You may have heard that you should use a virtual private network or VPN to secure your internet connection, but you may not be sure what that is. VPNs are easy to install and use despite the technical name. Here’s how VPNs work in layman’s terms and why they’re especially important to use on public networks.
Using a VPN is as simple as clicking a button in your toolbar. When you click that button, the VPN software encrypts your network connection, forming a secure pathway between your computer and the internet. Many people use VPNs to connect to their work computers from home. You can use this same technology to protect your home network.
VPNs work on everything from Windows and Mac to mobile devices. The apps may differ, but the connection process is the same. Security software companies offer VPNs along with other security programs. Free antivirus apps usually don’t have VPN features, but you often can get them by upgrading to the paid version.
Although VPNs can help protect your computer from viruses, they are not antivirus programs. For that, you still need to run a regular antivirus app. It’s convenient to run a security suite that includes both antivirus and VPN capabilities. Like all security programs, it’s important to keep your VPN software updated.
There are a wide variety of VPNs on the market, but watch for fakes. After all, what could be a better way to sneak malware onto your computer than pretending to be the very software that protects against it? Some free VPNs are legitimate, but others are scams that can steal
your data or flood you with ads. Stick with known VPN apps from reputable companies.
Some people don't use a VPN out of concern that it might slow down their computer. On most modern computers, you won't notice the difference. The effect might be more pronounced on older computers or slow internet connections, but this can be mitigated by optimizing the configuration and keeping the computer updated. While a VPN does use additional memory
and network resources, the trade-off is worth it.
A VPN is a must if you use public networks, and you should consider any network except home and work to be public. Every device on a public network can see every other device. So all a sneaky person has to do is download an easily obtainable program that displays the data passing across the network, and they can see everything from passwords to private messages. But if you’re using a VPN, all they’ll get is an encrypted jumble.
At home, you can use a router with VPN features to protect your entire network. This eliminates the need to run VPN software on each device. Usually the connection is seamless, although you may notice a bottleneck on older or slower internet connections. One way to alleviate that is to evaluate your router (and modem, if it's separate from your router).
Older routers didn't handle the VPN standards well, but modern ones can not only provide VPN services but also can adjust network traffic on the fly to improve performance.
• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. Visit her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com to receive weekly tech news by email.