Authenticator is an open-source 2-step verification app for iOS

When it comes to iOS, open-source apps are something of a rarity but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

If you’re looking for an alternative for Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, LastPass Authenticator, or Authy, you may want to give Authenticator a chance.

Authenticator for iOS

Authenticator is an open-source 2-step verification app for iOS

Why? Do you really want to hand over the two-factor authentication process to these big companies or proprietary software?

This is a TOTP (time-based one-time password) app and does not require an Internet connection because of that. The app is probably one of the simplest that you will come across in the niche; it just has the option to add/remove accounts and that is about it.

Well, the only other option that is available is the “Digit Grouping”. You can either choose to display the codes in 3 x 2-digit pair groups, or 2 x 3-digit groups. Once you have installed Authenticator on your iPhone or iPad, you will see a nearly blank screen with a few buttons on start.

Adding an account to Authenticator

Authenticator supports adding accounts using QR codes and manually adding accounts.

Refer to your email/social network account’s website to set up 2-step verification. Once you get to the page where you are asked to scan a “QR code”, run Authenticator and tap on the + button to add an account. Point the camera to the QR code on the computer’s screen.

The app should add the account, and display the 6-digit code for it on the screen. Now, most websites which you’re setting up 2-step authentication for will require you to enter the TOTP to confirm that it has been configured correctly.

Authenticator open-source 2-step verification app for iOS

Manually setting up 2FA tokens:

Tap on the plus button, and then on the edit button (note and pencil icon) on the top and you will see a screen which asks for the following:

You can obtain the secret key for your account from its associated website. You can set TOTP or Counter based tokens, and set it to 6, 7 or 8 digits, SHA-1, SHA-256 or SHA-512.

Where it lacks and shines

Personally, I would have liked it if the app asked me for a PIN code or password to unlock the 2FA database. An extra layer of security is always a good idea even if it would rely on TouchID or the device’s PIN.

You may reduce the issue by setting the screen timeout to the minimum and not the 2-minute default on iOS.

On the bright side, it does not store your 2FA tokens in the cloud in any form. There is no way to backup (or export) your tokens on the other hand. And the fact that Authenticator is open source, unlike nearly every iOS 2-factor authentication app out there, makes it priceless in my opinion.

A 2-step verification enabled account is nearly hacker-proof, read Martin’s article for more information.

Here’s some advice regarding 2FA apps.

  • Use an open source app whenever possible.
  • Do not use SMS based 2-factor verification systems (I think Yahoo still uses this) as the text message protocol is not secure.
  • Use an app which works completely offline if possible; this is not only better as it will work in regions with bad Internet reception or if the mobile provider has issues, it is also better for security as you eliminate transfers and don’t risk losing access to accounts if you lose your phone or device.
  • It is not a good idea to use the password manager for 2FA as well if the manager supports it as you would put all eggs in a basket. At the very least, make sure you’re using separate databases for your 2FAs and passwords. But I’d use separate apps for 2FA and passwords. In case of cloud-based password managers that also support 2FA, think about it. If the password database or service is breached, so is your 2FA.
  • Always have backup or recovery codes at hand in case something goes terribly wrong. Most services support these during creation.

Now You: Do you use two-factor authentication apps?

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KeePassium is an open-source KeePass client for iOS

About a month ago, I wrote an article about a KeePass client for iOS, called Strongbox. I also mentioned an alternative app named KeePassium and that I followed development of the application on GitHub and Reddit for a while.

KeePassium Password Manager is an application for Apple’s iOS operating system.

I looked at the free version of the app exclusively. There is a premium version available for $11.99 per year that lifts the 1 database limit to unlimited and unlocks additional settings.

Let’s take a closer look at the app.

How it works

KeePassium is an open-source KeePass client for iOS

KeePassium’s interface is clean, minimal and pretty. When you run the app for the first time, you will be prompted with 2 options: add a database or choose an existing one. If you pick the latter, you can use a database that is hosted on cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, One Drive, Box, NextCloud, or using WebDAV or SFTP.

Database, password generator and more

You will need to install the corresponding cloud service’s app on your iOS device for the option to show up in KeePassium. The advantage here is that KeePassium doesn’t need to be connected to the service as it can load the KeePass database from the Dropbox folder on the device.

That’s quite fantastic as it removes authentication worries from the entire process. Though KeePassium only saves a database that it creates in the KDBX4 format, it can also open/save KDBX3 and KDB formats. Of course, you can use the app to change the master password too.

KeePassium database

Once you add a database, it shows up on the side-bar. Tapping a folder displays all the logins inside it and selecting a login will show the username, password (hidden) and URL on the right pane. You can also attach files and notes to a password entry.

It also hides the actual number of characters in a password so that the information is hidden and is not revealed to others who catch a glimpse of the screen.

KeePassium password entry

You can sort the side-panel by tapping the icon on the bottom left. The search bar on the top of the pane lets you find entries quickly. There is a backup database option which will save an extra copy of the database on your device.

KeePassium sorting

The password generator can be accessed by tapping the + icon on the left panel and selecting “Create Entry”. This is also how you add new logins to the database if you create new accounts.

KeePassium can generate random passwords using the following parameters: password length, lower case, upper case, special symbols, digits, and look-alike characters (like 1Il). The autofill option works fine and can be used in Safari or other browsers to securely login to your accounts.

Security

KeePassium is open source and free, though it does have a premium version with some extra features.  The app supports ChaCha20 and AES (like KeePass does) and also supports Argon2, Salsa20, and Twofish algorithms for encryption.

KeePassium free vs premium

When you switch to another app, Keepassium locks the database as it should. Though I did find it annoying when I was testing it by switching to and from Safari to test the manual copy to clipboard and search options. Maybe keeping the database open for 10 seconds or something could help prevent this, an option to enable this would be sufficient.

The App Lock adds an extra layer of security to KeepPassium. When enabled, you will need to enter your device’s passcode just to access the app. You will still need to enter your master password to open the database which makes it time-consuming but provides better security.

KeePassium app lock

The “Unlock with master key” option is disabled by default and for good reason. When you enable it, Keepassium will remember the master key (master password) for the session so you don’t have to enter the password every time you open the app. When you switch to another app and return you will find an “unlock” button (instead of a password field) on the app’s home screen. The master key will be automatically cleared after the database has timed-out.

KeePassium unlock with master key
KeePassium unlock with master key 1

I personally don’t like such options, because if you forget to clear the master key and hand over your iPhone or iPad to someone, or it gets stolen or taken away, the database and all the passwords and information it contains can be accessed (unless you enable App lock).

The Database time-out is linked to the “unlock with master key” setting and Keepassium’s default auto-clear time is 60 minutes. That’s too much in my opinion but fortunately it can be customized and set to auto-lock from as low as 30 seconds and up to 24 hours or even never. Of course, you shouldn’t keep the database open for that long. I’d say keep it to 30 seconds or a minute for maximum security.

You can optionally use a Key File to unlock the database. I get that some of these options may be convenient for some people, but it really should be security over convenience any day.

KeePassium settings

Closing Words

The promise of open source, free, no ads, no analytics, and no in-app browser in KeePassium does seem to be true. I’d say you’re getting more than what you’re paying for, even with the free version. That being said, I misunderstood the Touch ID/ Face ID unlock option in KeePassium. It doesn’t unlock the database, it is one of the app lock options. You need to enable “remember  master key”, to get it to unlock the database. Well, maybe I’m expecting too much, but as a longtime user of Keepass2Android, it is one feature which I really like.

Strongbox doesn’t support search in the free version whereas KeePassium does. Other than that, I think both apps are equally good. This really is a try it yourself and decide kind of situation.

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How to enable the swipe keyboard in iPadOS

Typing on the iPad has never been easy. It’s a heavy device, and when you hold it in one hand, there is a giant keyboard on the screen which isn’t designed for one-hand usage.

When SwiftKey was released for iOS, I was happy but still not 100% satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good but I didn’t like swiping across the gigantic keyboard. It isn’t convenient.

How to enable the swipe keyboard in iPadOS

Note: I may be biased because the Android version of SwiftKey is re-sizeable, while its iOS counterpart isn’t. Though this may largely be an OS limitation.

Apple has finally added support for the swipe keyboard in iOS 13. iPadOS also received a similar option, called the floating keyboard.

How to enable the swipe keyboard in iPadOS

1. Open any app which has a text field (browser, App Store, Mail, etc), on your iPad.

2. Tap in the text field, to bring up the iPadOS keyboard in to view.

3. Now, use two fingers to pinch inwards on the keyboard. The gesture is similar to the zoom out pinch you may use on a touch screen.

4. The keyboard will shrink to a phone sized keyboard, which you can place anywhere.

5. Try swiping on the keys; it should work.

How to enable the swipe keyboard in iPadOS 2

Tip: To restore the keyboard to its original size, pinch outwards on the keyboard (like a zoom in gesture).

This works in landscape mode and portrait mode.

If that didn’t enable the swipe keyboard, you may need to enable the Slide option from the  iPadOS Settings. Navigate to the Settings > General > Keyboard section. Scroll down till you see the option which says “Slide on Floating Keyboard to Type”.

Make sure this toggle is enabled. Alternatively, if you were wondering how to disable the swipe keyboard in iPadOS, use the same method to disable the toggle.

How to enable the swipe keyboard in iPadOS 3

Tip: Sometimes the floating keyboard disappears, at least for me, and does not re-appear. To fix this, close the app in which you were using it, and re-open it, you will be able to access it again.

While this is much better than SwiftKey in terms of the size, there is still no resize option in the iOS floating keyboard. Apple really needs to let us resize the keyboard manually for the landscape mode. The animation for it does seem to exist though it doesn’t work.

How to move the floating keyboard in iPadOS

Hold the floating keyboard with two fingers, and drag it anywhere on the screen. Regardless of where you place it, it will always appear on the left-hand corner of the screen. This is something else that I think Apple should address before shipping iOS 13 to the masses. The keyboard should remember the position, and also start back up in the floating mode.

Don’t forget to check our iOS tutorials for configuring the DNS, VPN, and Safari.

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How to set up a VPN in iOS manually

Earlier we told you how to configure custom DNS and Apple Safari in iOS. Continuing with our security focused tutorials, we are going to teach you how to set up a VPN in iOS manually.

Normally, when you buy a VPN subscription, you will use the app provided by the service. These VPN apps are designed for simplicity, and employ a login-and-use method. While that is the easiest way to get a VPN working on your device, it isn’t the only way.

Depending on the app in question, it may also not be the best way if you experience stability or performance issues when you use an application to connect to a VPN server.

How to set up a VPN in iOS manually

Say, if you want to use a VPN connection in a specific protocol (IKEv2, IPSec, L2TP) or to connect to your workplace’s VPN, you will need to configure the settings manually on your iPhone or iPad.

It can enhance your security greatly but at a cost, you will only be able to connect to a particular server that you select.  To change the server, you’ll need to edit the VPN configuration again, as opposed to merely tapping a button in the app to select a different server location.

How to set up a VPN in iOS manually

How to set up a VPN in iOS manually IKEv2

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to the “General” section and scroll down till you see the “VPN” option. Note: If you have already used a VPN before, you may have a “VPN” toggle in the side bar of the Settings screen. That’s literally just a switch, and cannot be used to configure the VPN. You will need to follow step 2, to set up the connection.
  3. Tap on “Add VPN Configuration”.
  4. Select the VPN type: IKEv2 or IPSec or L2TP.
  5. Enter the following details in the VPN configuration screen.

For IKEv2

How to set up a VPN in iOS manually IKEv2

  • Description – Give it a name
  • Server – The IP address of the VPN server you want to connect to.
  • Remote ID – Enter the same IP address.
  • Local ID – Not required. Leave it blank.
  • User Authentication – Username/Certificate
  • Username – Your VPN account’s username.
  • Password – The password for the account.
  • Proxy – Off

Note: Username is the easier option of the two, but some VPNs may not support it. In that case, you will be asked to install a security certificate on your device, to communicate with the VPN’s servers.

6. Hit Done in the top right corner of the screen.

7. Enable the VPN from the toggle on the side bar, or from the VPN settings page.

How to set up a VPN in iOS manually IKEv2 ready

You will need to visit the support portal of your VPN service to get the manual configuration details (also called native protocols) which you need to enter in the VPN set up screen.

This method is common across all recent versions of iOS. I tested this on iOS 13 beta and it works flawlessly on both IPSec and IKEv2. In case the VPN connection failed, you don’t have to start from scratch. Just go back to the VPN section in iOS’ settings, and use the “Edit” option to modify the fields.

Please be aware that some VPN services use a different authentication method for manual settings. Using your regular account username and password will not authenticate the connection. You may be required to use your account’s dashboard to create a new configuration. This will generate a random username and password to authenticate your account for the specific protocol.

Just FYI, there is a new protocol called WireGuard, which promises faster encryption and better speeds. It isn’t available for use yet, but is expected to be supported by all major services and operating systems.

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How to configure the DNS in iOS 

We taught you how to configure Safari in iOS to take control of how the browser works. Continuing with our internet tweaks, we are going to tell you how to configure the DNS in iOS. 

How to configure the DNS in iOS

You should know that there is one huge drawback in iOS concerning DNS. You can only set a custom DNS if you are connected to a Wi-Fi connection. You cannot change the DNS on mobile networks, it’s just bizarre. 

One option around this would be to use a VPN instead that uses its own DNS service.

When Android Pie was launched, many praised the addition of a native DNS option. Many iOS users aren’t aware that this option has been in their iPhone/iPad for a long time. The reason why they may not have known about it, is because it isn’t kind of visible in the settings. You’ll understand why we say this in a moment. 

How to configure the DNS in iOS 

1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad

2. Navigate to the Wi-Fi options on the side-bar.

3. Now, on the right pane, you will see the name of the Wi-Fi network you are connected to. It will have a blue checkmark next to it, to indicate it is working fine.

4. Tap anywhere on the line with the Wi-Fi network’s name or the icons on the edge. This open’s the settings which are specific to the selected network.

5. Scroll down till you say the Configure DNS option. If it says “Automatic”, it means no custom DNS has been enabled, and the network is connecting to your ISP’s DNS servers.

6. Tap on Configure DNS, and then on the “Manual” option. Now you will see an Add server option.

7. Use this to set any DNS that you want to. Don’t forget to hit the save button on the top right corner, to finish adding the DNS server.

How to configure the DNS in iOS

Okay, you probably guessed this. Yeah, if you have more than one Wi-Fi networks, you’re going to need to setup a DNS for each of those. 

Here are a few popular public DNS services which are reliable: 

AdGuard DNS is very useful, because it acts as a system-wide ad blocker. You can check out our Adguard DNS review here.

Closing Words

Personally, I don’t like Apple’s Settings app and the way it presents the options for changing the DNS. In comparison, on Android Pie, the DNS option is straightforward. You go to Settings > Network & Internet > Advanced > Private DNS. Bam, there it is, it’s a one-time setting and it works across all networks (Wi-Fi and Mobile). 

Even if you don’t remember the option’s location, you can just open Settings on your Android device and type DNS and it will display the option for you. Do the same thing on iOS, and you get nothing, it’s not a searchable option.

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How to configure Safari in iOS – A user-friendly and privacy focused guide

Most iPhone and iPad users don’t often pay attention to how their default browser works, unless they run into an issue. We have written a user-friendly and privacy focused guide, to teach you how to configure Safari in iOS.

This is more like a cheat sheet, we didn’t want to bore you with technical jargon. So, we kept it pretty simple and straightforward.

How to configure Safari in iOS

How to configure Safari in iOS

You can’t manage Safari’s settings from, well, Safari. iOS is a little bit weird when it comes to that; instead, you need to go to the Settings app to configure the browser. You can find Safari on the side-bar to your left.

There are a slew of options that you can modify here. We will mention the most important ones which you may want to tweak.

Siri and Search – Do you use Siri? If your answer is no, disable everything under this option.  This is a personal choice. If you use Siri, you can choose whether it should display suggestions, learn from how you use Safari, and whether it should display information/suggestions in search results.

Default search engine – No prizes for guessing what’s default here, Google of course. You do however have 3 other options to choose from Yahoo, Bing and the privacy-centric DuckDuckGo.

Search suggestions –  You may know this as auto-complete from desktop browsers. It can help you save a few seconds, which would have otherwise been wasted typing the rest of the search phrase. This can get finicky though, as you may get suggestions which may not be entirely relevant to what you are looking for.

Safari suggestions – This option is kind of similar to search suggestions, and pulls up information from sources like Wikipedia. The information is displayed inside the address bar, and maybe useful at times. It is powered by Siri, in case you were wondering.

Quick Website Search – Want to see a Wikipedia page of a particular topic, but too lazy to type it? Try typing something like “Wiki iOS”, and it should load the relevant page.

Pre-load Top Hit – This is like a lottery, and depends on what you’re searching for. It loads the most popular result for the term you searched for. I recommend disabling it, simply because it can be inaccurate and because it needs to connect to the site in question.

AutoFill – You can use Safari to automatically fill in your name, credit card info, to quickly checkout on websites.

Frequently visited sites – As the name so obviously suggests, this feature lists your most often accessed websites. It can be useful, if you like to visit the same sites everyday. For e.g. news, weather, sports, etc.

You can manage your favorites (bookmarked websites) separately, and also the behaviour of tabs. These are pretty basic options that are self-explanatory.

Important Safari Settings in iOS that we recommend, and why

Apple Safari is quite good in iOS and has some very useful options to keep you safe on the internet.

How to configure Safari in iOS

Block Pop-ups – Despite the fact that iOS is generally considered safe(er) from malware, you don’t want websites popping-up windows to annoy you, or distract you. Leave this option on, and you won’t notice a single pop-up, it’s pretty good.

Fraudulent Website Warning – This is a crucial feature and is one of the many pre-enabled options in Safari. It helps in preventing known scam/fraud sites from loading in the browser, and thus stops phishing attacks dead in their tracks.

Prevent Cross-Site Tracking – This option will prevent websites, you know the pesky ones, from tracking your browsing history on other websites. This is perhaps the most important of all the features.

Downloads – If you have a ton of space in your iCloud account, you can let your downloads be saved in the cloud drive, else you may want to save them locally on your iPhone or iPad’s storage.

Content Blockers – These are your ad blockers, and yes iOS does have a few. I personally use AdGuard, because I use YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, etc from the browser directly instead of their respective apps, and don’t need to see or hear the ads/video ads.

Camera, Microphone, Location – These are personal choices, and can be set to Deny or Allow for all websites, or set to ask you every time. Ask yourself, do I really want the website to use my camera, hear what I’m saying or know where I’m? If you want to be in control, select Ask Every time.

Request Desktop Website (enable for iPads) – This isn’t security related, but to enhance your user experience. On iOS 1,3 err, I mean iPadOS, this option is enabled for iPads, because the screen is large and scales down the desktop theme of almost every website to fit the display perfectly. On iPhones, it isn’t recommended to enable the option, because the display isn’t big enough.

Finally, there is the Advanced section, where there are a few options, which we think may be of use to developers, especially the Experimental ones. The rest of the options here, aren’t really meant to be fiddled with by normal users.

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How to install iPadOS public beta without using iTunes

Apple has released the first public beta of the new iPadOS, which is based on iOS 13.0. And you can try it out right now, and you don’t need to use iTunes, or access to a computer for it.

How to install iPadOS public beta without using iTunes

We don’t recommend installing the beta on your primary device because it could have bugs which might affect your usage experience. Unless you’re a developer, in which case, you should try it to ensure your app/game works perfectly on the new version.

List of devices which are compatible with iPadOS

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (5th generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad Air 2

How to install iPadOS public beta

Before we get started, you should backup your device using iTunes.

The process takes quite a few taps, but you can complete it in about 2 minutes.

1. Open the Safari browser on your iPad and head over to beta.apple.com and choose the Sign Up option.

2. You will be asked to sign in to your Apple account to proceed, be sure to use the same ID which you use on your iPad.

3. The browser should now take you to the “Guide for Public Betas” page. Scroll down until you see the linked text which reads, “enroll your device”. Tap the text and the next page “Enroll your devices to get public beta software” should remind you to backup the device. Do so, if you haven’t already and continue. Scroll down the page to section 2, to download the Profile.

Essentially, the profile is a preset configuration which instructs your iPad to participate in the beta program. Once you tap Download profile, a pop-up message will ask you if you want to allow the download. Allow it, and a second prompt should appear reminding you to review the downloaded profile in settings.

In my opinion, this is where Apple hasn’t handled it correctly. People could get confused not knowing where to look for reviewing the profile.

4. Open the Settings App, and you should see a text on the sidebar which says “Profile Downloaded”. It’s displayed right below your name. Tap it and select install profile, and accept the user agreement. You’ll be asked to enter your PIN, and restart the device.

5. Once your iPad has booted, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update. The iPadOS beta should now show up, as iOS 13. Select the download option, and you’ll see that it weighs 3.2GB (seriously Apple?). Let the download finish and you should see an install option. Choose it and the device should reboot and begin installing the iPadOS beta. Set the tablet aside, as it does take a while.

How to install iPadOS public beta

6. After it has finished installing the OS, the iPad will ask you to enter the PIN, and displays a welcome screen. You will be asked to choose between a Light theme and a Dark theme. Choose any, you can change it later from the Settings.

How to install iPadOS public beta

The procedure is the same for iOS 13 for iPhones.

I’ll be testing iPadOS to see how the battery life is, how stable the OS is while browsing, streaming, IMs, gaming, and post a review of my experience. Let me know if you want me to test something specific.

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Ad blocking for the masses, part two: Adblock Browser

adblockbrowser_201509_feature

In part two of this series on the state of ad blockers, I take a look at a new product from a well-known company whose earlier product has been available for nearly a decade: Adblock Plus (ABP). Adblock Plus develops extensions for web browsers which can block tracking, malware sites, and, of course, ads.

Last week, ABP went beyond releasing extensions and launched a standalone Adblock Browser for Android and iOS that has built-in blocking capabilities. Before we take a look at the browser itself, it is worth noting ABP’s interesting (and some call it controversial) business model. ABP signs contracts with companies that agree to its acceptable ads guidelines. Ads from these companies are allowed to pass through the ABP ad filter.

In a 2014 interview, ABP lead investor Tim Schumacher said that only the largest companies pay for these contracts. “Adblock Plus has been experimenting with different models,” he said. “I can’t talk about specific contracts, but in some cases it was performance-based and in other cases it was more of a flat fee. More that 90% of companies don’t pay at all.”

adblockbrowser_ad_noad

The first thing you should know about the free Adblock Browser is that, unsurprisingly, it works better on recent devices with faster processors. For example, it ran slowly on an iPad 2 with a 32-bit processor in my tests. So, slow, in fact, that there is not much speed advantage to using Safari with ads displayed. However, on a iPhone 6+ with a faster 64-bit processor, Adblock Browser rendered the mostly ad-less web pages fast enough to be interesting and useful. On the Android side, I tested it using a Nexus 4 and Nexus 6.

adblockbrowser_2_moreblocking

Here’s the use case that makes Adblock Browser interesting and useful for me: I generally use Google’s own Chrome browser on Android devices and read web pages with ads. However, I often find interesting news items in my Google Now feed. And, some of the sources are either unfamiliar to me with possibly heavy handed ads or are from interesting sources with known heavy ads. So, I have links from Google Now handled by Adblock Browser.

A single ad blocking filter is selected by default: ABP’s own EasyList. ABP describes it as: “The EasyList subscriptions are lists of filters designed for Adblock Plus that automatically remove unwanted content from the internet, including annoying adverts, bothersome banners and troublesome tracking. The subscriptions are currently maintained by four authors.” You can use the Ad Blocking setting option to choose filters for other languages.

The “More blocking options” page lets you select options such as disabling tracking. Surprisingly, the option to disable malware domains is turned off by default.

adblockbrowser_3_nonintrusive

The “Acceptable Ads” option is turned on by default. As I noted earlier, this allows ads to be displayed from companies who sign a paid or free contract with ABP to agree to display non-intrusive ads.

Finally, in the Privacy settings window, you can choose to turn off cookies and tracking (which are, by default, allowed). It also provides controls for remembering passwords (off by default), and clearing private data manually. There is also an option to clear the cache upon a manual exit using the Quit option. However, I didn’t see a Quit option in the Android app, and I didn’t see this cache setting in the iOS app.

It is worth noting a few differences between the iOS and Android versions of Adblock Browser. The iOS version lets you choose between DuckDuckGo (the default) and Google as its search engine. You can choose from a much larger list of search engines in the Android version. URL suggestions are turned off by default, but can be turned on. The Android version has a large number of display options, including enabling zoom on pages that normally do not allow zooming on mobile devices. The Android version also has an option to save a web page as a PDF file (Settings -> Page -> Save as PDF).

adblockbrowser_4_privacy

The recently released free Adblock Browser for iOS and Android makes it easy for non-technical people to reduce the number of mobile web ads they see and protect themselves from known malware sites. It is one more tool that makes it easier for anyone to have an arguably improved mobile web experience.

If you missed part one in this series, check out: Ad blocking for the masses, part one: uBlock Origin. Finally, stay tuned for part three, where we will take a closer look at Apple’s Content Blocking Safari Extensions that will be made available in the iOS 9 update released September 16.

Ad blocking for the masses, part two: Adblock Browser

In part two of this series on the state of ad blockers, I take a look at a new product from a well-known company whose earlier product has been available for nearly a decade: Adblock Plus (ABP). Adblock Plus develops extensions for web browsers which can block tracking, malware sites, and, of course, ads.

Last week, ABP went beyond releasing extensions and launched a standalone Adblock Browser for Android and iOS that has built-in blocking capabilities. Before we take a look at the browser itself, it is worth noting ABP’s interesting (and some call it controversial) business model. ABP signs contracts with companies that agree to its acceptable ads guidelines. Ads from these companies are allowed to pass through the ABP ad filter.

In a 2014 interview, ABP lead investor Tim Schumacher said that only the largest companies pay for these contracts. “Adblock Plus has been experimenting with different models,” he said. “I can’t talk about specific contracts, but in some cases it was performance-based and in other cases it was more of a flat fee. More that 90% of companies don’t pay at all.”

adblockbrowser_ad_noad

The first thing you should know about the free Adblock Browser is that, unsurprisingly, it works better on recent devices with faster processors. For example, it ran slowly on an iPad 2 with a 32-bit processor in my tests. So, slow, in fact, that there is not much speed advantage to using Safari with ads displayed. However, on a iPhone 6+ with a faster 64-bit processor, Adblock Browser rendered the mostly ad-less web pages fast enough to be interesting and useful. On the Android side, I tested it using a Nexus 4 and Nexus 6.

adblockbrowser_2_moreblocking

Here’s the use case that makes Adblock Browser interesting and useful for me: I generally use Google’s own Chrome browser on Android devices and read web pages with ads. However, I often find interesting news items in my Google Now feed. And, some of the sources are either unfamiliar to me with possibly heavy handed ads or are from interesting sources with known heavy ads. So, I have links from Google Now handled by Adblock Browser.

A single ad blocking filter is selected by default: ABP’s own EasyList. ABP describes it as: “The EasyList subscriptions are lists of filters designed for Adblock Plus that automatically remove unwanted content from the internet, including annoying adverts, bothersome banners and troublesome tracking. The subscriptions are currently maintained by four authors.” You can use the Ad Blocking setting option to choose filters for other languages.

The “More blocking options” page lets you select options such as disabling tracking. Surprisingly, the option to disable malware domains is turned off by default.

adblockbrowser_3_nonintrusive

The “Acceptable Ads” option is turned on by default. As I noted earlier, this allows ads to be displayed from companies who sign a paid or free contract with ABP to agree to display non-intrusive ads.

Finally, in the Privacy settings window, you can choose to turn off cookies and tracking (which are, by default, allowed). It also provides controls for remembering passwords (off by default), and clearing private data manually. There is also an option to clear the cache upon a manual exit using the Quit option. However, I didn’t see a Quit option in the Android app, and I didn’t see this cache setting in the iOS app.

It is worth noting a few differences between the iOS and Android versions of Adblock Browser. The iOS version lets you choose between DuckDuckGo (the default) and Google as its search engine. You can choose from a much larger list of search engines in the Android version. URL suggestions are turned off by default, but can be turned on. The Android version has a large number of display options, including enabling zoom on pages that normally do not allow zooming on mobile devices. The Android version also has an option to save a web page as a PDF file (Settings -> Page -> Save as PDF).

adblockbrowser_4_privacy

The recently released free Adblock Browser for iOS and Android makes it easy for non-technical people to reduce the number of mobile web ads they see and protect themselves from known malware sites. It is one more tool that makes it easier for anyone to have an arguably improved mobile web experience.

If you missed part one in this series, check out: Ad blocking for the masses, part one: uBlock Origin. Finally, stay tuned for part three, where we will take a closer look at Apple’s Content Blocking Safari Extensions that will be made available in the iOS 9 update released September 16.

Ad blocking for the masses, part two: Adblock Browser

In part two of this series on the state of ad blockers, I take a look at a new product from a well-known company whose earlier product has been available for nearly a decade: Adblock Plus (ABP). Adblock Plus develops extensions for web browsers which can block tracking, malware sites, and, of course, ads.

Last week, ABP went beyond releasing extensions and launched a standalone Adblock Browser for Android and iOS that has built-in blocking capabilities. Before we take a look at the browser itself, it is worth noting ABP’s interesting (and some call it controversial) business model. ABP signs contracts with companies that agree to its acceptable ads guidelines. Ads from these companies are allowed to pass through the ABP ad filter.

In a 2014 interview, ABP lead investor Tim Schumacher said that only the largest companies pay for these contracts. “Adblock Plus has been experimenting with different models,” he said. “I can’t talk about specific contracts, but in some cases it was performance-based and in other cases it was more of a flat fee. More that 90% of companies don’t pay at all.”

adblockbrowser_ad_noad

The first thing you should know about the free Adblock Browser is that, unsurprisingly, it works better on recent devices with faster processors. For example, it ran slowly on an iPad 2 with a 32-bit processor in my tests. So, slow, in fact, that there is not much speed advantage to using Safari with ads displayed. However, on a iPhone 6+ with a faster 64-bit processor, Adblock Browser rendered the mostly ad-less web pages fast enough to be interesting and useful. On the Android side, I tested it using a Nexus 4 and Nexus 6.

adblockbrowser_2_moreblocking

Here’s the use case that makes Adblock Browser interesting and useful for me: I generally use Google’s own Chrome browser on Android devices and read web pages with ads. However, I often find interesting news items in my Google Now feed. And, some of the sources are either unfamiliar to me with possibly heavy handed ads or are from interesting sources with known heavy ads. So, I have links from Google Now handled by Adblock Browser.

A single ad blocking filter is selected by default: ABP’s own EasyList. ABP describes it as: “The EasyList subscriptions are lists of filters designed for Adblock Plus that automatically remove unwanted content from the internet, including annoying adverts, bothersome banners and troublesome tracking. The subscriptions are currently maintained by four authors.” You can use the Ad Blocking setting option to choose filters for other languages.

The “More blocking options” page lets you select options such as disabling tracking. Surprisingly, the option to disable malware domains is turned off by default.

adblockbrowser_3_nonintrusive

The “Acceptable Ads” option is turned on by default. As I noted earlier, this allows ads to be displayed from companies who sign a paid or free contract with ABP to agree to display non-intrusive ads.

Finally, in the Privacy settings window, you can choose to turn off cookies and tracking (which are, by default, allowed). It also provides controls for remembering passwords (off by default), and clearing private data manually. There is also an option to clear the cache upon a manual exit using the Quit option. However, I didn’t see a Quit option in the Android app, and I didn’t see this cache setting in the iOS app.

It is worth noting a few differences between the iOS and Android versions of Adblock Browser. The iOS version lets you choose between DuckDuckGo (the default) and Google as its search engine. You can choose from a much larger list of search engines in the Android version. URL suggestions are turned off by default, but can be turned on. The Android version has a large number of display options, including enabling zoom on pages that normally do not allow zooming on mobile devices. The Android version also has an option to save a web page as a PDF file (Settings -> Page -> Save as PDF).

adblockbrowser_4_privacy

The recently released free Adblock Browser for iOS and Android makes it easy for non-technical people to reduce the number of mobile web ads they see and protect themselves from known malware sites. It is one more tool that makes it easier for anyone to have an arguably improved mobile web experience.

If you missed part one in this series, check out: Ad blocking for the masses, part one: uBlock Origin. Finally, stay tuned for part three, where we will take a closer look at Apple’s Content Blocking Safari Extensions that will be made available in the iOS 9 update released September 16.