« Sunday Support Group: On Hard Work and Consistency | Main | Random Snap: Days of Spring »

Monday, 26 April 2021


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

VPN is basically a way to route your network traffic through some other company. There could be many reasons for doing, most of them either hide the destination of your traffic to your ISP, or they hide the source of your IP to your destination.

In the former, your ISP will only see the IPs of your VPN provider so they can't tell what sites you visited. You may want to do this for privacy reasons, to get around blocking your ISP is doing, or to do nefarious things.

In the latter, it could be again for privacy reasons, to access content that's blocked to your ISP or geolocation (websites can tell roughly where you're logging in from based on your IP, and you see this in Youtube where you may get a message saying you can't see this video in your country).

Another benefit is that they encrypt traffic. So if you're on an open wifi with a VPN turned on, your website traffic can't be eavesdropped by someone connected to the same wifi hotspot.

VPNs are a way to create a "tunnel" of internet traffic between you and another place. This is often used by companies to allow a secure connection into their network to employees that are remote.

In the context that they are offering to you, however, VPNs are a way to make your internet traffic look like it is coming from somewhere else. They basically set up points around the globe that you can VPN to, and have your traffic tunneled to there. This is very helpful if you are very concerned about maintaining your privacy; most websites keep a log of where visitors are coming from, and some people like hiding that information.

This is also particularly common with people that download movies and the like, to hide their original address to prevent a copyright strike notice.

It's also useful if you want to watch streaming media that isn't licensed in your country; if you can make your traffic look like it is coming from the UK, for example, you can see all the streaming media that is allowed in that country, but not the US.

I am unsure it is useful for your needs.

Simply, it's encrypts all of your internet traffic, including your IP address and DNS requests, both of which are being used these days to track you for advertising and other reasons. Do you *need* it? No. Do you *want* it? Depends on how paranoid you are about your ISP (the company that provides your internet service) and others snooping on you.
It does slow down your internet connection, since everything is now going through a single point. How significant the slowdown is depends on the VPN, and there are various sites out there that routinely test VPN's for performance.

The most common VPN use cases:

- Working securely remotely for an employer or client. Not relevant to you! And in any case, the employer/client would almost certainly provide their own VPN - you couldn't choose a commercial offering.

- Facilitating intellectual property theft*

- Spoofing your IP location to evade publisher geoblocking, such as pretending you're based in the UK to watch snooker on the BBC.**

- Being a privacy fundamentalist who believes that nobody should under any circumstances be able to track or monitor your internet activity. This looks like the use case for that Mozilla offering, tbh.

Data privacy advocates would disagree, but honestly, for 99% of us, a VPN isn't necessary.

* Using a VPN is not essential to commit IP theft such as torrenting movies/music/software etc, but it means you're a lot less likely to be caught.

** Using a VPN to evade geoblocking is an ongoing game of whack-a-mole. Unsurprisingly, publishers are keen to identify VPN end-point IPs and block them. So the VPN that lets you watch snooker on the BBC today, might not work tomorrow...

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It is a way of hiding who your are and where you are from sites you visit and theoretically also from anyone who is trying to track your internet activity. It is also a way of getting to sites that are restricted where you live.For example if you are want to see a site in another country that is blocked by the country you live in. A VPN makes it appear that you are in the country that your inquiry is routed through.

You don't need to pay for a VPN. The Opera browser offers one for free. It probably isn't the level of privacy that some paid VPNs are but combined with using a private window, Chrome calls it going incognito, it will erase your tracks and any cookies as soon as you sign out.

1. "If you get an unsolicited offer from someone, the other is the one, who has a problem, not you!" This is a maxim, I have to remember every once in a while myself.
2. A VPN (virtual private network) is a secure channel say from your smartphone to your server at home through untrusted networks. E.g. it is used right now by all companies (like mine) to enable us teleworkers to securely access the company intranet from our homes.
That said, it would be a necessity for people who have such a setup (like an owncloud server at home) and want to access it from their smartphone from anywhere in the world.
If you had such a setup, you probably were able to set up a VPN yourself for free (there os OSS to do this) and you wouldn't have asked ... see #1

VPN is thing which tunnels your internet connection from your computer to somewhere else in such a way that the content of that tunnel can't be (easily) read. 'Somewhere else' is a computer or computers owned (rented) by the VPN provider.

End result of this is that your internet traffic appears to come from their computer on casual inspection, and your ISP or people who can get your ISP's logs can't easily know what you are doing.

So VPN makes it harder for people to know what you do on the internet and also (if the endpoint is in another country) may allow you to access things which are geographically restricted like music videos etc.

Some people must use VPN because are being chased by bad people. Other people use them just to be more private. Some people use them just to show off (they are pretending bad people are after them). Many (perhaps most) use them because they want to do things which are either criminal or may be so. Buying illegal drugs looking at illegal pornography these sorts of things.

How useful a VPN is, if you need one at all, depends on how easy it is to subvert the VPN provider: the VPN provider can keep logs and can in principle probably decrypt your traffic in flight. So if you need to use a VPN you want one where the VPN provider is based in a country which makes this very hard to do, which does not keep logs, and which can be very sure its endpoints are not compromised.

I do not know if Mozilla's is good in this way but Mozilla are at least competent usually.

I use one very often because I have friends who are perhaps POIs in the country where I was born and whose houses I sometimes stay in. I don't use Mozilla's though.

I can't say if you need one: I would suspect not? But then Mozilla do need money to stay alive and it matters that they do not die. But you could just donate money to them.

Mike, can't speak to the Mozilla because I use Chrome and Safari but a VPN is a virtual private network. We were advised to get one before we traveled to China. I chose not to and could not get my google email or anything on Facebook. Apparently if you have your own personal VPN you can access all of those sites without having the government censors looking at your email and social media. This was in 2019 before the shutdown. Things did not improve from that standpoint until we went to Hong Kong where everything was open. Sadly apparently it is not the case today in Hong Kong. Just for the record China was a wonderful and interesting place, just not free. Eric

My understanding is that VPN stands for 'virtual private network' and is useful mostly for encrypting your web browsing and routing it through a server so outside observers can't tell you're checking out porn sites.

Or so I've been told.

VPNs: used to secure communications between a computer and a server, by encrypting them with a key that the computers know but no-one else does; hence, no-one else can read the communications. Mainly, therefore, used when those communications cross the public internet, esp. by Wi-Fi. My wife, who is employed but works from home in the IT industry, uses a VPN permanently when working so she can access her employer’s secure network, customer sites/networks, etc.

They tend to be little used by others (with one big exception), although they should be whenever Wi-Fi is used for communications that should be secure, e.g. financial stuff (I use mine whenever I’m doing on-line banking) or personal stuff; I mean really ‘personal’ stuff. But if your computer is cabled to the internet, and if what you’re browsing/creating has no real intrinsic value, there’s an argument that says it may well not be worth it.

The ‘big exception’ concerns access to streaming services. These tend to have different content available in different markets, e.g. Netflix in the UK does not have anything like all of what Netflix in the US has, because of content licensing issues. However, with a VPN I can connect to one of my VPN supplier’s servers in the US and then hop to Netflix, and the connection ought to look, to Netflix, like it’s US-based, so Netflix will therefore give me otherwise-unavailable US content. Except often it doesn’t work; the streaming services are pretty wise to this.

TL;DR: if you’re constantly performing financial operations via Wi-Fi, then it would be a very good idea; if you’re mainly posting blog articles,, comments and replies to such, and watching snooker, and if your computer is cabled (e.g. Ethernet to your router), not so much perhaps.

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network, which can be used to improve the security and privacy of your internet traffic — mostly it makes you anonymous to the websites you visit.

Mozilla VPN is a legitimate one (there are some shady things pretending to be VPNs that in fact just harvest your data and re-sell it).

I can’t tell you if it’s worth $60 a year or not to you. It mostly depends how much you’re concerned about your privacy online.

And here you have one of the benefits (?) of the Internet. As opposed to that situation where the more people are witnessing an emergency the less likely that one of them will help, the internet gives you the "problem" where lots of people will supply similar help! However, if you read all these replies it will good educationally, as repetition helps retention. I used to use a VPN in China because it helped my get through the Great Firewall, but I don't use one now.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPNs can be used with both computers and smart phones.

VPNs are used to hide your actual location from people trying to track you. When you use a VPN people don't see you IP address, they see an IP address located on a proxy server.

Privacy is a very BIG deal with some people. Open the App Store on your Mac and search for VPN. There are lots of them. My guess is that the Android store has just as many.

Air America was covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency from 1950 to 1976. I wonder how many VPNs are covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency today. Can you say war on terror?

The Mozilla VPN is legit enough, but probably not particularly useful to you. The major use-cases are protecting your connection when you're operating away from home (public WIFI points in airports, cafes, etc.), and accessing geographically-locked media services (some VPN providers advertise having servers in lots of countries and letting you choose where to be for each connection). Oh, plus hiding what you're doing from your ISP, either to protect yourself from their selling your behavioral info, or if you're into illegal downloads.

Firefox is still one of the reasonable choices IMHO; it's the one I'm still using, even.

VPN very well defined above. I like to think of it as a PO Box, which effectively "hides" your true geographic location. Security/privacy is the principal reason for using one. I have for many years, both to do remote work, and to access clients' networks and computers.

I've used Mozilla and Firefox for years, mainly out of a hard-nosed preference to avoid giving up information I don't have to, either to Microsoft (Explorer, Edge), or to Google (Chrome). I'll continue to do so.

The downside I've found to Mozilla's VPN is that each time you start up, you need to do an additional step to start up the VPN. Maybe they've fixed that one liability since a year ago?

I just have seen this a couple of days ago, pretty apt explanation, especially with respect to "why would I need one": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVDQEoe6ZWY

I know you are not a fan of video, but maybe you can stand 7 minutes or so...

Since we're slightly off topic, I'm a bit disappointed that you're not writing about snooker. With the WC going on right now, that would be the last thing I want to read about.

Mike, serendipitously (?), in today's NYTimes is an article which may lead to useful answers and help you decide whether or not to get into a VPN.

That article is titled "To Be Tracked or Not? Apple Is Now Giving Us the Choice" and can be found at (in case the stories gone by the time you get there):


That led me to a few other pages, not sure the exact route, and specifically to the page which might be the most helpful in case you decide not to go with a VPN:


I've been using the combination of uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger for a couple of years now, along with Firefox's built-in privacy controls, and that seems to work for me, and plus I disable uBlock Origin for worthy sites.

Another page worth looking at is "How to Protect Your Digital Privacy" at


I looked into the Mozilla VPN and decided against it, but YM-will-V, I'm sure.

On Twitter we call it Lazy Twitter, as in “Lazy Twitter, what’s a VPN and why would I want one?”

And then a bunch of knowledgeable people get to practice being helpful and generous. It’s nice.

Maybe Lazy Web, in your case, this not being Twitter.

Unless you are (a) trying to hide where you are based or (b) logging into the internet through networks you don't control (e.g. public libraries, hotel rooms, airport lounges, etc.), I wouldn't bother.

When travelling domestically in Oz, I mostly use 4gx or 5g internet rather than wi fi, which is (way) more expensive but far more convenient than a VPN. But I almost always use a VPN when travelling overseas- there are many services that will let you subscribe for a month at time, it just costs a bit extra.

And never, never, never, ever, ever, ever plug your computer/device into an unknown USB port, even if you just want power, unless your USB plug is limited to power only and incapable of transmitting data (or carry a USB 'condom' and plug in through that).

I provide 'at-elbow' tech support for my 89 year old mother, who lives in another state.

She's an early adopter and wants to try everything - primarily because she believes marketing bumf.

For me, it's exhausting and terrifying, every time she calls with a tech related query. Mostly because she calls me 'after' she has already installed or changed what she promised to stop installing or changing [SOUND_OF_PERSON_RIPPING_OUT_THEIR_HAIR] aaaaargh!!

Like a four year old behind the controls of an F35 fighter jet, she has no idea what havoc can be wrought.

My point? Good question. Here's what I'll tell you, because it's the only advice that my mother actually finally accepted. "If you don't know what something is, then you don't need it."

You already posted yesterday that you're happy. Don't mess with happy. Or VPNs. Now, who I do send the Invoice to, Mike?

Mozilla itself I think is worth using as it has some nice tricks. I was offered the VPN as well this morning and ignored it. From what I understand Mozilla is a non-profit so they are likely trying to stay in the black and offer what is probably a decent VPN. This is like Apple coming out with its own version of Tile, except not as bad.

Correcting one error in the generally good info above. Incognito mode (Chrome) and Private Browsing (Firefox) are NOT VPNs. All that they do is prevent information about your browsing session (including, but not limited to cookies) from being stored locally on your computer, perhaps to be accessed by that or another site later.

To restate, Incognito mode relates (generally) to what is stored locally; a VPN changes the type (encrypted) and location (i.e. apparent IP) of your data transmission.

Hi Mike, as a general comment on choosing Firefox as a browser, I imagine it was for privacy reasons, or maybe compatibility with other web-based apps you use (really just guessing here).
Firefox is still a reasonable browser, in terms of giving you some control over privacy when randomly trawling websites - if you set it up to do so.
There are sites that explain how to configure Firefox, and the add-ins /plugins etc that can enhance privacy whilst browsing.
As the saying goes - if you don’t value your digital identity and privacy, someone else will. The real Wild West is now in harvesting and selling data. Hence EU is trying to bring some legal reforms into that space.
But online privacy can be a rabbit hole in its own right too. Basically, you have a choice - using the internet with high convenience generally means low privacy, and vice versa - the more controls you put in place to protect privacy, the more inconvenient it becomes to use the internet.

If you live in a country of no freedom (hk start to block websites and china basically block all) vpn is a way to bypass country. USA is not that bad. One less reason.

You like to see Your Name in Japanese and you want to download Japanese book, vpn helps you to pretend you live there to get their local services. But many services like Netflix detect it and refuse. In particular Uk bbc is very good in that. But that is one of the function. Not sure whether you want to do this kind of things.

You want to hide who you are. But vpn is only one step. Many steps needed. However for downloading illegal software and p, many servers actually ask you to that. Do not tell me you do that even if you do. Just don’t tell. And that is another reason for vpn.

If you have to do nit use free one as they might be spyware. I use NordVPN and others as I live in Hong Kong. Search around.

Btw no idea of Mozart vpn but I know why you use Firefox. It is a version forked from Mozart to slim it down. Mozart has a lot other software bundled in one stage. Someone just do not like it and cut everything except browser, it run faster. Not sure how it goes these days. I just use safari in Apple. (Google chrome is one of slow and fat software. But ... well ...)

I fairly often (including right now on NHS Hospital public WiFi, but also at home) use Cloudfare’s free which is sometimes, confusingly call “Warp” and sometimes described as a VPN, which I’m fairly sure it is not, on either Mac, iPad or phone.

My use case is similar but not the same as those given above for VPNs. I sometimes find sites are blocked at home (a recent example was the Linux Mint site) but are available using At present I am finding the BBC News website (to which I have legitimate access) blocked by the NHS WiFi but accessible via !

I have no idea why these sites are blocked, other browsers (Safari, Firefox, Chrome etc) suffer the same fate.

Recommend you watch "This Video Is Sponsored By VPN" by Tom Scott on YouTube.


All you need is common sense and a little research to stay up on the latest in data security. It’s really not that onerous to protect your privacy even though many companies believe their quarterly profits trump all your privacy concerns. The links provided in some of the other comments provide good basic information and in one it states that here in the U.S. if you trust the VPN company (?), a VPN in handy for using public Wi-Fi or limiting your ISP’s access to your data. You may pay your ISP for access but that doesn’t mean they don’t want more, of everything. I haven’t researched how my ISP collects and stores my data but I imagine if they held a large storehouse of data it would be a tempting and possibly easy target for the real professional cybercriminals out there. I don’t use a VPN but I do block ads (malvertising) and trackers and pay close attention to which websites use encryption.

Here in the U.S. it’s the norm for most big tech companies to say that you don’t own your personal information. If you disagree with that sentiment and take a few basic steps to protect yourself you can find some peace of mind when traversing the web. You will never be able to out maneuver the really professional cybercriminals but then they don’t generally have cause to target small fry like us and it feels good to take the basic steps necessary to limit the casual corporate theft of your personal data. It pays to remember the adage that says when you encounter a free product online it’s actually just a lure…it’s you and your data that are the product.

We spent this evening trying to clean the rear end of a long-haired cat with a digestive problem. Ever tried to dunk cat into a sink filled with warm soapy water? It isn't easy... So we feel your pain.

re: "Firefox, which I've used for years...without having any idea whether that is a good idea."

Short Answer: yes, it is still a good idea.

Long answer: In the late 1990's, it was common to see little tags on websites saying things like "better viewed with Netscape 4". All the major browsers have gotten a lot better in this regard -- they all format just about every website the same way. A lot of old advice about browsers is obsolete. Today, the biggest difference between Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome is that Mozilla is worried about your privacy on the web, but Google wants to track your every movement on the web to sell you to advertisers who are Google's true customers.

If you want to try another browser, Safari would be a good choice. It is privacy respecting. It's already installed on your Mac.

I have no opinion on modern Microsoft browsers -- I haven't used them.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007