The Virtual Private Network is about to go mainstream. Just be sure you get one that’s legit.
I’ve been using various VPNs for at least 15 years, maybe longer. Everyone should be on a VPN. Especially now that they have been perfected and commoditized.
In a nutshell, a VPN allows you to use an IP address other than your own and appear to be somewhere other than where you are. The idea was originally dreamed up so work-from-home users could tunnel in to the workplace network as if they were in the office.
It turned out that this idea was a good one for other reasons. The most important is that it is difficult, if not impossible, for advanced worm-style malware that can self-install via open ports to ever target your computer. Your machine will appear to be another system someplace else; that other machine is usually a highly protected server and, more importantly, it is not your computer.
I began using a VPN on my laptop because I was using public Wi-Fi. VPNs provide some protection in public, although using Wi-Fi presents other problems. Nowadays I use my mobile phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot, which I leave unencrypted with the SSID name of VIRUS. I have yet to find any log evidence that anyone has bothered me. Even if they did, I keep nothing important on the laptop.
The one thing I’ve noticed changing over the years is the performance of VPNs. The PCMag reports does discuss a hit on performance, but with most it is negligible. There is encryption every which way with these systems (although you can usually disable it altogether) and that might slow things a bit, but not so much with a modern desktop.
Not fully discussed in the article is illegal file sharing, which appears to be a worldwide nuisance. Torrent hubs—where people illegally download music, movies, and software—all promote VPNs because when you use one, it should not be possible to track you down.
That is, unless the VPN itself is a honeypot, which is always something to consider. I would personally assume a lot of these VPN operations are indeed fronts for agencies and law enforcement to track and follow terrorist organizations and individuals. It’s possible that the RIAA and MPAA are doing something similar.
There are more than a few folks developing and maintaining a list of known IP addresses associated with a VPN. If you are using a VPN to circumvent geography restrictions (like watching the BBC online from the USA) you will commonly find yourself blocked anyway. Sometimes you will also see an IP address that some spammer or DNS attacker used to flood the market with spam or pings. It will end up on various blacklists and now you cannot visit a lot of sites without a site-wide CAPTCHA, usually initialized by CloudFlare. This is a pain in the butt and requires a new connection with a different IP. Thankfully, most of the legit VPN companies have thousands of addresses.
I usually keep track of the troublesome IP addresses myself and do not use them. I would not say that more is always better unless you are getting blocked too much.
As more and more people use mobile phones for Internet access they will find that malware will be targeting them and there is an actual need for a mobile phone VPN on the data side. This has not been fully explored but if you want to get a hint as to Amazon’s App Store and see the VPNs available for the Android OS.
As people chat up privacy in the mainstream media you will begin to hear about the VPN and its importance. It’s time to begin to take it seriously.