Using A VPN–Privacy and Security Factors

I have previously written generally about why VPNs are important, even for consumers and small business owners.   Here I am going to get specific, covering two many reasons for use (privacy and security) and the scenarios where they come into play.

Rewind:  If I were to rewind just a step, a VPN is an application you run on your computer, smartphone and tablet to give you a private tunnel out to the internet.  I’m not going to endorse one over the others — but the three I like are Express VPN, Windscribe, and Private Internet Access (PIA).  Costs range from $2 to $10 per month.   I have explored Mozilla VPN (put out by the Firefox people) with some clients and it lacks a key feature at the moment so I am not going to put it on the same level as the other three. 

So today I am talking about “John the consumer” and “Jane the plumber.”   John uses computers and other devices at home.  Jane owns a plumbing company and has an office on Main Street that she controls.  (I’m going to leave working in an office under some big corporation out of the discussion because they often tell you what you can and can’t do with your computer).    John and Jane have two factors to consider when using a VPN — Privacy and Security depending on where they are using the internet

1.  At home or their office — Here the reason to use a VPN is PRIVACY.  John and Jane have routers with up to date firmware, computers with antivirus software, and computers and smartphones with the proper security updates.  Their internet connections are secure.   Speaking for myself, my home / home office Internet is totally secure even if I never use a VPN.  If you meet all of these parameters I laid out — there is like a 99% chance no one is going to infiltrate your internet connection.  John, Jane, and I use a VPN in the confines of our homes and offices because we don’t want our internet providers to know every website we visit.  We don’t want news or other shopping or informational websites recording our IP address (which ultimately links back to us).  It’s an issue of principle and privacy — not primarily for security. 

2. On Public WiFi –  I’m talking about the mall, the library, the hotel,and the coffee shop now.  People are going out a lot more and traveling.  You do not have control over these public internet connections.  It should not be presumed to be secure as in #1.   This is a different ballgame.   Here John and Jane use their VPNs for security.  Even though you are on that public WiFi connection, you are doing so through your VPN tunnel.  You will be protected from bad actors on that network.  Snoops on that network are not going to be able to do harm to your devices.   You are still getting that private connection,  but the security of the VPN is the biggest factor here. 

2a.  I should add this section here to say — I have found limited situations over the years where public WiFi connections refuse to play nicely with a VPN even after the settings are adjusted.   In these scenarios, if I am just using my smartphone, I turn WiFi off and just use the cellular connection.  At least I have a secure connection.  If I needed to use a laptop and couldn’t use a VPN, I would set up my smartphone as a hotspot. 

When Not To Use A VPN

– With Express VPN, Windscribe, and PIA — a split tunnel can be set up to allow certain apps to bypass the VPN.   Some bank websites do not work properly with a VPN on.  John, Jane, and I set up one browser to split off from our VPNs so that we can access any website that does not play nicely with the VPN.  This split tunnel feature does not work on iPhones.  It may work on some Android phones.

– When downloading operating system updates:  These happen outside of any browser and are typically very large files.  As long as John and Jane are on a secure connection in the home or the office, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to turn the VPN off solely for the purposes of the updates.

In conclusion, after digesting these two installments I’ve sent you, you may decide a VPN is not for you or it is right up your alley.  The choice is yours.  VPN use in on the rise among people like John and Jane.  They keep theirs on automatically, whenever their devices are in use.  Surfing the internet through a VPN tunnel is a pathway to freedom.

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