Tools and Skills

You Need a VPN for Your Mac, PC, and mobile. Here’s What You Should Know.

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You might think a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is only necessary if you’re trying to bypass government censorship or get away with something on the dark web.

You’re wrong.

If you want to keep your private data safe, you need to set up a VPN on your Mac, PC, and mobile device as soon as possible.

We’ve got everything you need to know about setting up a VPN right here.

What Is a VPN?

When you punch in a website to your computer or phone, the browser sends out a request to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP, in turn, logs that request and serves up your website. And let’s just ISPs don’t have the best track record when it comes to protecting your privacy.

If you’re using a Virtual Private Network to go online, however, your ISP never sees a thing. The request from your computer or phone is encrypted and sent to servers run by your VPN provider. That server then calls up your website without any trace of your behavior.

I’m Not Committing Any Crimes. Do I Need a VPN?

Let’s safely assume that you’re going to connect to a wifi hotspot at a café, hotel, or school in the near future. If so, you absolutely, positively, need to use a VPN next time you connect.

It doesn’t take a Mr. Robot level hacker to steal your most private data when you’re on public wifi. In fact, it doesn’t take much tech skill at all – the $100 Wifi Pineapple can spoof hotspots and use man-in-the-middle attacks to get your passwords, personal info, and more.

But there’s more – next time you’re connected to that precious Starbucks wifi, marketing and data companies are collecting information about everything and everywhere you go online. While it might not be as malicious as a data hack, you shouldn’t give up your privacy simply because you wanted to check Facebook.

And if you are committing some cybercrimes, well… stop it.

How Do I Choose a VPN Provider?

This is where it gets a bit tricky – there’s a slew of VPN providers out there promising various levels of safety, convenience, and reliability at wildly different price points.

In addition to considering the privacy and security features provided by a VPN, you should also check to ensure that the service offers up multiple servers in countries around the world – the fewer the servers, the more likely your internet performance will suffer.

Lifehacker offers up a great primer on all the features you should look for in a VPN, as well as recommending a few.

Can a VPN Screw Up My Computer?

While using a trusted VPN service won’t cause any damage to your devices, there are a few hassles that come with the added security.

Most noticeably, internet and computer speeds can sometimes suffer. It’s possible that some virtual networks will slow your bandwidth by up to 50%. Choose a service that allows you to pick your network by location; additionally, many services allow you to reduce the level of encryption to lessen computational power needs.

Some platforms – especially streaming video services like Netflix – block any incoming connection from VPN, largely because they can allow users to bypass regional content restrictions. You can temporarily turn off your VPN service when you’re planning to stream Toast of London, or you can play cat-and-mouse with Netflix’s detectors and try one of the VPNs listed here.

Stream safe out there.


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