Should you use a VPN? And other resources

A good friend of mine recently emailed me with the following question:

I’ve been working out of coffee shops a good bit and I think it would be a good idea to use a VPN for a more secure connection. Can you point me to a good resource on how I can do that?

As I was responding to his email, I realized that this short, introductory information on VPNs (and why you SHOULD use one) could be helpful as a blog post. So without further ado, here is (an edited) version of the email I sent in response to the above question:

Short answer:
I would definitely and strongly recommend that you use a VPN.

Longer answer:
While you’re thinking about a VPN for your computer, you might also consider a VPN for your phone as well – that is, if you connect your phone to coffee shop WiFi.

Personally, I run my own VPN server because I don’t trust (nor am very familiar with) 3rd party VPN providers. There’s a ton of services out there that offer VPN for a small fee (usually, monthly). My VPN server sits here in my home office and routes my internet connection completely through my home internet when I use it. So, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, I connect to my VPN, the traffic between my computer and my house is encrypted and secure, and then from the perspective of the websites I visit, it “looks” like I’m sitting at my desk at home.

Obviously I don’t expect you or the average person to know how to setup your own VPN server. But if you’re going to choose to go with a VPN service, you need to make sure you go with a reputable source. Generally speaking, VPN technology can be very weak (if configured improperly), or very secure (if configured properly).

Lots of 3rd party providers don’t do a good job with security (hence the reason I distrust 3rd party providers by default). I use an open source technology called OpenVPN (https://openvpn.net/) for my software, and then as I mentioned earlier, the server itself is located at my house. So I have fully configured and secured my own server.

This looks like a really good place to start, in terms of searching for 3rd party providers. I generally trust CNET, and like most of the things they put out: https://www.cnet.com/best-vpn-services-directory/. Another resource that looks like a good introduction is:  https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2403388,00.asp

Based on the above resources, and (briefly) reviewing their websites, NordVPN or StrongVPN would probably be my recommendation. I don’t know anything about these guys, but this looks like a reasonable option, that is also based on the OpenVPN software: https://www.privatetunnel.com/pricing/

It looks to me like you’d be paying about $5/month for the above services.

Do you use a VPN? If so, is it self-hosted, or do you use a 3rd party VPN service? Who is your service through, and why do you use it? Let me know in the comments!

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