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There was a time when using a VPN required users to know about the built-in VPN client for Windows or universal open-source solutions such as OpenVPN. Nowadays, however, nearly every VPN provider has its own one-click client that gets you up and running in seconds. There are usually mobile apps as well to keep your Android or iOS device secure over public Wi-Fi.
Of course that brings up another problem. Since there are so many services to choose from, how can you tell which ones are worth using? PCWorld has taken care of much of the legwork with its Best VPN services roundup. [Spoiler alert: I have found NordVPN to be the current best all around VPN provider.]
The bad news for anyone used to free services is that it pays to pay when it comes to a VPN. There are tons of free options from reputable companies, but these are usually a poor substitute for the paid options. Free services usually allow a limited amount of bandwidth usage per month or offer a slower service. Tunnel Bear, for example, offers just 500MB of free bandwidth per month, while CyberGhost offers a free service that is significantly slower than its paid service.
Then there are the free VPNs that use an ad-supported model, which in my experience usually aren’t worth using at all. Plus, free VPNs are usually anything but; in lieu of payment they may be harvesting your data (in anonymized form of course) and selling it as “marketing insights” to advertisers.
The good news is VPNs aren’t expensive. You can usually pay as little as $5 a month (billed annually or in blocks of several months) for VPN coverage.
Features to look for
Here are some issues to consider when shopping around for a VPN provider.
First, what kind of logging does your VPN provider do? In other words, what information do they keep about your VPN sessions and how long is it kept? Are they recording the IP addresses you use, the websites you visit, the amount of bandwidth used, or any other key details?
All VPNs have to do some kind of logging, but there are VPNs that collect as little data as possible and others that aren’t so minimalist. On top of that, some services discard their logs in a matter of hours or days while other companies hold onto them for months at a time. How much privacy you expect from your VPN-based browsing will greatly influence how long you can stand having your provider maintain your activity logs—and what those logs contain.
Finally, does the VPN provider offer their own application that you can download and install? Unless you’re a power user who wants to mess with OpenVPN, a customized VPN program is really the way to go. It’s simple to use and doesn’t require any great technical knowledge or the need to adjust any significant settings.
NordVPN – The best VPN provider in 2018
This VPN goes above and beyond the competition when it comes to keeping your information, online activity, and presence private and secure. Does that lead to a compromise as far as speed and performance are concerned though? We find out in my official NordVPN review. Coming next.
- Being based in Panama, NordVPN falls under the country’s jurisdiction and Panama has no data retention laws;
- A strict no logs policy. We want to ensure user privacy and security, therefore we never log user activities;
- Military-grade AES-256-CBC encryption and a variety of protocols to choose from: OpenVPN(UDP and TCP), PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2/IPSec;
- Risk-free Trial
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Unlimited bandwidth and data;
- +5000 servers located in 62 countries (the server number is always growing);
- Fast speed servers that are also reliable and consistent;
- Multiple ways to contact
- 24/7 customer support (live chat, email, ticket system);
- A CyberSec feature that blocks dangerous websites and lets users avoid annoying ads;
- An automatic kill switch (can kill individual processes or kill whole internet connection);
- 6 simultaneous connections
- P2P friendly;
- Works in countries (China, the Middle East countries) where internet access is restricted, and strong censorship is in place;
- Double encryption to ensure top level privacy and security
NordVPN offers everything we could want from a VPN service: a multitude of security features, nicely coupled with impressive performance, on a service that’s easy to access and able to do just about anything online.
One of the most important skills any computer user should have is the ability to use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect their privacy. A VPN is typically a paid service that keeps your web browsing secure and private over public Wi-Fi hotspots. VPNs can also get past regional restrictions for video- and music-streaming sites and help you evade government censorship restrictions—though that last one is especially tricky.
How it works
The best way to think of a VPN is as a secure tunnel between your PC and destinations you visit on the internet. Your PC connects to a VPN server, which can be located in the United States or a foreign country like the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, or Thailand. Your web traffic then passes back and forth through that server. The end result: As far as most websites are concerned, you’re browsing from that server’s geographical location, not your computer’s location.
We’ll get to the implications of a VPN’s location in a moment, but first, let’s get back to our secure tunnel example. Once you’re connected to the VPN and are “inside the tunnel,” it becomes very difficult for anyone else to spy on your web-browsing activity. The only people who will know what you’re up to are you, the VPN provider (usually an HTTPS connection can mitigate this), and the website you’re visiting.
When you’re on public Wi-Fi at an airport or café, that means hackers will have a harder time stealing your login credentials or redirecting your PC to a phony banking site. Your Internet service provider (ISP), or anyone else trying to spy on you, will also have a near impossible time figuring out which websites you’re visiting.
On top of all that, you get the benefits of spoofing your location. If you’re in Los Angeles, for example, and the VPN server is in the U.K., it will look to most websites that you’re browsing from there, not southern California.
This is why many regionally restricted websites and online services such as BBC’s iPlayer or Sling TV can be fooled by a VPN. I say “most” services because some, most notably Netflix, are fighting against VPN (ab)use to prevent people from getting access to, say, the American version of Netflix when they’re really in Australia.
For the most part, however, if you’re visiting Belgium and connect to a U.S. VPN server, you should get access to most American sites and services just as if you were sitting at a Starbucks in Chicago.
What a VPN can’t do
While VPNs are an important tool, they are far from foolproof. Let’s say you live in an oppressive country and want to evade censorship in order to access the unrestricted web. A VPN would have limited use. If you’re trying to evade government restrictions and access sites like Facebook and Twitter, a VPN might be useful. Even then, you’d have to be somewhat dependent on the government’s willingness to look the other way.
Anything more serious than that, such as mission-critical anonymity, is far more difficult to achieve—even with a VPN. Privacy against passive surveillance? No problem. Protection against an active and hostile government? Probably not.
The problem with anonymity is there are so many issues to consider—most of which are beyond the scope of this article. Has the government surreptitiously installed malware on your PC in order to monitor your activity, for example? Does the VPN you want to use have any issues with data leakage or weak encryption that could expose your web browsing? How much information does your VPN provider log about your activity, and would that information be accessible to the government? Are you using an anonymous identity online on a PC that you never use in conjunction with your actual identity?
Anonymity online is a very difficult goal to achieve. If, however, you are trying to remain private from prying eyes or evade NSA-style bulk data collection as a matter of principle, a reputable VPN will probably be good enough.
Beyond surveillance, a VPN also won’t do much to keep advertisers from tracking you online. Remember that the website you visit is aware of what you do on its site and that applies equally to advertisers serving ads on that site.
Choosing a VPN provider
Choosing a VPN provider will be posted in the part two of this series of posts.
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Viruses* are a huge problem on a Windows PC. Nearly half of our work is virus removal, often times repeat customers will be reinfected. I’m often asked where they come from and how to prevent them. I’ll attempt to answer the best I can, though this post is by no means comprehensive.
(*for the sake of this article, I’m saying virus, but I’m referring to a variety of malware)
So, where do viruses come from?
Well, a lot of places. Social Media sites like Facebook or Twitter can easily spread links to infected sites. Legitimate sites can unknowingly have banner ads with an infected script or a link to a malicious site. Downloads from peer-to-peer services or an untrusted site can be infected. File formats, pdfs for example, can also introduce infections to your system. Some take advantage of exploits in Windows or your programs and can ‘let themselves’ in, so to speak. Additionally, the old answer of “e-mail” or “from an infected disk/flash drive” are still applicable.
So, what do you do to prevent a virus infection?
The old stand-by answer that nearly any computer tech will say is “be smart about what you click”. Honestly, that advice is still true, but it’s outdated. As I said, a perfectly legitimate site can be infected with a script to install a virus. These days you don’t even have to click and you’re infected. The advice does apply to e-mails, downloads and sites, though. Beware of music downloaded via p2p services, don’t follow links sent to you by Nigerian princes, and disregard e-mails from your bank telling you that they lost your account info and that they need you to log in.
Along the same lines, keep Windows and other software up to date to help avoid exploits. Older versions of programs like Flash or Adobe Reader are known to have serious exploits that can easily infect Windows.
A strong antivirus program is a must, even better is a full internet security package. I recommend Kaspersky Internet Security. A full featured firewall will protect you from network attacks. A strong antivirus will catch files that you download. Antispam and antiphishing will help sort out the bad e-mails. And a link scanner will help keep you from visiting negative sites.
The next key is using good software. Internet Explorer comes on every Windows computer, but speaking strictly in terms of security, it’s a terrible browser. I recommend Google Chrome. Not only is a good, fast browser (You’ve seen the commercials, right?) it has some great security features other browsers don’t, like sandboxing. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Chrome, as well as other browsers, will typically warn if you’re about to visit a known bad site. For a second opinion about sites, plugins like Web Of Trust will warn of malicious sites and even give you a rating of the link before you click. If you want to prevent automatic scripts, you can use the NoScript plugin in Chrome or Firefox. Additionally, AdBlock lets you set up a black list of advertisements or banner ads.
In addition to using the good software, avoid the bad. Avoid programs like Lime/Frost/Spark Wire or Bearshare. Choose wisely whose toolbar you want to install, and ask yourself if you really need a little dancing koala as your mouse cursor.
I mentioned sandboxing earlier. Sandboxing, is essentially giving a program its own little space; A “sandbox to play in.” A program in a sandbox only has access to its own functions and settings, it can’t make changes to Windows or your files unless you explicitly allow it. Both Kasperksy and Chrome have a sandboxing feature. Kaspersky can sandbox any program, through the “Safe Run” feature. If a virus makes a change to the program, you just close it and no harm is done. Chrome has sandboxing built in as part of the browser. A malicious script is generally unable to get outside of Chrome’s sandbox to make changes to Windows or any other part of your system.
There are also free sandboxing applications available to use. Comodo Internet Security is free to home users and has a sandbox feature for any application. Additionally, Sandboxie is a stand alone sandbox utility that can be used with any security software.
I recommend sandboxing your web browser and IM clients. Other online applications (such as Outlook) can also be sandboxed, but may not work correctly without some tinkering.
I also like webmail, as a security measure. Not everyone may agree, or even like web based e-mail. Webmail does give a few safeguards, though. First, you only have to download attachments that you want. Outlook and other e-mail clients allow this, too…but it’s an obscure setting that I’ve never seen used. Secondly, almost all webmail services implement their own antivirus scanning engine now. You know before you download if the file is infected. Generally, files that can be infected aren’t allowed to be sent through services like Gmail.
Finally, I also like to recommend OpenDNS or Norton DNS as part of the equation. A DNS service is something like a phone book for your computer. You type in www.google.com, a DNS server tells your computer that you want to look at information at 188.8.131.52 and sends you to Google’s Web Page. OpenDNS and NortonDNS allow you to filter that information a little. Both DNS services allow you to block categories of information, such as pornography, gambling, chat sites, etc. They also automatically block out some malicious sites, helping to keep you from visiting a known infected site.
Unfortunately, nothing is 100% foolproof when it comes to preventing viruses. Having said that, if you follow all of the advice above, you will be fairly safe while online. If you’re in Chillicothe, Ohio, and would like help setting any of this up, give us a call!
ModulaOne Network is the answer to all your on-site IT computer services, serving home and business users in the Central, Ohio area. Jobs we undertake are computer, laptop, and server repairs, maintenance, IT support, data recovery, server management, web design and development, networking, and upgrades. We are available 24/7 on call support via ticket, email, and phone/sms for emergencies.
Whatever your IT problem or needs, ModulaOne Network can assist you with getting your computer, laptop, server, or network back up and running, we can also build, supply and setup custom built computer systems built to order from your own computer specifications or we can order from top brands such as Toshiba, IBM, Dell, Sony, Fujitsu Siemens, Compaq, HP, Asus, Acer and many more.
Why choose ModulaOne Network?
* We are leading experts in all aspects of IT computer services.
* We offer the complete package for your IT support service.
* We offer on-site IT support for you at your convenience.
* We have very competitive rates and experienced engineers.
* We offer a quick response time, and same day turnaround.
* We have a No Fix – No Fee! policy
Security is a top priority for ModulaOne Network. We are committed to protecting and securing all client data, through the use of firewalls, regular backups, and additional security measures in place to protect against the loss, misuse or alteration of your information.