Q: Long time reader, first time emailer.

In a recent column you made the following statement: “The safest thing to do is to use a virtual private network, which encrypts ALL traffic between you and all websites.”

VPN encryption may not have the reach that you are stating. A VPN can only encrypt the transmission between the client and the service provider. The communication between the VPN service provider and the destination of the transmission is likely to be unencrypted.

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If the VPN service provider has an agreement with the destination it will be encrypted, but it is unlikely that Facebook or any other large web presence is establishing these VPN connections, primarily because they would not be able to provide the throughput necessary for the expected traffic to their sites through a VPN.

VPNs are perfect for protecting people on public Wi-Fi from the other folks that are on that Wi-Fi. But they do not provide end-to-end encryption.

— Morey

A: You’re absolutely right. Using a VPN does two things. First, it encrypts the transmissions between your computer and the VPN’s servers. Secondly, it masks your IP address.

The transmissions between the VPN server and the third-party site are not encrypted unless the third-party site supports that.


So yes, there is still some exposure. But it is only with respect to the actual content of your message if it is intercepted between the VPN server and the third-party site. Unless you provide identifying information in the message it can’t be tracked back to you.

The bottom line: Be aware of where you are and what you’re transmitting. If you’re using public Wi-Fi for virtually anything, I recommend using a VPN. Many sensitive sites — such as banks — don’t, however, allow connections over a VPN. So in such cases I recommend not making such connections over public Wi-Fi.


Q: I read about the free Windows 10 upgrade. I am interested in doing the free upgrade, but I have questions about how it will affect all the other programs.

— R.H.

A: Unfortunately, there isn’t a master list of Windows 10-compatible software. That said, virtually all programs that ran under Windows 7 will run under Windows 10. If you want to be sure about compatibility before you install Windows 10, however, you’ll need to go to the software manufacturer’s site. Make sure you have the version number of each software package you’re using.

If you install Windows 10 and have problems with a program you can run Microsoft’s compatibility troubleshooter. More information is available here: st.news/compatible

Q: On your recommendation, I downloaded the free Malwarebytes software and have appreciated it. They keep asking me to update to their premium (paid) service. My question is whether the premium edition is worth it.

— Nancy Winder, Seattle

A: That’s a judgment call. The free version of Malwarebyte’s Anti-malware will scan your computer to detect and remove malware. The Premium version runs all the time to block malware before it infects your computer. The premium version also includes protection against viruses, ransomware attacks, and risky websites.