Private internet connection as part of anti-virus software
November 5, 2016 12:11 AM   Subscribe

The latest version of my anti-virus software includes a new "Phantom VPN" function, which, when active, creates a "private connection" to a "virtual location in the USA." When active, it lists a "% used" statistic determined by a ratio of KB to MB. For example, right now it tells me I'm using "0%", or "219.38kb KB of 500MB Secured Traffic" I would like to know: A) In terms of security, what does a private/Phantom VPN connection accomplish, and is it worth using every time I connect to the internet? B) What does "% used" have to do with functionality? Is the percent KB/MB something I need to pay attention to? Thanks
posted by BadgerDoctor to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(A) It doesn't add much in terms of security. VPNs can be helpful for routing around network damage or concealing your identity.

(B) It sounds like a free-trial service that will start charging you if you go over the limit.
posted by Phssthpok at 1:20 AM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

VPNs for beginners is a good primer on the benefits of VPNs. Mainly privacy not security.

In terms of virus/malware prevention a VPN isn't going to do much at all. With a VPN you are using the VPN Provider's internet connection to access the internet instead of your own. But your computer is still getting to the internet and anything you download/run is still going to be on your machine.

500MB is rather limited for a VPN service. If you plan on using this service you would want to monitor your usage and find out what happens when you hit the cap. Are the overage charges? Does the service just cutoff?

You'd likely be better off using a dedicated VPN service rather than an anti-virus add-on.
posted by zinon at 1:57 AM on November 5, 2016

The main reason to use a VPN service is when you need to use an untrusted network. For example, if you're working on a laptop in a coffee shop's unsecured wi-fi, anyone else in wireless range can fairly easily read any unencrypted network traffic you send and receive, and more sophisticated & motivated attackers can do a variety of more nasty things. With a VPN, all your network traffic is encrypted and passed through the VPN server, so you can work safe from wi-fi spies.
posted by skymt at 8:27 AM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

... or view geographically restricted web content.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bear in mind that when you use a VPN service, all your traffic goes through it and is visible to whoever is hosting it. It's like your ISP, except that you have far less idea of who they are, far less legal redress if they abuse that, and no real way of checking. It's like you've taken your computer and plugged it into their data centre. Who's actually running them? It can be very hard to determine - check their web site and see if you can find the names of the principals or any solid background info - and certainly if I were a security service or an entity with an interest in monitoring internet traffic, I'd build and promote a cheap 'hide your identity and access cool stuff' VPN. It is the man in the middle, by design.

I use VPNs for various reasons, but I never use them to connect to services that require pesonal ID (my main email, banking, health, social media) and I only connect on a clean virtual machine with a clean browser that's never been used to log into any of those things, because the VPN provider has an excellent and intimate view of my system. The one exception is my self-hosted VPN service on my home router, which is what I use when I'm out and about on an untrusted wifi network. (Actually, me and a couple of pals share our home VPNs, but there's a great deal of personal trust in that.)

VPNs have their uses, but they also have risks. If you don't know who's running your VPN - and in your case, it may not be the people who make the AV software; they could have cut a deal with a third party - then take care.
posted by Devonian at 9:14 PM on November 5, 2016

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