The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
This is an update to Plus Edition article published several years ago. The information in that article was accurate when published, but the available technology and services have changed since then. Prices have also decreased by 50% or more since the original article was published. This new article should bring the reader up to date.
I am a fan of virtual private networks, or VPNs. By definition, according to Dictionary.com, a VPN is "a network that uses the internet to transfer information using secure methods." A longer and more detailed explanation can be found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vpn.
Why should you or I want to use a VPN? There are several reasons.
First, any time you connect to the Internet using normal connections, it is theoretically possible that someone else can tap into your Internet connection if it isn't encrypted. Indeed, using an open wi-fi network really simplifies the process of eavesdropping and makes it easy for a hacker to capture all the data you send and receive. If you are not using encryption, anyone using proper "sniffer" software while connected to the same wi-fi network you are using can see what you are sending and receiving on a wi-fi network or any other shared network in an airport, a coffee shop, a hotel, or even your office,. If in a hotel, the guest in Room 503 can see everything you send and receive on an unencrypted connection, even on wired (non-wi-fi) networks.
The required software to tap into someone else's unencrypted connection is available several places free of charge, and at least one product is very easy to use. Who knows who is monitoring your connection, your user IDs, and your passwords? However, if your connection is encrypted, potential hackers are locked out and can see nothing.
One way to create secure connections is to connect to web sites using Secure Sockets Layer protocol, called "SSL." You will always see this when connecting to your online bank account, when entering private information into PayPal, and on many other web sites that handle sensitive private information.
Look at the address bar in your web browser. If the address begins with "https" instead of the normal "http," you know you are using an encrypted connection. The letter "s" on the end of the letters http indicates you are using a secure, or encrypted, SSL connection. All banks and other financial institutions use SSL connections to securely transfer millions of dollars every day. I am sure that, when you connect to your bank, an SSL connection is required. You can look at the address bar in your browser to see this for yourself.
An even better method of creating secure connections is to use a VPN. A VPN, or "Virtual Private Network," creates a secure, encrypted "tunnel" from your computer to a "gateway" on some remote server in a data center on the Internet. A VPN connection has several advantages over SSL connections, some of which I will explain in a moment.
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