Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Discovering a VPN...

Posted 2/02/16 (Tue)

Have you ever heard of a VPN? Some people know it forward and back and others, like myself, have just discovered what it is and how it works.

VPN is an acronym for virtual private network and it is used with Internet connections. It has a a lot of applications, but there is one that piqued my interest and thought I’d write about it because it almost seems too good to be true.

That means it must be illegal, right? Maybe.

Well, here’s what I found out and how this thing works.

Let’s say you want to watch British or Canadian TV programs on your computer. If you go to the website from where you want to watch the program, find the icon and click it, you’ll get a message saying this content is not available outside the U.K. or Canada.

When you find that icon, grouped with a lot of them, it will give you that message. But here’s the strange part of the Canadian network CBC.

A show called the “National,” is a nightly news program that isn’t blocked from U.S. viewers, but all other content is off limits to Americans.

Likewise in England. The BBC news is about the only program you can access on your computer without being blocked.

The VPN is a software program that you pay for, on a subscription basis, that allows you to link up anonymously to a computer server that is in England or Canada.

It fools the network into thinking you are in one of those countries.

For instance, if I’m physically in Kenmare, I can link up to a computer server in Estevan anonymously and nobody would be the wiser because my true Internet protocol address is encrypted and the CBC would think that I’m sitting at a computer in Estevan.

Same with England. So if I want to watch programs like “The Nature of Things” on CBC or current episodes of “East Enders,” on British TV, I just find a server somewhere in England through that software program and link to it and the BBC will think I’m in England, instead of on the North Dakota prairie.

Apparently, the software is good for many countries including Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, France and others.

So, if there is a program that is streaming on demand, you’ll be able to watch it through this software called VPN.

Is it illegal? I don’t know. I haven’t researched it enough to answer that question. But Netflix is in the process of countering the VPN for Canadians who watch it.

The downside to this is I doubt you would be able to watch any live programs as they are broadcast over the air. But on demand, there is an endless array of programming.

And for a fee of $8 a month, you can watch just about any TV show you can imagine, for now.

I can only wonder what this could do to cable TV companies because nowadays the resolution on computer screens is fabulous and the bandwidth is much greater than it used to be, so watching a TV show or sporting event doesn’t have the buffering problems it did even two years ago.

Apparently, this service has been available about three years and has recently exploded in the United States because people are most concerned about government surveillance. Subsequently, VPNs are used to throw Internet advertisers off track and it’s a good way to disguise your position when you are using a wi-fi hotspot, such as in an airport.

As I write this, though, I can’t help but think terrorists are going to use this to their advantage because No. 1, you aren’t where you say you are and No. 2, the information passed is encrypted.

The terrorists who attacked Paris in November used encrypted telephone messages to carry out their attacks. It’s something the U.S. military has been doing for the past 30 years to keep the enemy from intercepting communications.

Let’s say I’m a terrorist plotting to blow up the Garrison Dam and I’m using one of these VPNs. I’m communicating with other terrorists to learn about bomb making using encryption. I’m also using a VPN from Beunos Aires.

So there is a double advantage there. Nobody can intercept the message and, as a bad guy, I’ve just thrown authorities off by 8,000 miles.

As much as I like to think that this is such a great tool for intercepting TV signals on the computer, I’m not sure it’s the right thing for society because of the potential problems it could create.

Here it is, good vs. evil in cyberspace.