Here’s a trick to defeat hackers and movie restrictions

What does watching a movie in Costa Rica restricted to viewing in the United States and accessing the Internet securely at a WiFi hotspot like McDonald’s have in common? Give up?

The answer is a VPN. A virtual private network, commonly known as a VPN for short, is easy to set up to watch movies geo-restricted to the United States on Netflix, Hulu, HBO GO, iTunes and the list goes on. It is also the best way to connect to the Web when in a public place to get a secure Internet connection. It’s secure enough to check bank balances and even make online transfers.

Why is this important? Public hot spots are not safe. They are open networks that do not encrypt data. Passwords, email messages, and other information can be visible to hackers using snooping tools. Anyone can snoop or sniff on a WiFi connection using snoop-sticks. These USB dongles simply plug into a computer and monitor wireless traffic. Unencrypted traffic includes passwords and sensitive personal data.

Yes, this is scary. When using the Internet in a public place, anyone around can be watching and gathering information. An expat traveling abroad recently accessed his Charles Schwab account from a hotel lobby. The next day, Schwab was calling him asking why he was transferring $200,000 out of his account. It was not him doing the transferring, but a hacker with online and password information obtained by reading his online activity in the lobby.

VPN technology is interesting and very technical. It employs sophisticated encryption to insure security. There is more information at Wikipedia for the curious. The important thing for expats is that is very easy to obtain, cheap, and easy to install on most devices, including computers, phones, tablets, and the like.

One service used by many expats is StrongVPN. There are many other services available, but StrongVPN excels with its automated setups and 24/7 live support.

An expat leaving for Holland last Thursday purchased and installed StrongVPN on this Macbook Air and iPhone. However, he had some minor problems. He connected to the online support line and workers there assisted him in getting his service up and running for his trip. Yes, the VPN can be used and, more importantly, accessed almost anywhere in the world, including China.

VPN connections are special because they encrypt data on the device of origin and tunnel it to another device where it is put back into normal Internet traffic. This is transparent to the user, and it is safe and secure.

Now it is time for the fun part! Since VPNs transfer by burrowing a connection over the Internet, the exit point can be in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, or almost anywhere. For expats, it’s great to have the VPN’s home in the United States because by doing so, they can watch geo-restricted movies.

Geo-restricted means content sites restrict data to different markets because they want to control pricing. In other words, what one get on Costa Rica Netflix is not the same as what one gets on United States Netflix. Some channels like HBO GO will not work at all in this country. VPNs fix most of the inconveniences.

Is it illegal to use a VPN to watch geo-restricted movies or other content in Costa Rica or other parts of the world? Just because media companies use Internet connection protocols to filter content, this does not make it illegal to use a VPN. There must be a law making it a criminal offense to use these services and there is no such law here. There probably is no law anywhere regarding this use.

One can access these services using the computer, phone, tablet, or other device directly. However, if an expat wants to use the service throughout their home or business, a wireless router must be converted to use an open VPN. To do so requires more knowledge and usually the assistance of a professional.

There it is. An easy way for expats to watch the programs they love from Costa Rica – or from anywhere for that matter – without much hassle. Moreover, the same system, at no extra cost, can secure their connection when they are away from their home or work network.

Now, here is one more recommendation. It is never a good idea to keep login information and passwords in text files on a computer or written on little pieces of paper. There is an Internet solution to the problem used by some technological conscious expats. Lastpass is a secure Internet service that manages login information anywhere and on almost any device.The basic service is 100 percent free.

There are many passwords managers. Some have been around a very long time. Lastpass is unique. Many people do not believe it is secure, especially, older security conscious expats. Learning more about it can calm ones doubts. Security Now reviewed Lastpass with its highest recommendation.

It is now time for that cappuccino at the cybercafé where one can get some Internet work done without worrying about the snooping. With a strong VPN and a password manager, there are no worries. On the other hand, it may be time to watch the new movie on Netflix or iTunes that is restricted to the United States. No problem.

Garland M. Baker is a 42-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community. Reach him at Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Find the collection at, a complimentary reprint is available at the end of each article. Copyright 2013. Use without permission prohibited.

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