Where the internet sees you are from…
Whether it’s a business trip or a backpacking adventure, the last thing you want to worry about is the security of your internet connection. Turns out, that gateway to the glorious world wide web may not be as safe as you thought.
Regardless of what it is used for, VPNs always work in the same way. A secure connection is created from the local computer system to a remote server that is maintained by the VPN company. From there, connections to the Internet are established. Internet traffic flows through the remote server so that Internet services communicate with it directly and not with the local system. Think of it as your own secure, private tunnel to the internet. That means that all of the information you send and receive over the internet is scrambled and encrypted before it heads along the information superhighway, keeping it safe from prying eyes.
As an added benefit, many VPN providers have servers all over the world that you can connect to, Connect through your VPN service and your IP address will be changed automatically. While there are ways to identify VPN connections, it is difficult if precautions are taken.
FUNCTIONS of VPNs
1. Surf Securely Over Open Wifi
Free wifi is everywhere, from hotels to airports to little cafes. However, free & open wifi often comes with a hidden cost: your security and privacy. More specifically, if there is no password to access the wireless network, only WEP encryption, or a login/password combination required that you often see at hotels and airports on their hotspots, you are especially at risk.
Your data can often be snooped at these unsecured hotspots, and the information you send and receive is ripe for the taking. This could be e-mail you send and receive, websites you visit, files you send, and even passwords you log in with.
Evade hackers and enjoy complete security, even on public wifi connections. VPNs encrypt your data and provides a secure connection from anywhere in the world over any connection. Prevent hackers stealing your personal passwords, bank account and credit card details. And protect your device from malware, phishing and spam sites. With all the identity theft that occurs around the world, I believe this is the most valuable function of a VPN.
A VPN encrypts your information, keeping it safe and away from prying eyes. If someone were to snoop it, it would just be a bunch of gibberish. It’s an easy way to stay safe on suspected networks.
I will relate what happened to me in Indonesia with my PayPal account (all this would have been prevented by using a VPN that provides secure Internet lines). It was hacked and $6,000 was transferred to my a Pending Transfer account on PayPal. PayPal was unable to reverse the transfer and stated that it could only be done by my bank that issued my debit card and has my bank account. My bank required a signed affidavit to do that. I was in Indonesia and could not fine a fax machine or scanner and printer to deal with a document that required a signature. Even though I changed my password, the PayPal account was hacked again, they changed my email address after the pending transfer became actualized. When I tried log into my PayPal account, it had disappeared! I phoned PayPal and they were able to find my original PayPal account using the bank account number. They froze the changed account. But the only way to reverse the bank transfer to PayPal remained via my bank branch that still required a signed affidavit. What a mess. I would advise you to never have a linked bank account on PayPal (you can always link one for a short time then remove it if that is necessary) as PayPal’s security is so poor. When you sign up for PayPal, you are asked to provide security questions that add another level of security but PayPal never requires the use of these. The questions are only used if you want to change your password!!!. At least because of that, the hacker was unable to change the bank account number or the password so that PayPal was able to find the changed account. To repeat, get a VPN when traveling in foreign countries to deal with nonsecure Internet servers.
2. Access Media Across Borders
If you’re a media junkie, especially with TV, you’ll often find your access blocked when you’re outside your country. However as soon as you leave your home country, this content is blocked. Your IP address gives your location in the world so streaming sites block access. Complicated rights agreements mean that someone else might own the rights to broadcast in the country you are in, so they can’t show it to you while you are there. This is yet another way that the consumer gets screwed online.
By changing your IP address using a VPN to your home country, you will be able to trick those services into thinking you are still at home on your couch. Watch your paid content anywhere. Once you are connected through a city in your home country, you can access the content again.
A few examples of this are pay-for and free streaming services such as Pandora, Netflix, Hulu (which is available in the US and Japan only), satellite radio (Sirius/XM), Amazon VOD and ESPN3, popular music service Spotify, and many country-specific TV networks (CBC.ca, svtPlay.se, and Showcase.ca). If you try to connect outside of where they are available, you’ll often find yourself faced with an error.
Instead of buying a plane ticket back, connect with your VPN to another country. For example, if there is something I want to watch on Hulu or Comedy Central, I connect to a server in the USA. Since I have a Spotify account from Sweden, I connect through a server in Scandinavia for access. Finally, if I want to watch documentaries from the CBC in Canada, I connect through there and I’m set.
3. Prevent Online Banking Lockouts
When you travel abroad, most of us know that it’s a good practice to call your credit card company beforehand and let them know. That way, when you pay for your hotel on the beaches of Brazil, they don’t freak out and block your card thinking it may have been stolen.
When you log into your bank online, they already know where you are by your IP address. If it happens to be that you’re somewhere new, you might be flagged, and may be asked some security questions to verify that your account hasn’t been hijacked. At worst though, you might be locked out, requiring a phone call to the bank and some hoops to jump through before regaining access to your money.
Paypal has its share of horror stories. Travel to a new country (without their special security key), log in, account frozen. Fight with Paypal. Rinse, Repeat. Unlike your bank at home, Paypal isn’t a phone call away, and has been known to keep thousands of dollars locked away until it sees fit.
With a VPN, you can connect to any number of servers and countries around the world, and the site you are visiting will see you from there. For example, you can be traveling inside Burma (where banking sanctions are still in place) and be denied access to your account by your bank. If you connect your VPN through your home country instead, they see you as being in there and not Burma, and it’s smooth sailing.
4. Bypass Censorship
Some governments around the world are doing their best to dictate what their citizens should and shouldn’t see on the internet. The most famous among the group is China and the “Great Firewall of China.” Blogs and bloggers can disappear right off the map. “News” is only what it allowed to be shown to the public.
Burma censors content. Searching for something a little too political would often bring to a screen saying that access was being denied by the ISP. Some countries are worse offenders than others, with countries in Asia & the Middle East being the worst offenders. Even Australia is battling with an internet filter. In Lebanon, access to this website was prevented (it said the IP address was blacklisted), but I had no problems when using my VPN.
SOPA and PIPA bills that were up for vote in the USA, and Canada has tabled its version for a future vote as well. Nowhere is immune, it seems.
Fortunately, a VPN will let you access the internet from another server in another country, bypassing any censorship that the country you are currently in. It was the only way to check CNN.com from inside Burma when traveling there during the election.
5. Bypassing Country Locks of Select Services
Many countries block access to certain web sites. China is the classic example; All Google services including Gmail, Google and YouTube and Facebook are all blocked. Skype and other VOIP services are blocked in many countries by telecom providers afraid of losing revenue, or governments who wish to monitor calls. Uzbekistan blocks Skype. Arab countries block pornography. You may be able to log on and get minimal use but functionality is very impaired.
A VPN is crucial to travel in China. psiphon.com and webfreer.com, are free and both work well in China but are for PCs only. Astrill and Expressvpn seemed to work best in 2015 as the Great China Firewall was strengthened in the summer of 2015 so many VPNs did not function well after that.
I used the cheapest pay-for VPN – VYPR but it was useless in Xinjiang Province and Tibet. The free Chrome extensions did not function at all. In China, you need additional web browsers if you only have Chrome. I had Safari and also used Opera which worked well. I also had a second email account in addition to my usual Gmail.
VPNs also can be used to bypass workplace censorship of sites like Facebook, Gmail and YouTube.
P2P (or peer-to-peer) traffic is also being cut, often times at the more local level. This technology is now most famous for BitTorrent, but started with the likes of Napster and Kazaa. Though those are often associated with pirated music and movies, P2P is used by a host of legitimate technologies these days.
Some apartment buildings block P2P traffic, preventing use of a new file sharing feature app for Facebook called “Pipe”
Once again, VPN to the rescue. By encrypting the internet traffic, the local blocks on P2P traffic no longer work.
Surf privately and conceal your personal information and your location.
(IP address) online. Protect your data from snooping by your Internet service provider. And prevent websites you visit targeting you with manipulative prices and messages.
Free VPN services often have slow connections and though okay for simply browsing the web, they are not suitable for streaming content such as video and music that require faster connection speeds.
However extensions for the Chrome web browser sometimes work just as well as the paid VPNs. Since Google Chrome is based on Chromium, most Chromium-based browsers support these extensions. The main appeal of using an extension is that it is easy to set up; simply install the extension in the web browser to start using it. You may need to activate it, but you won’t need to add server or authentication information anywhere to do so. The VPN will only work for connections established in the Chrome browser and not system-wide. Thus they are of no use in China.
Requirements. This includes extensions that are available in the Chrome Web Store, are compatible with Chrome Stable, are free and will not inject advertisement into web pages or do other shady things.
You need to enter your email address on the welcome page after installation. A password is generated automatically for you on the next screen that you can change there.
Once that is out of the way, the extension activates itself automatically and is ready for use. It displays a small shield icon in Chrome’s address bar that you can click on to display the status of the current connection. Here you can also change the VPN server location to the following ones: New York/United States, Frankfurt/Germany, London/UK, Zurich/Switzerland or Kowloon/HongKong.
It offers unlimited traffic. The company plans to introduce paid Pro accounts in the future and when that happens, will limit the traffic of free accounts.
Performance: excellent, worked flawlessly with all services it was tried on including Hulu and Pandora from the US, BBC from the UK, and ARD in Germany.
Company headquarters: Germany
2. Hola Better Internet
Hola Unblocker is a free extension for Chrome that uses a slightly different system than others by using bandwidth of users connected to it to power its service. This works similar to how torrent downloads work. This cannot be disabled. Free users don’t need to create an account to use Hola Unblocker. It works automatically right after installation in Google Chrome.
A click on the icon in the address displays custom information. If you are on a specific site, you can select a remote server location that you want used for the connection. Other options include opening the options, or configuring specific site and country links so that these connections are established automatically by the application when a connection to the site is made.
Users can sign up to become Premium users so that their devices are not used as a peer to power the service. A premium account is available for $5 per month or $3.75 per month if paid yearly in advance.
Performance: While connections to US-based and German-based websites worked fine and without any performance issues — buffering for instance — issues were noticed during connections to sites based in the UK. While contents loaded fine, buffering was an issue as the stream paused frequently.
Company headquarters: Israel
You need to create an account with your name, email address and password before you can start using the service. The functionality becomes available right afterwards. A click on the icon displays various information about the currently selected remote server including its location.
You can use the menu to switch to another server that you want to connect to instead. A total of nine different locations are supported now including the USA, Germany, UK, France, Japan and Russia.
While the initial service is free, the website only lists paid plans. There was no request to upgrade to a paid plan during tests, and it is not clear if one is displayed to users at one point in time.
Performance: The connection quality has been excellent for all tested servers. Streams from the US, UK and Germany played fluently and without any buffering issues or other issues.
Company headquarters: Hong Kong
4. Psiphon. A free VPN that works in China as not a Chrome Extension. Only for PCs.
5. WebFreer. A free VPN that also works in China as not a Chrome Extension. Only for PCs.
6. FreeGate. Works in China but very slow.
PAY-FOR VPNs. There are 100s of these.
1. Hidemyass Pro is one low-cost paid VPN service that is secure, offers faster connection speeds and reliable and secure connections. Create an account and follow the simple set-up instructions, then login using a secure connection from anywhere in the world.
Cost is $11.52 for one month, $6.55/month for a 12-month contract and $8.33/month for a 6-month contract.
HMA has an iPhone app that makes using a VPN on your iPhone simple. It allows you to stream music to your bluetooth speakers. Without this feature it wouldn’t be possible. Now your iPhone, iPad, and laptop are connected through a VPN. You can now access all your favorite music and videos you enjoy at home.
2. Express VPN. I used this service in China using Los Angeles as my server location. The login every time you go online gets frustrating as it takes a few minutes with slow Internet connections and after a while, I had difficulties logging in at all. I canceled the account when I left China so only used it for 2 months. Cost structure was similar to Hidemyass.
3. Astrill. Works well most of the time in China.
4. Witopia is the favourite of the toomanyconnectors.com. He has used it in 20+ countries, but does not mention if he has travelled in China. This service will set you back about $5.99 / month or $49.99 / year.
5. VYPR. The cheapest pay-for VPN and the one that I use. It worked in most of China but not in the “high security” provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet. Has only 128-bit encryption so may not be as secure as others.
SHARE YOUR VPN
The purpose of a VPN (virtual private network) is to secure your connection to the internet, and use is recommended all the time. First, if you only use it on one of your devices, you may be leaving yourself and your data open to snooping on the other devices. Secondly, you can save on the cost of multiple VPN licences, assuming you typically have your notebook computer connected. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks with most VPN services is that you typically only receive one licence, which is good for only connecting one device at a time.
This is how to connect to the internet using your VPN, and share that secure connection with other devices, such as smartphones, tablets. or other laptops over wifi using Connectify and VPN service from Witopia or other VPN. NOTE: Before you start sharing your VPN access, you will need to download and install a copy of Connectify for Windows (free or Pro), and have a paid service plan for Witopia.
How to Share Your Witopia VPN Connection With Connectify
1) Right click on the Witopia icon from your System Tray (the area by the clock). Choose Gateways, and then choose a gateway you would like to use.
2) Wait for the VPN to complete the connection. When it does, you will notice that the Witopia icon turns from white to blue. You can also check the location by double-clicking the Witopia icon in the System Tray.
3) Start Connectify. Configure a hotspot name and password if you haven’t already.
4) Click the “Internet to Share” pull down menu. Choose “Viscosity Virtual Adapter V9.1”
5) Click the “Share Over” pull down menu. Choose “Wi-Fi”.
6) Click “Start Hotspot” or “Apply Settings” if your Connectify hotspot was already running.
Now your VPN is connected, and shared out over WiFi with the network name you chose above. Connect to this network using the password you created on any other devices you may have, including other notebooks, tablets, or smartphones.
You can test that your connection on these devices is connected through the VPN by going to a website that shows your IP such as LINK. It should match the location of the gateway you chose in Step 2.