Q: We have a Dell Desktop and a Microsoft Surface, both running Windows 10. The Windows Security components are active.
In addition, we have Norton Security Premium installed, at a fee of $124.95 per year. Norton is promoting the addition of Privacy Monitor Assistant, and Anti-Track. The Norton software interface indicates our “device is protected,” but our “browsing is at risk.” We also receive rather frequent pop-ups from Norton for add-ons, browser extensions, and the like.
Can you advise on the benefits of these expensive add-ons?
Also, you have addressed VPNs in a couple of your recent columns. We are still confused about in what circumstances a VPN is needed.
— Mark and Louise Soltow, Seattle
A: Total security, whether computer security or personal security, is virtually unattainable. So the question you raise is a common one: How much security do I really need and how much am I willing to pay for it?Read more from Patrick Marshall here >>
And yes, I suspect a lot of people are paying a lot more money than they need to because they’ve been frightened about online dangers.Advertising
Are there real dangers online? Yes. Ransomware can hold your data hostage until you pay the culprit. Yes, malicious websites can install malware on your computer. And yes, your privacy can be compromised in a variety of ways.
The Norton add-ons you mention fill some of the gaps in most security suites. Norton Privacy Monitor Assistant, for example, monitors common people-search sites to see if any information about you pops up and then helps you request to opt-out. It is part of Norton 360 with LifeLock suite.
Actually, there are two versions of Norton 360 with LifeLock — one for $69.99 for the first year and one for $299.98 for the first year. The latter offers such things as court records scanning and credit-card activity alerts.
Do you need all this? I don’t feel that I do.
The only security product I use besides the Windows Security that comes with Windows is Malwarebytes. I believe, though I’m not certain, that Malwarebytes provides a bit better protection against website-based malware.
And I also have installed free add-ons to my browsers that provide protection against tracking cookies that follow you on the internet. And I use Duck Duck Go as a search engine because, unlike most search engines, it doesn’t collect identifiable information about my searches.AdvertisingTech Tips and Reviews
Is it possible that I may regret not paying for and installing products that promise higher levels of protection? Of course, but in my personal judgment that’s very unlikely, especially if I use common sense in my online behavior. I don’t click on any links in email or websites unless I trust the source. I don’t visit suspect websites without doing a little online research.
And yes, I use a VPN when I’m working on public Wi-Fi, whether on my computer or smartphone. The VPN — or virtual private network — encrypts all transmissions between my device and sites so that even if a hacker on that network accesses my transmissions they won’t be able to make any sense of them.
I don’t use the VPN, which can affect performance, when I’m on my home network, but I make certain that access to my home network is protected with a strong WPA2 password. I also change the default name and password of my Wi-Fi router.
Q: I appreciated the recent Q&A about Google and birth dates. Since November, my LG Android cellphone (which I’ve had since 2017) started showing a message from Google with “Your date of birth is missing. This information is needed to comply with the law.” It comes about every four days and I have been swiping it away. It is very annoying. I don’t wish to give them my birth date. I have thought about giving them a fake one, but that would be dishonest.
With your response, I will no longer feel bad about not providing it to them, and will just continue to swipe it away; that is, unless you think I should not feel bad about providing a fake birth date.Advertising
— J. Boyles
A: OK, now you’ve broached a topic I personally find more interest than tech questions: ethical questions.
I find it ethical to enter a false date if it’s to get rid of nagging notifications and if there’s no other personal gain in it for me.
As I understand it, the law does require web companies to ask for users’ ages so that children under a certain age aren’t directed to inappropriate content. But there’s nothing I’m aware of in the law that requires users to provide that information.
Question for us all: Is it ethical for companies to say the law forces them to get your birth date if it doesn’t? Another question: Is information about your age being used for other purposes — such as marketing — by web companies? I’m not aware of any law that prevents them from doing so.Patrick Marshall: firstname.lastname@example.org;Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. More columns at st.news/marshallQA