What Is a VPN, and Why You Need One

What Is a VPN and How Does It Work?

Simply put, a VPN creates a virtual encrypted tunnel between you and a remote server operated by a VPN service. All your internet traffic is routed through this tunnel, so your data is secure from prying eyes. Best of all, your computer appears to have the IP address of the VPN server, masking your identity and location. When your data reaches the VPN server, it exits onto the public internet. If the site you’re heading to uses HTTPS to secure the connection, you’re still secure. But even if it was intercepted, it’s difficult to trace the data back to you, since it appears to be coming from the VPN server.

To understand the value of a VPN, it helps to think of some specific scenarios in which a VPN might be used. Consider the public Wi-Fi network, perhaps at a coffee shop or airport. Normally, you might connect without a second thought. But do you know who might be watching the traffic on that network? Can you even be sure the Wi-Fi network is legit, or might it operated by a thief who’s after your personal data? Think about the passwords, banking data, credit card numbers, and just plain private information that you transmit every time you go online.

For mobile devices, the situation is a little thornier. Most companies offer VPN apps for Android and iOS, which is great because we use these devices to connect to Wi-Fi all the time. However, VPNs don’t always play nice with cellular connections. That said, it takes some serious effort to intercept cellphone data, although law enforcement or intelligence agencies may have an easier time gaining access to this data, or metadata, through connections with mobile carriers or by using specialized equipment.

What a VPN Won’t Do

We should note that there are multiple ways your behavior can be tracked online—even with a VPN, things like cookies allow web services (Amazon, Google, Facebook, and so on) to track your internet usage even after you’ve left their sites (here’s a handy guide to pruning cookies on your browser.)

It’s worth noting that most VPN services are not philanthropic organizations that operate for the public good. While many are involved in progressive causes, they are all still for-profit organizations. That means that they have their own bills to pay, and they have to respond to subpoenas and warrants from law enforcement. They also have to abide by the laws of the country in which they officially reside.

Protect Yourself With a VPN

When the internet was first being pieced together, there wasn’t much thought given to security or privacy. At first it was just a bunch of shared computers at research institutions, and computing power so limited that any encryption could have made things extremely difficult. If anything, the focus was on openness, not defense.

Today, most of have multiple devices that connect to the web that are vastly more powerful than the top computers of the early days. But the internet hasn’t made a lot of fundamental improvements. Consider that it is only in the past few years that HTTPS has become widespread.

This means that, unfortunately, it is up to individuals to protect themselves. Antivirus apps and password managers go a long way toward keeping you safer, but a VPN is a uniquely powerful tool that you should definitely have in your personal security toolkit, especially in today’s connected world. Whether you opt for a free service or even go all-in with an encrypted router, having some way to encrypt your internet traffic is critically important.

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New Windows 10 build merges tablet, desktop experience

Apparently no one used the existing tablet UI.

Microsoft’s trying out a new “tablet” experience for two-in-ones that…looks a lot like today’s desktop interface.

As part of Windows 10 Insider build 18970 (20H1), Microsoft is testing out a new layout for undocked two-in-ones (and presumably tablets, too). The layout provides greater spacing between the various taskbar icons, and it collapses the search bar. A keyboard icon has also been added to the taskbar, to make it easier to enter text. The keyboard will activate automatically when you tap a text field, Microsoft said in a blog post.

Another new feature worth noting is a new Restore option for those privileged with high-speed Internet connections. Normally, when you restore a Windows PC, Windows 10 reloads Windows from a compressed, hidden partition.

A new “cloud download” option does away with this, and merely re-downloads a few gigabytes of Windows data from the cloud. You’ll now see an option to reset from the cloud, or reset locally. (The amount of data Windows will need to download will vary by device and OS, though it required just under 2.9GB in Microsoft’s example.)  Otherwise, the reset operation works normally.

The new build also continues to roll out the revamped Cortana experience Microsoft announced previously.

Learn more about Windows 10 with this read at PC World.

Need help with Windows 10 and other software installations? Give us a call 1300 883 831 to book an onsite visit for assistance today.

Best places to sell your used electronics in 2019

Do you have old gadgets collecting dust in a junk drawer? Turn them into extra cash.

How do you make a brand-new phone cheaper? Sell your old one.

With nearly every wireless carrier using device payment plans, you may not have as many old phones sitting in a drawer. But most trade-in programs now accept tablets, smartwatches, fitness trackers and other gadgets. 

To help with the cost of upgrading to the latest and greatest tech, take advantage of websites that offer you cold hard cash in exchange for selling your electronics. 

The prices offered with trade-in programs are usually a little lower than what you could sell electronics for by directly listing them on Craigslist or Swappa. But you don’t have to deal with the hassle of negotiating a price, paying for shipping or the fees some services charge. And you don’t have to cope with the even bigger hassle of going to a pawn shop or hosting a yard sale.

Read on this nifty little cnet article to see the best places to sell your used electronics and gadgets.

Did you know Local Computer Help also helps with PC Recycling? Give us a call on 1300 883 831 to organize a collection or bring it in and drop it off to us!

5 Clever Gmail Tricks

These hidden Gmail features can bring harmony to your inbox, and maybe your relationships, too.

Most people treat Gmail like a reliable old clunker that needs little if any regular maintenance. But what if you could tweak a few settings to supercharge your Gmail experience and turn your daily driver into the roadster of your dreams?

In the early days of email, users were limited to four basic gears: Check Mail, Compose, Save as Draft and Send. All that changed with the advent of browser-based webmail. By harnessing the power of Google software and services, Gmail packs some incredibly dynamic customization options just under the hood. 

If you’ve been using Gmail like it’s still the 1990s, it’s time to step into our time machine and learn how to hot-rod your Gmail with these five tips and tricks.

Read on with this great article by cnet and learn how to..

  • Unsend Gmail messages
  • Create unlimited aliases
  • Use filters more creatively
  • Send txts via Gmail
  • Log out remotely

Need help setting up any of the above or to get more out of your email? Give us a call on 1300 883 831 and we can help!

Best Gaming Laptops of 2019

While gaming laptops used to be niche enough that it was a little easily to search for the one that happened to be packing the best processor, GPU and RAM assortment, the field has exploded since then and it can be a little harder to determine the best gaming laptop.

The gaming laptop we’re used to seeing – thick chassis with RGB and tapered flares – isn’t the only option any more, with a variety of advancements (such as Nvidia’s Max-Q technology) allowing the sleeker ultrabook form factor to harbour some incredible grunt as well.

Regardless of if you’re in it for the stealthy, sleek numbers to slip in your satchel on the go, or an all-in-one replacement for a desktop rig, we’ve sifted through what’s on offer to bring you the best gaming laptops available in Australia.

Find out which gaming laptop was rated #1 with this great read from TechRadar.

New Tech: Samsung Galaxy A50 review

At this point, everyone is at least aware of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S phones like the Galaxy S10 and S10+, and its slightly less expensive sibling, the $1199 Galaxy S10e. However, as soon as you look beyond those for something even more affordable, Samsung’s portfolio gets messy real quick.

Between Samsung’s various budget and mid-range offerings, there are a dizzying number of phones that all kind of seem the same.

With the Galaxy A50, Samsung is clearing out the clutter and going after some of the best budget and mid-range handsets on the market. With a retail price of $499, the Galaxy A50 slots neatly between the $399 Moto G7 and the $649 Pixel 3a. It also incorporates a couple of features the other two don’t have, like dual rear cameras and an in-display fingerprint reader.

From the outside, the Galaxy A50 looks quite similar to the Moto G7. Both phones have selfie cams that sit on a central notch that dips into their screens, big, mostly bezel-less displays, and smooth rounded backs.

Read more about this review at Gizmodo.

New Tech: Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini is all about voice-control and expanding the Google system around your home. And on that front, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do.

The home smart speaker war is on. Some might say Amazon already won it, with its Alexa voice-assistant Echo range and third-party support in other respected brand speakers but Amazon has competition, predominantly from Google.

The original Google Home looked like a big air freshener and, arguably, took a more design-first approach than the original Amazon Echo. With Home’s inoffensive white matte plastic and swappable colour bases, it could fit in among all your home furnishing a lot better.

The Google Home Mini continues down Home’s path, offering a smaller model with a similar design approach and all the same features but how does this mini version stack up?

If you haven’t got a Google Home Mini in your house already you should read on with this review from Pocket Lint to consider grabbing one of these entry level technology items for your home.

Security: Avast Antivirus is powerful

You might expect that a free antivirus company would offer basic protection for free, but reserve advanced bonus features for the paid edition. However, in the real world, many of the most popular free antivirus tools pack full-scale protection along with a ton of extra features. Avast Free Antivirus gives you more than many competing commercial products. On top of excellent antivirus protection, it adds a network security scanner, a password manager, browser protection, and more. It’s an amazing collection of security features, considering that this product is free.

Avast acquired rival free antivirus company AVG in 2016. Fans of both companies can rest easy; there’s no plan to merge them into a single product. Both have many thousands of users worldwide, but each is strong in geographical areas where the other isn’t. And the underlying antivirus engine is exactly the same in Avast and AVG AntiVirus Free, as demonstrated in my tests and independent lab tests.

Local Computer Help recommends Avast Antivirus software to our customers. Our experience with Avast Antivirus has been highly positive providing great protection with the free and paid versions.

Continue to learn more about Avast Antivirus with this review from PC Mag.

Hardware: The best gaming monitor of 2019

Choose one of the best gaming monitors you can find to bring your gaming experience to the next level. After all, you need the best display to not just play the best PC games, but also take you places, immersing you in worlds and epic adventures you never thought were possible.

Before buying, you need to understand makes the best gaming monitors better for gaming. There are specs and features to consider, of course, but everything ultimately boils down to what you want and need to get out of it. The market is full of many different types of displays, and the best gaming monitor for you essentially hangs on the type of games you play.

Are you someone who wants to get immersed in your favorite single player games like Devil May Cry V or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice? You’ll want to look at the best gaming monitors with 4K Ultra HD and HDR. 

Are you all about the esports life and playing Overwatch? Get yourself one of the best gaming monitors with a high refresh rate and low response time.

With so many options and features to consider, finding the best gaming monitor can be tricky. But, we are here to help. We put together a list of all the best gaming monitors we’ve tested and reviewed over the last year or so, for you. So that no matter what kind of PC games you typically play, you’ll narrow that long list down to the best gaming monitors for your specific gaming needs.

Find out about the best gaming monitors in 2019 by reading more at TechRadar.