Some computer security programs don't work well together | It's Geek to Me

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Q: Hi Geek, I have a fairly new HP laptop with Windows 10. I use Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and use the VPN when I'm away from home. The company sent out an ad about new capability called anti-tracking and ad blocking. Just went into the settings and enabled them to see if they worked. When I activated the VPN, a notice popped up that said I had to disable Secure DNS in order to use those features. I'm not sure that's a good idea. What say ye? Thanks for all the good work.

Curtis R., Fort Walton Beach

Jeff Werner
Jeff Werner

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A: Hi back to you, Curtis. I like your question a lot, because you’ve thrown out some advanced concepts and terminology that gives me the opening to teach some things to the rest of my readers before answering your question. Hopefully that will give everybody a chance to learn.

First of all, let’s talk about the meaning of VPN. This is an acronym that stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a means to give you privacy, and a level of anonymity while online. It uses end-to-end encryption to virtually extend the private portion of your computer’s network across the public internet. This effectively masks everything about your connection, including your location and IP address. This makes your activity online virtually untraceable.

You’re wise to use a VPN while travelling, Curtis, because public Wi-Fi in hotels and other public places are rife with hackers waiting for an opportunity to steal information and passwords from you. But do you realize that they offer the same type of protection when you’re at home? You might feel safe behind your home network’s firewall, but you can still benefit from having your IP address anonymized, and all the data travelling over your internet connection encrypted.

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The anonymity of a VPN also allows you to access features that would otherwise be unavailable to you based on your location, such as certain Netflix libraries, and services available only in other countries. If they can’t determine your location, they can’t hardly block you now, can they?

I believe the Bitdefender product you’re asking about is called Anti-Tracker (“-er” and not “-ing”). I only mention that because if you do any Google searches for information, you want to be sure that you use correct search terms. Anti-Tracker is a web browser add-on that, per Bitdefender’s website, “will help you increase your online privacy and speed up the loading time of the websites you visit.” If differs from the VPN, which offers general anonymity of your entire internet connection. Then there’s Secure DNS. The latter half of that term is an acronym that stands for Domain Name Server. A DNS acts like a telephone book (for those of you who remember those old relics). It translates friendly site names (like “Google.com”) into their actual IP addresses. This is a necessary step for applications like web browsers to be able to communicate with websites. But this also provides opportunities for the bad guys. A hacker can intercept your DNS requests to monitor the sites you visit, or worse, can redirect your web browsing to sites of their own choosing. In other words, you can enter “Google.com” into your browser’s address bar but wind up on the hacker’s website. Having a service like Secure DNS reduces or eliminates those risks.

I tend to agree with you that if you’re going to invest money into additional layers of security, that one product should not negate the use of another. I could almost understand and accept this if the products were from different vendors, but from the same vendor? I needed to hear a comprehensive explanation of “why” before I could accept that.

So, I searched for one. The closest thing I found was a page that claims to apply to iOS (the Apple operating system that powers iPhones and iPads) and discusses VPN and Web Protection not playing well together. I’m short of space to discuss it, but you can read it for yourself at TinyURL.com/IGTM-0774. I ultimately came to the conclusion (wrong though it may be) that the real reason Anti-Tracker and Secure DNS can’t work together is that once you have Bitdefender blocking the ability to track you, the other service loses the ability to know which computer out of the millions on the internet that the service applies to. Rather than implement a hole in the service that hackers could exploit, they simply made them mutually exclusive.

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This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Some computer security programs don't work well together | Geek to Me