SALTZMAN: What the heck is a VPN (and why should I care)? – Toronto Sun


Publishing date:

Apr 10, 2022  •  31 minutes ago  •  3 minute read  •  Join the conversation A VPN conceals your online identity. Photo by Supplied /Toronto Sun

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Just because you want to spend time online anonymously doesn’t mean you have something to hide.

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Regular folks want privacy, too.

Unfortunately, simply choosing the “private” or “incognito” mode on your web browser is not enough. While that will delete your history and trackable “cookies” (and not the delicious kind) after your surfing session has ended, you’re still vulnerable because your activity is visible during your time online.

Wait, what?

Yep. Whether you’re surfing at home or on a public Wi-Fi network — such as at a coffee shop, airport lounge or hotel lobby — your activity is visible to your internet service provider (ISP), search engines, government agencies, social media sites, and other websites you visit. Even in private mode, they can still see your device’s IP address (like, for example), which provides your approximate geographical whereabouts.

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Cloak yourself

The only way to remain truly anonymous is to use a virtual private network (VPN).

This small piece of software is a smarter way to use the internet because it conceals your online identity.

It does this by using encryption technology to secure your connection. Encryption scrambles your data, making it unreadable to anyone who tries to access it, thereby protecting you from snoopers who want to know what you’re doing and what sites you visit on the web.

Sure, your ISP will know you’re using a VPN, and it cannot see or track your activity while using it.

Without a VPN, malicious types can also track and steal your data by intercepting your traffic on public Wi-Fi hotspots. In other words, a VPN protects you from hackers and other cybercriminals.

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As an analogy, think of a VPN as an underground tunnel, as opposed to the open and visible roads above it (the “super information highway”), where everyone can see all the information flowing across the various lanes of traffic on the internet.

One more (and slightly controversial) benefit to a VPN: You can “borrow” an IP address from another country, which allows you to access content exclusively available to people who live there.

In other words, someone in Canada can log into a VPN server somewhere in, say, Chicago and access the American version of Netflix because the service thinks you’re within its borders.
Similarly, you can log into a London, England-based VPN server and access the BBC iPlayer streaming platform to watch content meant for a U.K. audience.

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You get the idea.

How to choose a VPN

There are hundreds of VPN providers to choose from, and sometimes a VPN service is already built into a cybersecurity suite you use (so look into that first).

As for choosing a standalone VPN, be sure to read reviews from both tech critics and consumers. Research how many locations the company has servers in, look for one with fast and reliable connectivity (so you’re not kicked off mid-browsing session), and check compatibility with the devices and how many you’re allowed to install them on (such as an iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mac, or Chromebook).

A VPN with good customer service is also smart, in the event you need to leverage it.

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Most paid services are a couple of bucks per month, and are usually sold with a 1- or 2-year commitment (not unlike antivirus software). Be wary of “free” VPNs, as they need to monetize the service somehow — which could mean selling anonymized customer data, ironically, like the kind of sites people are frequenting (like PirateBay).

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Personally, I’m a fan of NordVPN, as they have nearly 5,500 fast VPN servers around the globe, no bandwidth limits, and a “no-log” policy (therefore, they do not track what you do online).

VPN: How to get going

Once you choose a VPN company to go with, you’ll download the VPN software to your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop.

You can select whether you always want a VPN enabled or to manually launch it when you prefer more privacy.

Generally speaking, you’ll choose which server you want to connect to (usually seen as cities on a map) and the VPN will securely connect you to a machine in that location.

That’s it. Happy surfing.

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