So you’ve looked at all the reviews and decided on your make and model of replacement laptop or tablet. At a guess you’ll choose some sort of app that migrates all the data from your existing machine onto the new one, whether that’s via Apple’s seamless migration assistant or using Google Drive on a Chromebook.
Imagine for a moment that something went wrong, and all the data you had, that wasn’t backed up to the cloud, disappeared in an instant. All your contacts, appointments, documents, videos, music and photos. It sounds far-fetched, but that’s precisely what could happen if you don’t research and obtain the best free VPN (virtual private network) facility available. How so? Because if your shiny new laptop gets hacked while you’re online, it’s more common than you might think to fall victim to viruses such as ‘MongoLock’, that simply delete all your files, then they detect backups and delete those too. That’s all despite the cyber criminals who sent the virus to you demanding money for that process to be stopped.
A VPN can detect fraudulent and malicious activity on your device via a simple browser extension installation. You only need to download a tiny file and the VPN is up and running on your browser within moments.
An umbrella or several raincoats?
It is also possible to run a VPN on the router itself, so in theory all the devices linked to that router in the home or office are protected with an ‘umbrella’ VPN. The problem with that is that if the VPN detects any suspicious activity, it disconnects the router itself from the internet instantaneously. The result would be that all devices in the home or workplace disconnect simultaneously. This might well disrupt everyone’s workflow or online shopping trips – and perhaps cause needless arguments about who was to blame and who was visiting potentially questionable websites or undesirable content on social media!
Consequently, it’s much better to have each device protected by browser extensions, like a raincoat for each browser than an umbrella for the whole building. In fact, if you had a laptop using perhaps Edge, Chrome and Firefox, each browser can be protected by its own VPN extension. The advantage to this is that the device isn’t disconnected from the internet connection if malicious activity is detected, just the browser that is pointed to whatever current URL (Uniform Resource Locator) – in effect a web page or online service.
In that instance, if you were downloading a software update via Chrome and simultaneously watching adult movies on Firefox (private mode doesn’t make any difference to hackers and malware), then if the VPN on Firefox detected malware, it would close that connection but not disrupt and potentially truncate the Chrome update.
Cloud backups versus personal hard drives
To be absolutely sure of safeguarding your data there’s no substitute for an ‘air gap’. People who are obsessive about data integrity don’t even trust the Tech Giants’ backup services like iCloud, Azure, AWS and Google Drive. After all, those servers are, by definition, constantly connected to the internet. There are people who choose double-indemnity safeguards by using not one but two external hard drives and backing them up in strict routine order. Let’s look at a couple of advantages of this old-fashioned offline approach to data integrity:
Imagine the fictitious example of Chad, who runs a MacBook Pro 16” with all the bells and whistles. Chad lives in San Francisco. Naturally, he protects his device with a browser extension VPN on Safari and Chrome. Not only is this to prevent data throttling and activity logging from his internet service provider (ISP) but it also means he can circumvent geographic restrictions and access the BBC’s flagship UK streaming service iPlayer, by choosing a UK-based server on his VPN of choice.
Chad doesn’t trust any of the cloud backup services. He also thinks that the Covid-19 vaccination program was a plot by Bill Gates and the Lizard Illuminati to turn our blood into liquid SIM cards, but that’s another story!
Instead of cloud backup, Chad has not one but two identical external hard drives, clearly labelled 1 and 2 respectively, and keeps each one in a different location to the other and never in the same building as the MacBook which houses the primary hard drive. Chad performs one back up per week, and his routine goes like this:
Hard Drive 1, Sunday evening, 18:00, all files updated via Mac ‘Time Machine’ and copied via USB cable onto HD1. HD1 is then replaced in the hidden garage cupboard outside Chad’s home. The following Sunday at 18:00, HD2 comes out of its hidden lockable box under Chad’s shed floor, and likewise all new and edited files since the previous Sunday are backed up onto HD2. The following Sunday, the process is repeated at 18:00 hours on HD1. In this way, Chad is never more than 7 days away from a backup and has double redundancy. Even if Chad’s house is burgled and his MacBook stolen, his garage AND shed, some 200 feet apart, would need to be burned down on the same day for him to lose all his data.
It might seem obsessive, but it’s probably as secure as anyone could get, because at any point Chad’s data exists in three places, and neither of the two backups are accessible via the internet.
The downsides are that buying two external HDs is expensive, and unless Chad performs his backups every hour, he is at risk of losing any files he created or edited within the last seven days. But he can be sure that his data remains totally private.
Whether you trust the government, your ISP, your VPN provider and your laptop manufacturer is a matter of personal choice. Where Chad’s plan has a fatal flaw is that the next zombie apocalypse or WW3 will almost certainly involve worldwide power outages, then everyone’s laptops will be useless pieces of tin.
On that cheerful note, Chad would probably be best off using iCloud, a decent VPN and keeping his fingers crossed! Life’s too short to worry, so you might want to do something similar.
Kenny Trinh is a seasoned expert in the field of laptops and technology, boasting an extensive background enriched by years of hands-on experience and in-depth research. With a keen eye for innovation and a passion for staying ahead of the technological curve, Kenny has established himself as a trusted voice in the tech community. Holding a prestigious degree in Computer Science, he combines his academic insights with practical expertise to deliver valuable insights and recommendations to his readers and followers. Through his work, Kenny aims to demystify complex tech concepts, empowering individuals to make informed decisions and optimize their digital experiences.