By JAMIE TUCKER Consumer Technology Reporter
Do you have a virtual private network? Do you need one?
Both are great questions and in the last two years, you’ve probably heard a lot about VPNs. If you’ve ever worked remotely on your company’s computer, you’ve probably used a virtual private network or VPN.
Why? Because it protects the company’s devices from being hacked or getting malware on the network.
But everyone should use a VPN and for other reasons too.
If you don’t know about VPNs, I’ll explain. every device that connects to the internet has an IP address. You can see yours by Googling “What’s my IP”.
This shows where you’re located and what you’re doing online to your internet provider, the government, and hackers.
My laptop, for example, has one IP address at a local coffee shop, and a different address when I return home and connect to my WiFi network.
This presents some security threats regarding your data and activity as your internet provider, trackers, the government and hackers can see not only your computer’s location but can see its activity or where it’s going online.
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, gives you a different IP address to hide your location. For example, even if I’m at home, by connecting to a Virtual Private Network anyone looking or gathering data will see that my computer and connection is in Frankfurt, Germany, or any other place in the world I choose, provided the VPN company has servers there.
This is especially important while working on public WiFi as it hides your computer from the network.
There are other benefits. Most streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify have the rights to show certain movies only in some countries.
If I log onto a virtual private network in Canada, I can watch the TV series Fargo on Netflix. If I search for it in the United States: it doesn’t appear in the results.
Sometimes Netflix and Amazon Prime can tell you’re using a VPN and will block your access to the content.
Another example, playing the “name that tunes” game “Heardle” from Spotify: certain songs are not available in the U.S. but I can play the song and the game by logging on from an IP address in Germany.
There are several recommended VPN services: Express VPN, Nord, and CyberGhost.
These are subscription services that work on all of your devices. You connect by choosing a location and connecting. If you only work from home and have no interest in streaming content or playing games in other countries, a VPN isn’t essential.
But if you work remotely, live in an apartment, condo, or dorm, you should have a VPN and use it on your computers, phones, and tablets. I don’t recommend free VPN services. Your privacy is worth paying for.