application has a unique and intrinsic value for the company. Therefore, each should have its own recovery time requirements. In practice, mission-critical services – those applications that your business could not function without – should not experience a breakdown for more than 15 minutes. This will often be stipulated by its Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs). 

For simplicity, the RPO indicates the amount of data that an application can afford to lose during an outage without causing unacceptable losses to a business. RTO, meanwhile, defines how much time can elapse before all elements of the application need to be up and running again. At its base, any recovery strategy must be planned according to set RTOs and RPOs. For sensitive applications in particular, it’s advised to use data transfer or replication technology in order to meet strict 15-minute requirements.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

2. Find a place to automate

To err is human. Therefore, to ensure a rapid, faultless recovery of data to the cloud, the disaster recovery process must be automated. The ideal solution would trigger the entire process with a single click. From an IT and business continuity perspective, this is advantageous in case of major incidents such as flooding or a fire, where employees may not be available or react badly under stress. 

Many business applications are complex, with certain functions interdependent on each other. In an emergency, however, some may be left to fail in favour of protecting others. Ultimately, unless the entire application, its multiple layers and dependencies are protected by an automated process, the business will only suffer longer and more expensive downtime.

3. Imagine different scenarios 

Organisations that make use of the cloud in their disaster recovery strategies must decide what level of detail they want their applications and data restored. This needs to be done on a case by case basis. Depending on the crisis, they may have to consider whether they need to back up some virtual machines, modify a large number of complex applications, or restore a data centre in its entirety. The company’s recovery strategy will need to be adaptable enough to manage these different scenarios quickly and with flexibility. 

A disaster recovery plan should be detailed and comprehensive. This will determine its success in the multitude of crises that can befall a business.

Image Credit: Pixabay

4. Break the boundaries of the cloud

In a multi-cloud scenario, using a different tool for each cloud environment is not advised. If the IT infrastructure is fragmented across numerous tools, a single, across-the-board overview becomes impossible. In a disaster, speed of response is reduced as employees grapple with disparate systems, each one needing a specific skill set that might not be available at the time. The result, inevitably, is higher operating costs, longer outages and the increased chance of data loss.

5. Testing times

The final step is one of the easiest, but it is all too often forgotten. At the end of the day, the only way to know if a disaster recovery process works – and how long it takes – is to test it. New data and potentially new environments are being added to businesses every day, so these tests should be performed regularly to ensure everything is protected.

Applications, and the data that supports them, are fast becoming the lifeblood of businesses. They are too important an asset be left vulnerable. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Daniel de Prezzo, Head of Technology, Southern Europe at Veritas Technologies 

Categories: Tech News

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