Will using a VPN help protect me from malware or ransomware? [Ask ZDNet]

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VPNs are labor intensive and can take a huge toll on your network bandwidth. Therefore, you should only use them when you need them.

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Welcome to a new episode of Ask ZDNetwhere we tackle the questions that even Google can’t solve.


In the mailbox this week: why should I consider a VPN?

Security and privacy are closely related, but they are not the same. Understanding the difference is essential to understanding what a VPN does and doesn’t do.

The basic concept behind a VPN is simple: software running on your PC encrypts every bit of network traffic before it reaches your PC’s network adapter, then sends that encrypted data to a remote server managed by the VPN service. That remote server sends the data to the public internet. The encrypted “tunnel” between your device and the VPN server makes the network both virtual and private† Many corporate networks only allow remote connections through a VPN. Still, you can also buy consumer-grade VPN software to connect to untrusted networks, such as those at airports and coffee shops.

The advantage of this type of network is twofold. First, it prevents someone on your local network from spying on your internet traffic. That’s especially important if you’re using a Wi-Fi network that’s out of your control.

Second, you can hide your location, which prevents some types of tracking and also allows you to bypass geo-restrictions on some services. If you’re in Europe and want to watch a movie that is limited to the US, you may be able to fool the streaming service by connecting to a VPN in the US.

VPNs are labor intensive and can take a huge toll on your network bandwidth. Therefore, you should only use them when you need them.

When I’m at an airport or hotel, I prefer to connect my cell phone to my laptop (or bring a device with a built-in cellular connection) to avoid the risks of that untrusted network. But if the mobile signal is weak or unavailable and I have no choice but to connect to that public wifi, I use the paid Fast VPN service from NameCheap. My colleague Jason Perlow uses ExpressVPN

“It’s compatible with OpenVPN, an open source VPN protocol,” he says, “meaning I can use it with all the devices I own — iOS, Android, Windows, even my network firewall.”

Whichever option you choose, nothing in that virtual private network looks for threats to your PC. For that kind of protection, you need security software specifically designed to detect malicious software and dangerous connections.

Also: The best antivirus software and apps

Send your questions to [email protected]† Due to the high volume of submissions, we cannot guarantee a personalized response, but we do promise to read each letter and respond here to those we think our readers will find important. Be sure to include a working email address in case we have follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for any other purpose.

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