VPN explained: A privacy primer — with robots and race cars
Confused about virtual private networks? Looking for more privacy online? CNET’s Bridget Carey offers a simple guide to help you understand how they work and what you need to consider before using one.
The internet is starting to feel like the Wild West, what with all the theft (of passwords), kidnappings (of data) and bath-house levels of privacy.
Can a virtual private network (VPN) solve any of these issues, most notably the last? Here’s a perfect explanation from CNET’s Laura Hautala:
A VPN redirects your internet traffic, disguising where your computer, phone or other device is when it makes contact with websites. It also encrypts information you send across the internet, making it unreadable to anyone who intercepts your traffic. That includes your internet service provider.
Ha! Problem solved — right?
Well, sort of. The big catch is, now the VPN has your internet traffic and browsing history, instead of your ISP. What’s to stop the VPN from selling your information to the highest bidder?
So, yeah: Wild West. One thing is certain, though: A VPN offers excellent protection against hackers when you connect your laptop to an open network, which is what happens every time you hit up the Wi-Fi at your local Starbucks, on a flight and so on.
In the past I’ve shared lots of VPN deals, but this is definitely among the most affordable: a lifetime subscription to RA4W VPN for $19.99. Regular price: $199.99.
Some folks are wary of “lifetime” subscriptions, which can be a little vague (Whose lifetime? Yours? Theirs?). Here the developer specifies that you get 500 months of access, equivalent to about 41 years. Hopefully your life will be even longer, but given that the math works out to around 50 cents per year, it’s hard to complain about this license.
I don’t know much about RA4W VPN (or why it’s called that), but the US-based company’s website looks polished and professional, and the product itself seems solid: server accessibility in over 20 countries, support for both OpenVPN and RA4W’s own client software, access to geoblocked sites, 24/7 tech support and so on. Of particular importance, the developer says it does not log usage.
The one thing that seems to be missing: support for phones and tablets. An iOS app has been “coming soon” for nearly a year, and there’s currently no mention of an Android version. Personally, I think it’s your laptop that needs protecting more than your phone, but that’s just me. Plus, there are countless free VPNs available for both platforms, should you want one.
As with anything pertaining to security, do your homework before spending any money. But this is a pretty small investment for a potentially huge return: anonymous internet connectivity.