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.

May 21, 2013

Wi-Fi Down?

I go to many coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses which offer free Wi-Fi for their customers.  And yes, sometimes the food is not my favorite and the coffee not the best.  However, since I am a geek and like to have the Wi-Fi I visit and use their establishments anyway. 

Wi-Fi HotspotThroughout time I have been to companies whose Guest Network/Wi-Fi is not working.  I always willingly offer my expertise (since I need to do some computer work) in resolving the issue.  A business is not usually like a home network.  A business with have a very secure "wired" network. Or if they do not they are headed for misery.  All guest/wireless networks get cluttered with data occasionally and need to be rebooted.  If a business were running registers and credit card machines on a wireless network (which is not allowed with most card companies) their business would shut down every so often.  I try to remember to reboot mine weekly at home to avoid problems.

Wireless RouterTo reboot the Wi-Fi network you unplug the wireless router only from its power supply, wait for ten seconds to a minute, plug it back in and in another minute or two the Wi-Fi is restored.  This has worked 100% of the time for me in businesses. 

My wife and I visit a restaurant regularly and work with our computers while we are there.  One day there was no Wi-Fi which I mentioned to the owner as they walked by.  They said yes, your computer must be broken, our registers are working.  I explained wireless vs. wired.  It did not affect their opinion.  I told her my wife’s computer, my tablet and neither of our phones could get on it since it was down.  They then said you are at the wrong table.  Of course it did not matter to them that we sit at the exact same table and have for the past 3-4 years!  They walked to the back room and came back saying that their desktop was working fine.  Geesh, great restaurateur, but not a lick of techie…which is fine, but they would not listen.

So we continued on without being able to work.  The next week the same thing, I talked to one of the managers, explained again and asked if he could please go in the back unplug the wireless network, wait 30 seconds and re-plug it to get the guest Wi-Fi working?  They said no since their registers would go down along with their credit card machines and they could not process their bills-WRONG!  This was a college aged person; I thought they were born knowing this stuff.  They said they would do it after they closed for the night.

We made our last trek (and my final for a long while if it was still down) to the place yesterday, the network was back up and all is well…but did they learn anything?  Nope, I really doubt it.

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