Well, for starters, look below to see what I can tell about you. This information is available to every web site on the internet. It can be used to track your Internet use back to you personally.
Not impressed? Check out Arul John’s details page. His display of visitor data is more comprehensive. The difference between him and everyone else? He displays it for you to see, and the rest of us view it in Google Analytics.
The truth is that there are many people watching your every move online. From Google, to various advertising networks. From governments to site administrators. But before you start crafting a tinfoil hat, know that most of the people watching you are also watching everybody else — they are usually not interested in you personally. Rather, they are looking for trends, evaluating the quality of their own content, the effectiveness of their ads, and many other measures of their own performance.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) protects you in at least four ways:
Using a VPN strips this information from your internet communication and replaces it with information about the VPN servers – meaning web sites see information about the service and not you personally, preserving your anonymity. The VPN services often don’t keep logs, so there’s no way to link your ISP account with your internet use. In short, you surf anonymously.
When you access the internet over a public WiFi network – for example, at a coffee shop, hotel, friend’s house, airport, etc. – your surfing, email and other activity is insecure and open to snooping by the supplier of the service – the coffee shop owner, hotel technical guy – or anyone with the right equipment. It’s sort of like a radio broadcast – anyone with access to the WiFi equipment or with the right software on a laptop can “listen” to what you’re doing, by doing something called “sniffing” for network packets. The sites you visit, the content of your emails and instant messages and even in some circumstances the content of VoIP calls become visible to network “sniffers”. Using a VPN, everything you send and receive over a WiFi connection is encrypted. Anyone “listening in” will only “hear” a garbled mess, meaning your security is assured.
Recently, governments around the world have put pressure on ISPs to track and record every form of internet activity – including web sites visited and emails sent and received using a technology called Deep Packet Inspection or DPI. Who knows what that are looking for and under what authority. I can’t talk about legality, but I don’t like anyone looking over my shoulders.
Some services are not available from some countries. Sometimes news sources are blocked. Sometimes media content is not licensed for use outside of the USA (Such as Hulu.com, Pandora.com, ABC.com, BBC.co.uk). With a VPN service, your reported location is wherever the server is, rather than where you are.
I’ll update this page as I come across useful services and other good examples of when a VPN service is helpful. VPN services can be surprising inexpensive and even free. In fact, I suggest anyone with a laptop at least register and install one of the free services for when you are working from coffee houses, airports, and hotels. Better safe than sorry and the price is right!
Hostizzle is the VPN service I use most often. It is fast, mostly unrestricted, and it uses the openVPN standard so it works with just about any VPN software. Free plan includes 100GB/mo, and you have to renew a certificate each month. Paid plan is $4/mo for 1000GB/mo.
Kingston Times-News – FTC warns about public Wi-fi Dangers
What’s your take?
Do you use a VPN personally or to connect to your office network? Do you use it always, or only while you are using public Wifi?