QUESTION: Should I be using a virtual private network (VPN) at home for better protection against hackers?
ANSWER: A VPN is a tool that can provide a variety of security and usability services that are most useful on networks that are shared by others or when you are traveling.
Unless you are sharing your home network with random strangers, the primary security advantages of using a VPN don’t really apply.
Depending upon the VPN you are using, you could also experience slower Internet connections as everything has to go through the server supplied by the VPN you are using.
If you work from home and are required to use a VPN to access your company’s secured network, you may want to do some tests with it on and off for your personal use to see if there is a performance impact.
There are a few minor benefits that come from using a VPN at home, but they may not be worth the cost or trade off in performance.
The first is that the VPN will keep your Internet Service Provider (ISP) from monitoring what you do online which they generally do for marketing purposes.
The VPN provider, however, will have the ability to track what your ISP would normally track, so it’s important to research their privacy policies before installing one for this reason.
Another small benefit is that for the few websites that are not delivering their content via a secure connection (https), which is generally because the content isn’t personal.
Using a VPN at home would ensure that all of your interactions online will be kept private as all your interactions will be encrypted.
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Another potential meaningful benefit is for those that want to access content that is restricted by your location.
For instance, some local sports that may be blocked might become available if it looks like you are connecting in another state.
The same applies for those that want to access content in other countries that is blocked in the United States. As an example, I used a VPN to access content on the BBC website during the London Olympics that wasn’t available for those outside of the country.
A VPN service allows you to select a server in a specific region or country, so if you’re going to use it for those purposes, make sure that the service you select has servers available in the country or countries for the content that you are interested in accessing.
You may also want to do some detailed research to make sure that the VPN service isn’t being blocked by the website or streaming service you are trying to access.
It’s become a bit of a cat and mouse game as content providers will often update their detection systems to include popular VPN servers around the world.
Streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube TV, HBO Max for example have extensive knowledge of the available VPN services and block most of them.
Most VPN companies offer some form of free trial that give you enough time to test it out for the specific purposes you may have in mind, which can help you avoid buying something you can’t actually use.
Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services, datadoctors.com. Ask any tech question at facebook.com/DataDoctors or on Twitter @TheDataDoc.