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“What is a VPN & should I be using one?”

You ask, we answer!

During our live Ask Archer Facebook show, Cara asked, “What is a VPN and should I be using one?”

Watch here:

 

 

What is a VPN?

We turn to Patrick C. Miller of Archer International — Archer News Network’s parent company — for answers.

VPN stands for virtual private network.”

“Yeah, they’re fantastic,” he responded.

What does a VPN do?

“It creates a secure tunnel from your computer to another place out on the Internet,” Miller explained. “Think of it like a secure conduit or a secure pipe between those two things.”

That means — if the VPN is working properly — people can’t see the traffic between your computer and the Internet, so your passwords, account numbers and other sensitive info are protected.

 

A VPN is like a private tunnel for your data. Subway tunnel in Vienna. Image credit: Usinglight

 

Wi-Fi

“This is particularly useful on public Wi-Fi networks. I don’t attach to public Wi-Fi networks without using a VPN. I just I just don’t do it,” Miller said.

Attackers can snoop on public Wi-Fi networks, like the ones you may use at a coffee shop or mall, by eavesdropping on the data that’s leaving your computer or phone.

Using a public Wi-Fi network without a VPN is like writing your private info on a postcard and mailing it.

You might as well jot your banking password and account number on that “Wish you were here” card.

“Anybody who handles that postcard has access to whatever’s written on it,” Miller said. “The same thing with a public Wi-Fi network. So, anybody who has access to that of the Wi-Fi network can see what’s being sent through.”

“You want to use a VPN so that nobody else on that network can see any anything that you’re doing,” he added. “It’s just not wise to do that.”

 

Experts recommend you use a VPN when on public Wi-Fi. Photo by olegnet on Foter.com / CC BY

 

How to Choose

Which VPN should you use?

PCMag reviews VPNs and provides helpful info on both free and paid versions.

The publication said free VPNs have some limitations and may also send some of your data to advertisers.

However, some people don’t mind.

A PCMag survey showed more than 60% of their readers were willing to give up info for a free VPN.

Faking It

Beware of ads for VPNs — some of the services may be fake, as Motherboard reported last year.

You can also look for these fake VPN red flags offered by security company Avast, which sells its own VPN:

 

—Superlative, unsubstantiated claims. If a VPN is positioned as the “fastest,” the “most private,” the “most secure” and both their website and your Google search for third-party professional evaluations of the product comes up empty, move along.

—Meager customer support. Does the service provide adequate and varied support channels? Do they offer chat, a community forum, or FAQ pages? Do they offer support via Twitter, for fast responses via social media? As a test, ask a question to see how quickly you get a response, and if you get one at all.

—Lack of social media presence. Does the provider have a Twitter account? A Facebook page? If so, did it launch last week? Does it look like a human tends to it? Have real customers interacted? If you aren’t answering yes, then say no.

 

 

Researchers discovered many free VPN apps had ties to China and bad privacy policies & user support. Image credit: Pexels

 

Be Choosy

Researchers found in 2016 that almost 40% of Android VPN apps show signs of malware, and almost one out of five does not encrypt your info as promised.

Metric Labs recently analyzed free VPN apps for iPhone and Android and found that more than half of them had ties to China, and 86% had “unacceptable” privacy policies and “non-existent user support,” according to Dark Reading.

Miller recommends you stick to VPNs reviewed in well-known technology or consumer publications like PCMag, Consumer Reports and Tom’s Guide.

 

Learn more:

PCMag free VPN reviews

PCMag paid VPN reviews

Tom’s Guide free & paid VPN reviews

Consumer reports: How to Choose a VPN for Digital Privacy and Security

 

 

See other #AskArcher questions:

Should I pay for anitvirus?

What scams should I watch for on Facebook?

How secure are security questions?

What is the deal with keyloggers?

 

Main image credit: Sakuraismjp0

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