This article was inspired by a recent client who brought their computer because it could not connect to the internet. After a few minutes of diagnosis, we discovered that his VPN software had gone crazy preventing all internet access. Once we uninstalled the VPN software, he was back in business. We’ve seen a lot of problems like this from people who really shouldn’t be using a VPN.
What the heck is a VPN you ask? VPN stands for “virtual private network.” The constant advertisements seem to insist that you need one but do you really? Let’s see.
First, the basics: When you send an email or click a link to access a website or do almost any activity on the internet, your activity travels through the web in a spider’s web of turns, turns, highways, and side roads as data travels back and forth between your computer and the website. That activity can be recorded, tracked, or siphoned anywhere along that route. People who might be interested in the details include the FBI, China, Russia, and the Hollywood studio that owns the rights to the movie you illegally downloaded from a shady source.
VPNs come in two flavors: a hardware VPN built into your router, or a software-based VPN installed on your computer. Either of these will hide your computer’s identity behind an impenetrable wall, and create a private “tunnel” between you and anything you view or download from the internet.
The benefit is clear: Your identity remains hidden from those who want to track your activity. The downside is that a VPN usually makes your internet speed slower because it has to encrypt your data before sending and receiving. Some VPN service providers have congestion problems during busy times of the day. Another drawback is that a VPN can break your internet if something goes wrong with it, as happened with our client.
So, do you need a VPN? My general rule of thumb is that if you don’t know if you need a VPN, then you don’t need a VPN. I don’t need one in my home or office. People who need a VPN already know they need one. Those people include government employees who work from home, some health care workers, those who download Hollywood movies from illegal sources and, of course, internet criminals. . Many of our retail clients who use VPNs tend to be a bit cynical and think that everyone is watching them. But you, Average Joe and Mundane Sally, don’t need the extra expense and headache of configuring a VPN.
But if you need a VPN, my advice is to go big or go home. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fast, high-quality “free” VPN app. The best ones come from ExpressVPN and NordVPN and they will cost you around $5.00 per month.
Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. When he arrived at www.ExcelAL.com