- By Service
- By Location
- By Device
Let’s be frank: not only is the world not as we’d like it to be, it isn’t really even the way we think it is. It isn’t difficult to see where the gaps come from. All we have to do is study what we know of history. We in the 21st-century West want to believe (and partly do believe) that humankind is perfectible. That, by and large, people are well disposed towards others. That there is a general leaning towards equity, fairness and sharing. What does history tell us about that? It says we are dreaming. For as far back as we can read not just written records but records in the form of fossils and ruined cities, all the evidence says that humanity’s default position is to aspire to dominance and to achieve it by violence.
So, should we all just give up? Of course not. There is an improving tendency and you can see it. More murders were committed in the English West Midlands in the 1500s in one year than are committed today in the whole of the UK in four years. Even though the population has increased astronomically. That’s progress. Isn’t it? There’s more sharing. People are perhaps less tribal, at least in the West, than once they were; you can see that just from the number of people prepared not just to allow migrants from foreign parts into their towns but to make friends with them and support them with jobs and human welfare payments. So things are getting better.
But there’s still some way to go, and one of the ways that distance makes itself visible is in the amount of malfeasance that goes on the Internet. People send offers of riches that don’t exist in an attempt to get others to divulge passwords and bank account details so that the senders can rob them. Phone calls claim that the caller works for Microsoft and wants to help with some non-existent fault on the receiver’s computer. Why? So that they can trick the person they’re calling into entering into the computer keystrokes that will allow the caller to take control of the computer and strip it of vital personal information. Copyright is routinely ignored, and the intellectual property of honest, hard-working people is stolen. Websites (not all of them by any means, but it happens) take the personal details and IP addresses that they have solemnly promised to keep private and secure and sell them to anyone prepared to pay. Insurance companies track travelers who don’t know they are being tracked and sell them travel insurance policies they don’t need that contain small print meaning that, should anything happen to the traveler, the insurance company will be legally able to avoid coughing up.
And then there’s all the industrial activity. Straightforward spying – there really isn’t any other word. One company sinks a great deal into developing a new product and another company – aided, in certain countries, by its government – sinks its claws into files that the inventing company thought it was keeping private and steals the secret of how to make the new product. Or the terms that have been offered to a large and desirable customer. Or the package paid to a key employee who, if lured away, could put the company losing him or her at an impossible disadvantage.
Nor are governments left out. If there is a trade or peace deal to be done, one side will be at a huge advantage if it has access to the other side’s discussions and position as recorded on secret memoranda.
As if all that were not enough, there’s the question of your ISP. ISP stands for Internet service provider and you have one – because, if you didn’t, you couldn’t be reading this. We all want to believe that our ISP is our friend. That it’s on our side. That it is devoted to keeping our data safe and not letting anyone see what we wouldn’t want them to see. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to interest you in. In the first place, the ISP may have no choice. The government of the country in which it is domiciled may have laws that make it impossible for an ISP to refuse to hand over data. Those same laws may make it an offence to tell you that your data has been surrendered in this way. And then it has to be accepted that some ISPs – probably not many, but there are some – aren’t very honest. That one of the reasons they were set up in the first place was to steal your data. To note the websites, you visit and the things you search for and sell that information to advertisers. In the worst possible case, they may even want your passwords for your online banking. It doesn’t have to be the ISP itself – the next hacker to maneuver his or her way into employment by an ISP in order to steal from users will not be the first.
In short, while the world may be improving, there is still some way to go, there are a great many dishonest people in the world nurturing a great many nefarious schemes and any person who wants a peaceful life or any company that wants to survive and prosper needs as a matter of course to do everything in their power to protect themselves. But how? Malware checkers are fine – in fact, they are essential. You can surround yourself or your company with a firewall, and that – as long as it’s properly executed – will keep out amateur snoopers. Unfortunately, it isn’t the amateurs you need to worry about. Some of the people spying on you are likely to be government bodies. Some are companies. They may even include the people who made your computer. Some are lone hackers (and among their number are some of the most skilled opponents you’re ever likely to meet). Many of those lone hackers think of what they’re doing as a game and bankrupting whoever they are hacking as the big win – the supreme achievement. It isn’t a game for the people whose lives they destroy. So, yes. Things are slowly getting better. But the threats are getting worse because those planning them are becoming more skilled. You need to defend yourself and your family. You need a VPN.
That’s a big statement. What is this VPN you need? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and what it does is to keep your private assets private and your emails and web surfing a secret.
How does it do that? The secret lies in IP addresses. IP stands for Internet Protocol, and every single device on the Internet has an IP address of its own. It has to; without an IP address, the Internet can’t find you and you can’t find anyone else. You can’t send an email to someone who doesn’t have an IP address, because the Internet doesn’t know where to deliver it. You can’t receive an email without an IP address, for the same reason.
So, your IP address is vital. You can’t operate without it. It’s also, though, your Achilles’ heel because your IP address identifies you and the people it identifies you to will sometimes be people you would rather did not know who you were – or, sometimes more importantly, where you were. Because preventing espionage is not the only reason to use a VPN.
There are times when you want your computer to seem to be in a country that is not the country it is actually in. The reason may be as simple as wanting to be able to watch a movie that is available for streaming in some countries, but not in the one you happen to be in. It can be a little more stressful than that – Saudi Arabia, for example, is only one of a great many countries that ban certain websites. They may be websites that you regard as perfectly innocent and that you visit frequently, but you’ve just arrived in Riyadh on business, you’re scheduled to spend five days there, you need to consult a website and as things stand you won’t be able to look at it until you’re somewhere else. And if the somewhere else is, say, (as it often will be for people on business in the Middle East) Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt, you still won’t be able to look at it when you get there because, by and large, all of those countries tend to ban the same sort of websites. (They may also be websites that you don’t regard as innocent and that you would not want those close to you to know that you ever looked at. That’s your business. It isn’t ours and, with great respect to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it isn’t theirs). In either case, what you need to do is to relocate your smart phone, android device, tablet or laptop in another country.
Obviously, when we say relocate your device in another country, we don’t mean physically doing so. You’re still in Saudi Arabia and you need your laptop and your phone with you. But, if you have downloaded a VPN app onto the device, you can instruct it to connect you (securely and secretly – you don’t want the authorities in KSA to know what you’re doing) to a VPN server in another country, one that doesn’t ban the website you want to look at. If you’re doing this so that you can stream a movie that’s available in China but not where you are, there’s no harm in accessing a VPN server in China, but it’s probably not a good idea to do that if you’re looking for something commercial, because Chinese hackers will be all over you like a rash and they’ll be planning to steal your commercial and industrial secrets with the warm approval and encouragement of the Chinese government.
We may be getting ahead of ourselves here, but that last sentence spurs us to mention split tunneling. If the VPN provider you’re thinking of doesn’t provide split tunneling, find a different provider. What split tunneling lets you do is to instruct your VPN app to send and receive some data through VPN (that’s the stuff you want to keep secret) and the rest in the normal way (that’s the stuff you don’t mind anyone seeing. In that way, you give the impression that you are going about your online business openly – even though you’re also doing other things the watchers can’t see.
A company almost always has some employees who are on the move – salespeople, engineers and designers who need to spend time with customers in another city and, sometimes, another country. There’s also an increasing trend towards people working at home. They all need access to files and applications on the company’s servers, but they are away from the building. The choice is either to let them access company files openly through the Internet, which exposes data to interception by hackers, or to set up a Company VPN. What this does is to extend the company’s network virtually so that access by users on another continent is as secure as access by users sitting in the company data center. Once again, split tunneling makes it possible to divide their operation so that anything to do with work goes to the Company VPN and everything else does not.
It would be nice if every web browser provided exactly the same level of ease of use and provided the same functions as every other browser. But, of course, that is never going to happen because what would be the point of introducing a browser that resembles other browsers already in use? Why would anyone use it? And so, people have personal choices for the browser they use. But it isn’t even as simple as that, because the fact is that some apps will upload data to and download data from one browser but not another. And even the largest browsers aren’t suitable for communicating with every single app. And so choosing a VPN is not simply a matter of price and function – it’s also a question of: Which VPN will most happily work together with a particular browser? We could ask that question of a great many browsers; in this post, we are looking at finding the best VPN for the Google Chrome browser.
The first thing to remember is that VPNs configured as browser extensions are not full VPNs. They protect what happens on your browser, but not elsewhere and they only do that when invoked. Let’s say you want to screen a Netflix video that is available in the USA but not where you are. Use the VPN extension to relocate yourself to a server somewhere in America and watch the video. It’s as simple as that. But if, while you’re doing it, you another browser, what you do not browser will not be hidden. So, what you should really be looking for is a VPN app that includes a Chrome extension – it’s a full-featured VPN, but it’s also been configured to provide complete protection on Chrome.
The number of VPN providers around the world is in the hundreds. Some (naturally) are better than others. You can buy on price (though we would not recommend that you make that your first criterion). You can buy on functionality. You can buy on the number of servers, the number of devices you can run the VPN app on, the presence or absence of split tunneling, or the location of the VPN provider (if you can work that out – it isn’t always as clear as their website may suggest it is). And when you’ve been through all of those markers of VPN desirability, you then need to think about which will be the most suitable if the browser you use most is Chrome. Here’s what we think:
It’s fast, it’s reliable, it has servers in 160 locations in 94 countries and you can attach up to five devices. It’s probably as good as anything on the market it what you are looking for is a VPN Chrome extension. It’s fast – which, if you’re intending to stream movies, is essential – but the same goes for all of the apps listed here.
This is a low-cost extension that does what it tells you it does, and does it very well. Setup is easy and so is operation.
While the non-expert can use this, it also has features that the techie will appreciate. Run the Chrome extension on its own, or run the whole app.
Fast, easily set up and excellent support from a team laid-back as only Californians can be.