From what I'm reading, it looks like you want a secure proxy rather than
a VPN, per se.  SSH can be used to provide that functionality very
simply:

  http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/security/?p=408

That explains how to use SSH for remote proxy service with Firefox, but
it's simple enough to do the same thing with Pidgin for IMs and a number
of other applications.  Would that solve the problems you want solved?

Hmm, this may just work. I never thought of using an SSH remote proxy before. I'll definitely look into it and see if that does the job for me. Thanks.
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