Vale Life Jun-Jul 2017 web edition

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Column: Tech spec with Andrew Marshall

Do you need a VPN?

A

VPN is part of your online security and privacy toolkit. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Originally this software was used by companies to allow staff a secure connection into their private corporate network. With a VPN service, you install software on your computer or phone and an encrypted link is created between you and the VPN service. An analogy might help with understanding how a VPN works - imagine when you connect to a website, the two computers are connected by a piece of string. With an HTTP connection, it is like sending beads along that piece of string. Anyone “outside”, such as your ISP, the person running the coffee shop wifi access point, or a hacker, can inspect all of the beads and see what you are doing - not good.

how long etc.

Using a VPN service, your secure “hosepipe” is only ever connected to the VPN computers. The VPN service handles the ongoing connection. All anyone outside will see is this connection and has no way of knowing where your traffic goes next.

Using an HTTPS connection (when you see the green padlock in your browser), is like putting an opaque hosepipe around the string. Anyone outside can still “see” the connection, but they cannot tell exactly what is being transmitted. They can still gather quite a bit of information though, such as: which websites you visit, when and for

Is there a downside? The primary one is trust. Even though the VPN service protects you from external snooping, the service itself knows all about your online behaviour, although all good VPN services commit to not log any information about your surfing. The other one is performance. All of your data is being encrypted on your computer and then passed through the VPN service. A good VPN service should only add 5-10% overhead which is not noticeable in normal surfing.

Andrew Marshall Tech spec

Which VPN to choose? A quick online search, for VPN or VPN reviews produces a whole host of results. A good starting point is a website called, That One Privacy Guy. It provides a very comprehensive analysis of all of the popular VPN services. Expect to pay a fee for a good VPN. Quite a few offer a free trial . I consider VPN as an important part of my online security and privacy package. You should too. l Software and technology expert Andrew Marshall is Founder of Digitwell Solutions Ltd, a mobile application development company. He can be contacted on: enquiries@digitwell.co.uk or via twitter: @DigitwellApps www. digitwell.co.uk

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