Let me start with the basics, defining that three-letter acronym, Virtual Private Network. I have a rule that one cannot use a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) unless they know what it is short for. VPN allows a more secure connection between two computers via a public network. Typically, this connection is made via encrypted packets using an agreed upon scheme. The exact method is not relevant for the most part, what is important is that it is one that is trusted.
Many people use VPN to connect to their work network and can operate remotely. I recommend using it for more than that. I recommend using it anytime one connects to a network that is not your own. Many times, I include an ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) network in that decision. The most fundamental reason I use a VPN is that I want to keep my data more secure. I know that seems obvious so allow me to elaborate a little more.
I travel quite a bit for work as well as having a high propensity to be at a coffee shop. As a result, I am quite often connecting to their networks, either via WiFi or wired. Once I connect to their network, everything goes off into the ether on its way to its destination, but I do not know the route it is taking. I have no control over it. I am not sure if there is a malicious person in the middle of the process.
When one connects to a hotel network, you select it from the list of wireless networks typically. It is usually something such as the hotel’s name or a ubiquitous coffee or restaurant chain. You click a button and say accept and off you go. My question is how do you know it is the proper one to connect with? I can purchase a wireless access point, set the SSID to “Coffee Chain Name,” create a login page, and then monitor your traffic as you use the web through my connection. It just needs to be a better signal than the wireless access point that is real, and your device will typically try to connect to it.
By using the VPN connection, all my traffic is encrypted to the exit point of my VPN connection more directly onto the Internet at a server farm typically. This encryption is in addition to https (hypertext transfer protocol secured), sFTP (secure file transfer protocol), as well as secure mail protocols.
It also prevents my ISP from snooping on what I am doing. It is a little disconcerting to get a breakdown from your data provider that says last month you used 25% of your bandwidth for FTP, 50% for Web browsing, 10% for social media, and 15% streaming services. Beyond that, though your ISP knows communication you make now, you visited Facebook 17 times, WebMD 2 times, did a search on Goggle, went to the Planned Parenthood website, and then the Babies ‘R Us page. Based on that simple pieces of information they can make an educated guess that you are expecting and start targeting ads that they insert to you, or selling your information to other companies. It could just as easily be that you went to facebook, got an invitation to a Baby Shower indicating the expectant mother registered at Babies ‘R Us. You went to WebMD as you are trying to figure out your partner’s symptoms, donated to Planned Parenthood, and then purchased a gift from the baby registry.
Of course, there is another reason one might want to use VPN, especially when traveling overseas. Through my use of VPN, I can access things in other countries. China’s Great Firewall blocks many sites from being available in China, as well as monitoring Internet traffic. Using a VPN connection during my time in China allowed me to access the sites I wanted to. I also have found that at times it is less expensive to purchase airplane tickets from different locations. Making it appear I am in Los Angeles allowed me to book a room at a hotel room in San Diego for less than the rate quoted when I was trying to book from my home state. The quoting time was less than 10 minutes apart, so I doubt that demand changed that considerably.
Yes, there are drawbacks to using a VPN connection. The first one is that it does slow down your connection speed, the packets have to be encrypted and decrypted. It also can be placed at a lower priority than other traffic by your ISP as is allowed, even with Net Neutrality. Mr. Srago has posted about that fact. Under Rule 41 using a VPN connection can be construed as suspicious by the courts. Also if you are using a battery-powered device, it will drain your battery faster as the processor is almost constantly working to encrypt and decrypt your network traffic. Besides some video streaming services, such as NetFlix, purposely block VPN connections for various reasons.
If you are interested in trying a VPN service, I have tried a few and recommended either VyprVPN or ExpressVPN. I have settled on ExpressVPN because of my experiences with speed and connectivity when traveling internationally. If you are interested both of them have a 30-day trial with no fee; I can provide a referral code for ExpressVPN which gets me an additional 30 days of service at no charge.
Thanks for reading my thoughts, wait that sounds like you are all mind readers. Thank you for reading this post.