About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

December 12, 2017

Tunnels on the Internet

At a recent speaking engagement, I was talking to the group about security.  This discussion was centered on Virtual Private Networks or VPNs.  Since 1996 when a Microsoft employee created a secure tunneling system for computers, VPNs have been around.  It was not as we know a VPN today; however, it certainly set the process in motion.

Basically, a VPN is a “tunnel” through the internet that connects a specific group of computers.  This network keeps out anyone who does not have the proper keys to work with the others.  Businesses first started using VPNs to connect their data networks between different locations around the globe.

A VPN keeps out the bad guys, or not even bad but just people you do not want looking at your data.  In more recent times VPN usage has been encouraged for individuals too.  This statement may lead you to ask, “Why?”

The reason is security.

If you go into a local coffee shop and check your spam email you may be fine.  But if you have private email which you are sending and you do not want others to see, a VPN may be needed.

When you are in a coffee shop, or any public Wi-Fi for that matter, it is most likely an open connection.  That means anyone walking by can access the internet through that business’s network without a username or password.  They may even require usernames and passwords but you do not own that connection.  You do not know who else is there in the background.  You consider that a nice feature, which it is; however, there could be nefarious people nearby lurking about seeking your information.

If you have a VPN connection on your device, you log in with your own username and password to a server at another location.  It is similar to “drilling” a tunnel through the local internet Wi-Fi connection you are on.  That stops anyone from seeing what you are sending or receiving, keeping your information private.   This includes your login and all transactions on your bank account if you use it while there.  All banks use “Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure,” you know the URL that starts with “https.”  That “S” means that it is secure but again someone may be digitally looking at your keystrokes while in the open and recording them for their use.  If you use a VPN they should be stopped dead in their tracks from getting your info.

The VPN encrypts the information you send to be unencrypted only by the person/organization to whom it is meant to be delivered.

Check the short video below to see how a VPN works. 
Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Also, many people use VPN for a location setting.  If they were to want to watch a TV show in a foreign country but it was not allowed out of that country, you could use VPN.  It would camouflage their actual location and appear to be in that country.  But they could actually be on the other side of the earth.  What if someone is in a county that will not allow free speech but wants to blog about the injustices or issues there?  With VPN they could do so and not be discovered by their governments.

This is only a high-altitude flyover of what a VPN is and how it can be used.  If you are interested look for more information online.  Remember, a VPN that you pay nothing for may be exactly what it is worth.  Shop around and read reviews as a good one will cost a little.

September 23, 2014

January 15, 2013

2012 Sites in Review, Part 2

As I stated last week, I annually provide links to all of the sites we have visited throughout the previous year at

Remember, if the site addresses are too long to type I have shortened them with  Here they are in their order of appearance with short descriptions of each.

  • Google Calendar – This one comes with Gmail but it could be used as a good online calendar with many advanced features.
  • Microsoft – Everything Microsoft, software, hardware, Office, solutions, templates, etc.
  • Ninite – Pick your apps and click Get Installer to install all of your chosen apps in one step for your new/rebuilt Windows computer automatically.
  • Hotmail (slowly becoming Outlook), Gmail & Yahoo mail – The most popular online email services…including many other features.
  • OpenDNS -  Keeps your internet access safe and secure especially for families.
  • – A free site where you can learn about web coding, even if you are just starting out.
  • – If you want to buy it online you can most likely find it here.
  • Google Play – Where all of the "approved" Android apps are found.
  • Google, DropBox, PayPal – These are several of the many sites that offer Two-factor authentication for your security.
  •,, – The three local places around the web where you can read or listen to information from me, Double Clicks.
  • Ubuntu – A free operating system you can install on your computer to totally replace Windows. 
  • Sound Hound – The site for the iOS and Android app which identifies songs by "listening" to them.
  • Password Generator – Go there to get a randomly created password. Be careful since they will be totally unmemorable.  
  • Password Security – Check the strength of your password according to Microsoft.
  • Leet Speak Translator – Do not worry if you have no idea what this is.  Just find my article on it and learn about it first.
  • LastPass – One of the highest rated places for keeping your many, many passwords online.
  • KeePass – Ron’s highest rated applications for keeping your many, many passwords locally.
  • DameWare, Go to Assist, PC Anywhere, LogMeIn – Some of the more popular and more recommended support applications which allow you to log into another user’s system to help them.
  • Join Me -  The same as above but free and very easy to use.
  • Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Carbonite – These all provide online cloud storage for your important files.  Some are free and some are not.  I recommended Dropbox and Carbonite in my column.

I look forward to continuing the discussions about software, computers, the internet and all sorts of technology this year.  I hope that you, your families and friends have a great 2013 and continue to join me in the news, on the radio and on the web! 

October 9, 2012

Two-Factor Authentication

I have a feeling if you have not already heard about two-factor authentication you will hear a lot shortly. TFA is also referred to as "two-step verification" so you may see them used interchangeably. 

Two-factor authentication is another advance in security for protecting you on the internet.  Some bank and other online apps including Google, DropBox, PayPal and many others are using or starting to use this security feature.

My first introduction to TFA was through PayPal several years ago.  It involved getting a free credit card-sized device or a security fob which would fit on your keychain. 

The security device was linked with your online account.  When you logged into PayPal to purchase something you had to enter a short, I believe six-digit, random code into a textbox on the site.  To get a randomly generated code number you used the card/fob.  When you logged into the site you entered your username, password and were then asked to enter your code.  You had to push a button on the device in your hand and it would generate that random code.  Once you entered that code into the website and it matched the code generated in the background on the site, you were in.  If they didn’t match you would get several more tries. Then you would be locked out.  You had to go through a bit of a hassle to get it all verified again or wait a specified amount of time before you could try again.

Unfortunately, my card wore out.  They would send you another for a slight fee.  I opted out of the extra verification.  I did not want to pay a fee for a device that did not survive the ride in my wallet for six-months before dying. 

Today things have changed.  This past summer Dropbox ( or for extra storage for both you and me) started using TFA.  Their features are very similar to the large majority available today.  So let us look at how Dropbox works.

imageLog into your DropBox account using your email address and password as you normally would.  Next, go to Settings/Security and scroll down to "Two-step verification." It will indicate that it is disabled.  Now click "change."  You will be asked if you wish to use text-messaging or a mobile app.  With text-messaging the code will be sent to your phone via text.  If you have to pay for texting choose the other and you can download an app to your smart phone which will generate the code for you, just like the card from PayPal I mentioned earlier.

imageI always make the text-messaging choice.  You run through a verification entering your phone number, a test-text and you are set up.  Next time you log into your account you will use your username, password and get a text box to fill in with your code.  The code will be sent to your phone in about five seconds after you click the send button.

With DropBox as well as some others you can click "remember this computer" and it will put a cookie on your computer.  Then you will not be asked to verify your login with the code on that computer alone.

I like this process and usually forget about it until I try to log on to a site and get the buzz from my phone.  Good luck!  Let me know if you try any or are already using some two-step verification processes.

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