Tech Q&A

Question: My antivirus software provider suggested that I also use the firm’s “virtual private network” (VPN) service. What is a VPN, and do you think it’s valuable to have one? — D.E., St. Paul, Minn.

Answer: A virtual private network is essentially a private tunnel between your computer and the internet. It makes you more anonymous online, safer on public Wi-Fi and able to access some foreign entertainment websites that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

A VPN works by rerouting your Web browsing through the VPN provider’s online server. This arrangement conceals your computer’s IP (internet protocol) address from the websites you visit, which keeps your identity and location a secret. It also encrypts the data that travels between you and the website. Even your internet service provider can’t see what you’re doing.

But all that might not make your computer secure. A VPN won’t prevent your computer from being hacked (although it could make hacking a bit harder.) It also won’t prevent your online activities from being traced back to you (the VPN provider knows who you are.) In addition, a VPN could slow down your internet speed (a delay is caused by encrypting and decrypting the data at either end of the VPN connection.)

So, do you need a VPN? No. Unlike antivirus software, a VPN is just a nice thing to have, not a necessity. That said, here are some benefits of having a VPN:

  • It protects you from being tracked online by a website or an internet service provider — either of which might later sell some of your Web browsing information to advertisers. As a result, it’s likely that less of the advertising you receive will be based on your recent internet activity.
  • If you use one of the not-very-secure public Wi-Fi hotspots found in schools, libraries, coffee shops and airports, a VPN’s encryption will prevent nearby hackers from seeing your data.
  • You can stream video from another country (which you might otherwise be blocked from viewing.) For example, a streaming service in Canada or the United Kingdom might offer video that’s not available in the U.S. Because VPN providers maintain servers in other countries, you could use a server in Canada or the United Kingdom to access streaming content that’s available only in that country (see

Question: I’m trying to set up Wi-Fi printing. But when I try to “add” my Canon printer to my HP PC (that runs the Linux Mint 19.1 operating system), I get the message “CUPS server error.” When I try to print anyway, I’m told that the printer is “rejecting jobs.” What can I do? — R.P., Golden Valley, Minn.

Answer: Your Linux PC should be able to wirelessly print to your Canon printer. But the error messages suggest that the two devices haven’t been set up correctly.

Based on the error message, you probably tried to “add” the printer via a Linux website that uses software called CUPS (Common Unix Printing System.) There are two problems with this method: The online software might not be able to identify your printer. In addition, the setup won’t work unless your PC is accessed with a password.

I suggest you try another printer set-up method: Use the Linux Mint “Application Menu” to add a Wi-Fi network printer from a list, or search your Wi-Fi network for the right printer. See “How to setup a wireless network printer in Linux Mint” at