How to Use a VPN to Protect Your Home Computer

Virtual private networks are easy to use despite the complicated name. Let’s cut through the tech jargon and talk about how you can use a VPN to protect your home computer.

To understand VPNs, we need to know a little about how the Internet works. Every online service, from Facebook to Amazon to your local bank, runs from a server or collection of servers. Now imagine that there’s a transparent tunnel between your computer and whatever server you’re using. Because it’s transparent, anyone can look at what you’re doing. From your bank login to your latest email, all transmissions over unsecured networks are wide open.

VPNs make that tunnel opaque, or at least less transparent. Bear in mind that no computer security solution is foolproof, so we can’t make the tunnel completely opaque. But we can make it opaque enough to stop casual observers from snooping. VPN software does this by encrypting your Internet connection.

How do you find a VPN to use? VPN providers offer their own apps which make the process almost seamless. First, take a look at your antivirus software. If you’re using a paid security suite, you might already have VPN capabilities. Your router might have VPN features, too. Otherwise, here are some VPN options for you to try.

To use a VPN, you usually just click the button and go. The software will let you know that the VPN has been successfully established, and you can continue to use your computer normally. Using a VPN shouldn’t slow things down unless you have a very old computer or network. In that case, try uninstalling unused apps and using a wired connection instead of wireless. I suggest that you evaluate your equipment for potential upgrade, because most modern systems are better at handling VPN traffic, and if your setup is outdated you’re likely having other problems.

As with all computer security software, it’s vitally important to keep your VPN up to date. I also recommend that you avoid transmiting sensitive data like credit card numbers and banking information over public WiFi, even with a VPN. Even the best software can be hacked to reveal your data, but your information can’t be stolen if it was never transmitted in the first place.

Do you have questions about VPNs? Feel free to ask in the comments, and and sign up for Tech Tips by email for weekly computer news and advice for Windows, Mac, and mobile users. You can also follow Tech Tips on Facebook.

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