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VPN’s and the involuntary Full Monty

While Gaz and Gerald make a series of decisions leading to their Full Monty in front of an audience of screaming, cheering women, most WiFi users do a Full Monty due to an absence of decisions. They simply don’t do much to cover their privates.

Full exposure with a data packet and a g-string

The data packets making up much of your online communication share some commonality with a g-string. It doesn’t take much work to see what’s there. A data packet is not encrypted, it is not secured, and it is easy to see where it is being sent from, the destination, and look at the payload.

If you are comfortable wearing just a g-string – that’s fine. But, most people are not and they wear a lot more than that – with reason. And what about your online affairs? To cover up your virtual privates, there are a range of options out there including browser VPNs, full-fledged VPNs, and anti-tracking helpers. They all have their uses – and their potential drawbacks.

 1. Browser VPNs are a start (as far as they go)

Browser VPNs help shield user privacy – as much as they are able to. Available as optional extensions to many browsers, they are easy to install. But, it is a variable question about what security they actually provide. Some provide a “proxy VPN” service that puts a forwarding notice on data packets to enable them to slip by some geo-restrictions but does not actually encrypt online activities. Another problem they have is that some packets will “leak” and get around the VPN tunnel. An administrator monitoring the network long enough will see one or two packets connecting to other services. Others provide more complete security. Browser VPNs are primarily used as a way to access geo-restricted sites and as a shield against spies (such as local network admins looking for users connecting to certain servers or checking IP addresses).

2. VPN – much more than a stuffy business acronym

Virtual Private Networks or VPN create a secure virtual tunnel between the users’ computer and the VPN provider’s remote server – wherever it may be. A VPN can hide or encrypt traffic within a local network, making them an essential app for conferences, hotels, untrusted/hostile networks and even the workplace – as they can enable happy Facebook surfing during working hours! Depending on the remote servers’ location, users can be virtually anywhere – freeing up geo-restricted content.

3. Anti-tracking helpers

Someone is watching wherever you go on the internet– and usually more than just one. Avira researchers recently counted more than 20 on a single web page of a German publisher. While most trackers are not malicious – do you actually want the data brokers to know so much about you? Two anti-tracking options consider are Avira Browser Security(ABS) and Privacy Badger.

ABS helps block trackers as well as keeping users from accidentally downloading something nasty. It is backed by a blacklist of suspect and malicious URLs that Avira has collected as it protects users about the globe. In addition to activating the DNT (Do not track) header in the browser, it also kills trackers before they are loaded.

Privacy Badger identifies trackers by their activities, the company they keep, and incorporates user feedback into its blocking activities. It also helps users disable the tracking functionality in Twitter and Facebook buttons and stops canvas fingerprinting. Privacy Badger is based on a learning algorithm user-generated tool and has been developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Both ABS and Privacy Badger are fully incorporated into the Avira Scout Browser.

You can leave your hat on – and more

Privacy should be a matter of informed individual choice – and not by the visited site or someone just happening to be listening nearby. Making the choice starts when you realize how exposed you are already. “No one said anything to me about the Full Monty,” says one character in the film. But if he was online, he should have realized that he was already fully exposed.

It’s your choice. You can get much better coverage than just a hat. Are you in or are you out?

This post is also available in: FrenchItalian

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.