Recently, Opera, the web browser developed by Opera Software announced that it would add a free VPN service to its latest version. This press release created a flood of questions about online privacy, VPNs and proxy servers.
What? You actually work for a living and are raising 3 kids who play sports, are on a dance team and twice a week you need to drive them to tuba practice? No worries. We got your back!
WHAT ARE VPNs
VPNs, or virtual private networks, provide an added level of security when you’re surfing the web using one of the top browsers. For example: If you’re using a Mac, iPhone or iPad you are probably using the default browser called Safari.
If you’re using an Android device you’re probably using Chrome.
Windows laptops and desktops generally use Explorer or its newest iteration named Edge.
And still others might be using Mozilla’s Firefox or Amazon’s Silk.
All have the ability to some extent to provide surfing privacy
Safari, Firefox and Amazon’s Silk privacy features are called, PRIVATE BROWSING
In Google Chrome it’s called Incognito.
Explorer/Edge refers to this feature as InPrivate Browsing.
Opera not-so creatively refers to theirs as Private Tab / Private Window.
In essence, each attempt to provide some level of privacy from advertisers and others interested in knowing your browsing information.
But hey! You don’t want anyone sniffing around your digital world without a search warrant unless they’re also carrying a gift card to Starbucks. What are your options? The answer very well might be the use of a VPN or perhaps a proxy server.
OK, TELL ME MORE ABOUT VPNs
There are hundreds of VPNs from which to select. Some are free. Some charge a subscription fee. However, for this conversation, we’ll address some of your free options.
As we mentioned, if you adopt the Opera browser on your laptop or desktop, you’ll have a free VPN service. This allows you to surf the web without too much concern from snoopers. You can also access the foreign versions of services such as Netflix. However, this same technology also allows your child to circumvent some of the controls you’ve place on your network.
For now, the service will only work on a laptop or desktop. However, future versions will be available for mobile devices.
Firefox offers the Hola, or Hola Unblocker as a free VPN service. However, I’ve often had issues when adding certain plugins on Firefox. Although Firefox supposedly checks each plugin that they offer, I have not found them NOT to be without issues.
Google’s Chrome allows Hola and other VPN services such as BetterNet. BetterNet is considered a quality service with an excellent reputation. free VPN plug-in called.
Both Hola and BetterNet are available for mobile devices as well.
Most VPNs provide a number of great features, such as:
- Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is the protection they provide when using public WiFi hotspots. These hotspots are often used by hackers searching for private data. VPNs can minimize the chance of a hacker accessing your personal information.
- Hiding an IP addresses by masking a user’s IP address with a virtual IP address. The result? It makes it more difficult for the sites you visit to track you.
- Unblocking firewalls and websites. In this case, the VPN allows users to bypass blocked sites by circumventing the network. This has been a huge issue for school networks
In essence, VPNs helps to maintain your private communication by hiding your digital sessions from the criminal elements. Or if you’re a criminal, it can hide your activity from law-enforcement.
VPNs are the equivalent to placing a small hose inside a larger hose. Both hoses are streaming water in the same direction, across the same property. However, the smaller stream is shielded from mixing with the other data.
In the case of your VPN protected data, it is not easily viewed by others on the same network.
However, don’t be fooled into a false sense of security when using VPNs or proxy servers. GOLD FROG wrote an excellent article a year or so ago when they did a detailed analysis of such strategies. Any of these approaches should be used only as a safe-guard against your private information being stolen. However, no system is perfect. No system is impenetrable from someone that really knows what they doing.
NOW WHAT THE HECK IS A PROXY SERVER?
Chances are, if your child uses a tablet or device on a school network, they are intimately familiar with proxy servers. Proxy servers are used to evade school networks so that students can legitimately access great training videos on YouTube, or in some cases porn on other sites. A proxy server hands off a request to an authorized website by using another site’s URL or address.
In such a case, the school or businesses’ network filters are fooled into thinking that the requested website is acceptable. The network then delivers the unacceptable (but requested) web content to the user.
Recently, the online site, TRICK SEEK published a list of the top proxy servers available. It’s an interesting read that will give you an insight into how easy it can be to hide your identity or online activity.
When dealing with your kids, the best protection against them visiting inappropriate website is by simply talking with them about your concerns. Building trust between a parent and a child is sometimes a forgotten art. However, most students with whom I’ve spoken want that conversation. Moreover, they want to build that trust.
However, I also have spoken to many parents that regardless of the strategies they take, their child has attempted to undermine every strategy. In those cases, please consider the parental controls and router strategies that we posted recently.
OPERA: THE ITALIAN WORD FOR “WORK”
We started this discussion with news about the Opera browser. Interestingly, the “art” that we know as Opera is considered the fusion of music, drama, visual arts, and dance. It’s also the Italian word for “work” and has a 400 year history in western civilization. It truly was an evolution in the world of the arts.
In the world of network technology, we too are seeing the evolution of “digital technology” as the 2016 world of mobile apps collides with the 1995 world of websites. Somewhere in between will be a new world for parents to master. For now, you’re armed with what many of your kids already know.
It’s difficult to digest and manage this change of technology. Or, as the Italians might say. It’s Opera.