Because this issue is chock full of a lot of great information (including a very useful Tech Gift Guide that I highly recommend to you), I have less than the normal amount of space for this column. I will, therefore, handle a very important topic to the Road Warrior using fewer words.
Those who have followed this column or heard me speak know that I have serious concerns about using public WiFi and recommend that you carry your own cellular hot spot. Nothing in this column changes that recommendation. You will find it very easy to use your own hot spot. The process (not overly simplified):
(1) Buy the hot spot; (2) buy the access; (3) set up the hot spot (depending on how you acquired the device and the access, that could simply mean turning it on—tech support for most providers will hold your hand through any other setup requirements); (4) connect to the hot spot’s WiFi network; and (5) leave the hot spot on and carry it with you to provide Internet access wherever the hot spot gets a signal. (If you carry a power bank to charge your phone or other devices, it can also recharge the hot spot.)
Free public WiFi has grown readily available throughout the world. More people find it increasingly hard to resist the lure of free WiFi, even if it runs more slowly than one might like. I will admit that it has occasionally even tempted me, particularly if I cannot get a good signal for my cellular hot spot. If you use public WiFi, you should create or acquire access to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to insulate you against exposure to the bad guys who want to get into your devices to steal your information or cause damage. A VPN lets users send and receive data securely across a public network or a shared network; it encrypts the data to prepare it for its journey and decrypts it when it arrives.
Setting up your own VPN requires no great deal of effort, but it probably requires more than most of you will want to do. (If you want to do it, Google “How do I set up a VPN?” You will find several sets of instructions respecting different hardware and operating systems. Pick the one that matches your situation.)
If you do not want to go to the trouble of building your own VPN, you can acquire access to VPNs offered as a service, usually on a subscription basis. Discover as much as you can about a service before you subscribe to it. A recent article on CNET (tinyurl.com/ybvajw2z) identifies what its author considers the best VPN options and explains why. I have found CNET a fairly reliable source of information over the years. The VPN systems identified in the article are:
- NordVPN ($3.99/mo.; $95.75/2 yrs.)
- StrongVPN ($10/mo.; $69.99/yr.)
- IPVanish VPN ($7.50/mo.; $58.49/yr.)
- PureVPN ($10.95/mo.; $69/3 yrs.)
- ExpressVPN ($12.95/mo.; $99.95/15 mos.)
- Hide My Ass ($11.52 per mo.; $78.66/yr.)
- CyberGhost ($2.75/mo.; $33/yr.)
- VyprVPN ($9.95/mo.; $80.04/yr.)
- Private Internet Access ($6.95/mo.; $39.95/yr.)
- TorGuard ($9.99/mo.; $59.99/yr.)
- Buffered VPN ($12.99/mo.; $99/yr.)
- Goose VPN ($12.99/mo.; $59.88/yr.)
- Hotspot Shield ($12.99/mo.; $71.76/2 yrs.)
Another fairly useful source of information, PC Magazine, created a guide to setting up and working with a VPN: tinyurl.com/yad3e2b6. I recommend that article to you. The article identifies its top four subscription VPN choices, picking three of those also in CNET’s list: NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and IPVanish VPN. PC Magazine’s fourth choice is TunnelBear VPN ($9.99/mo.; $59.99/yr.; $99.99/2 yrs.).
VPNs often have another feature you may find useful occasionally: They can route your information to make it appear to come from a different location. You may find this handy if you want people to think you are somewhere else (for whatever reason). For example, you can make it look like your traffic comes from the United States while you vacation in Europe. Not every VPN does this, but many provide this facility.
When you look for a VPN, I strongly recommend you find one that works with all your devices. It makes it easier (and less expensive) to protect yourself and your data if you have but one provider.
Nothing is ever perfect. Sometimes a VPN will slow your traffic or interfere with your ability to connect to a public network. Nevertheless, remember that having a VPN available does no good if you do not use it. Make it a point to use it whenever you go online, especially when you use a public network.