VPN Anyone?

You might say what the heck is a VPN? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPN’s were originally developed to allow internet users access to the web from behind corporate firewalls. It was also used to allow home users access to corporate networks that were hidden by firewalls. Here is a much more detailed explanation of VPN’s on Wikipedia.

Okay, all well and good. Now VPN’s are used for several other purposes. Here’s a list. (by no means exhaustive).

  1. Security on public networks. If you use public internet access, say at your local Starbuck’s or local library, you are using a public internet. This means that other people with some clever tools can listen into what you are doing. The can see what sites you are visiting. They sometimes see the data you are transmitting. Using a VPN on public internet is a very good practice.
  2. Access to sites that are blocked. Some sites are blocked. Sometimes by governments (eg. China, Middle East), sometimes by corporations, and sometimes by ISP’s.

So there are private VPN’s operated by corporate IT departments and there are VPN’s that are public where you can purchase a license to use their service. I will be talking about the latter case, because that one is the most useful for the average user.

I first started thinking about VPN’s recently when CBS and Time Warner Cable (TWC) started a very public fight. The fight is over fees that CBS wants TWC to pay for the right to provide CBS to TWC’s customers. TWC customers could no longer watch CBS shows on their TV service. TWC also blocked access to CBS web sites on their internet service. I can’t do anything to fix the former problem (unless I buy an antenna or switch providers).  But I can do something about the internet service. I could of course switch TV and network providers, but that is a giant PITA.

The solution is to install a VPN on my laptop. There are several providers available. Most of the providers try a free “try before you buy” license, typically good for a few days. Currently, I am trying out “Avast Secure Line”, Seems to work. I can view the CBS sites. I need to try on MLBTV by attempting to watch games that are typically blacked out. It has free three day license. Then $42 for a year.

Here’s the screen shot of the Avast Secure Line:

avast secureline

iOS solution is a bit different. There are several iOS apps available. Search the App Store for “VPN”. Installation seems to be straight forward. The apps tend to be free. They typically limit initial free bandwidth to 300mb. So you get to try before you buy. After that you have to do in-app purchase to buy bandwidth. The privacy needs for my iPAD and iPhone are more important than my PC. I don’t take my laptop travelling very much. Most of the time it is plugged in to my home wifi. Here’s the link to the app store entry for “VPN Express“. There are other VPN apps. Try them and see what works.

2013-08-19 11.17.01

So my recommendation, get a VPN. Remember that freedom isn’t free, and neither is security. There is way too much snooping going on, Both by the government(s) and others. This is one additional way to keep people from snooping. Plus, now I can watch “David Letterman” and “Big Bang Theory”. VPN’s won’t prevent mail providers like Google or Yahoo giving the NSA the admin passwords to the mail servers. But it does plug an important hole in internet security.

I still need to try the VPN apps with MLBTV games that are blacked out for being local. For me that would be LA Dodgers and LA Angels. Not a real big deal. I only care about them when they’re playing the Boston Red Sox.

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