February 22, 2021•1,014 words
#100Days (Day 3/100)
If you travel around at all and connect your laptop, phone, or tablet to public WiFi, you need to be using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). At the most basic level, a VPN is an encrypted tunnel that links your device to the world via the Internet. It also makes it appear as if you are somewhere else in the world based on the location of the VPN server you are connected through.
This is very important to your online digital safety. You need to be sure the sensitive information you enter online (phone numbers, addresses, passwords, banking & financial information, and more) are protected from hackers, scammers, and other prying eyes.
This is also essential to your digital privacy because a VPN allows you to bypass government censorship, avoid corporate surveillance, and thwart monitoring by various ISP's providing those public access roads onto the Internet. Not to mention the hackers, scammers, and identity thieves who use software and/or hardware devices to intercept public Internet traffic and sift through it for information they can exploit.
Trust me, you NEVER want to connect to public WiFi, such as in a restaurant, coffee shop, hotel, or anywhere else without using a VPN.
There are dozens of free and paid VPN services out there. Most of the free ones offered by for-profit companies usually have a lot of "gotchas" such as bandwidth limitations, speed throttling, and/or they collect and log information that could comprimise your security & privacy. The paid ones can get pretty costly. Many folks have a hard time justifying the cost if they only need to use a VPN a few times a month, or if they don't truly understand the importance of using a VPN.
The other thing is, if you work for a company and perform any of your work remotely, you probably already have a VPN service provided by the company for connecting into the office. However, it's usually not a good idea to use the company VPN for personal business such as banking, social media, or just general Internet surfing. This is often against company policy and could get you into hot water with your manager.
For those times when you need a reliable, secure VPN service to conduct some personal business on a public network, consider using OpenVPN. It's one of the best and most recommended open-source VPN solutions out there. The free OpenVPN software, paired with free VPN servers from VPNBOOK, is easy to setup, fast enough for general day-to-day use, and of course, very easy on the budget. They also don't do any logging and there is no sign-up or registration required. Bonus! 👍
Here's what you need to do to set this up on Windows 10 (instructions for other Operatings Systems and mobile devices will be linked at the end):
Visit the Community Downloads page at openvpn.net and download either the 32-bit or 64-bit installer for Windows.
- Most newer Windows 10 computers should support the 64-bit version. If you're unsure, check with your computer vendor or ask your most techy family member. Run the installer as you would any other Windows application. It should create a shortcut icon on your desktop.
Next, visit VPNBOOK.com and download one of the VPNBook OpenVPN profile bundles. If you're unsure, I would recommend one of the US bundles for starters.
- You can download more than one bundle if you'd like several VPN server (geographical location) options.
- Note the Username and Password listed on that same page. You will need those later.
Unzip the OpenVPN bundle(s) you downloaded and copy the files contained within to the C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config folder on your computer.
Launch the OpenVPN client software. There should be a shortcut on your desktop. If not, click your Start button and look for the OpenVPN program group in your application menu.
Right-click the OpenVPN GUI icon in your system tray (lower right corner near the clock), and select one of the profiles. Click Connect.
- I would recommend selecting the UDP25000 profile, but if you have trouble with that one connecting, try one of the TCP profiles (tcp443 as a first choice, and then tcp80 as a second choice).
Enter the username and password you recorded from step 2 above. It's OK to click the "save password" option here.
- The vpnbook password changes regularly. So if you try to connect and it won't accept the saved password, visit vpnbook.com again to obtain the current password.
A connection dialog box should pop up showing some status messages. Eventually you will see a message that vpnbook is now connected, and the OpenVPN icon in your system tray will turn green.
Congratulations -- You've now have a secure & private connection to the Internet!
You will probably notice browsing is a bit slower than you are used to. This is because your Internet traffic is being routed through a VPN server somewhere else in the world based on the profile you selected. If you're curious, you can visit ShowIP.net to see what your current IP address is and your current "virtual" geographic location in the world.
To disconnect from the VPN, simply right-click the OpenVPN GUI icon in your system tray, select the profile that is connected (has checkmark next to it), and select Disconnect.
For screenshots of the above steps, you can visit this page.
For instructions on setting up OpenVPN for other Operating Systems such as MacOS, Linux, or for mobile devices, you can visit this page.
I use a VPN 100% of the time when I'm on the road and have to connect to public WiFi for anything. Whether it is from my phone or laptop, I'm always going to be protected as much as possible.
When I'm at home on my own private WiFi network, I don't use a VPN service. But I do protect myself a bit by using Cloudflare's 126.96.36.199 DNS service to give myself a bit of privacy and protect all my devices from malware.
Here's to Happy, Safe, and Private Computing!