A reader has a question about VPNs:

“If you have used this topic before, either I don’t remember it or thought it didn’t apply to me. VPNs Malwarebytes has a good offer, but before I signed up for another annual renewal, I thought I’d ask you if there’s a good one out there which is free. Or also what the downsides of having a VPN may be.”

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A virtual private network creates an encrypted Internet connection between two devices. Encrypted means that it’s scrambled in a way that someone who intercepted it wouldn’t be able to decipher the data. The data can only be deciphered on the other end. Kind of like speaking in a code that only you and the person on the other end of the line understand.

It’s called a virtual private network because an actual private network would be physically connected between devices in the same building. A VPN does essentially the same thing but allows you to be anywhere in the world. VPNs are useful if you just like extra security, you deal in a lot of sensitive information, or perhaps you’re somewhere where you have doubts about the security of the network you’re using, such as using public WiFi in a hotel or relying on the network at a company you do business with.

A VPN can either be direct, where an encrypted connection is set up between two sites and only used for those sites or remote where you can access the VPN from almost anywhere. So, if you want a VPN for a laptop or phone that you plan to use when you’re away from home, make sure you get one with remote access and not just a service that works from your home or business.

One downside is that a VPN can affect your Internet speed. If the server for your VPN is halfway around the world, that can cause a slowdown. Your speed may also be affected by the number of servers your VPN company has available to handle the traffic. Keep in mind that with so many more people working from home recently, many VPNs are overwhelmed with traffic. 

As for free VPNs ProtonVPN offers a free service that is well-thought-of. There are some limitations but none that I see would be a problem for the home user. The Opera Browser offers a free integrated VPN. I’ll take a look at both of those options later in the week.