The internet is a dangerous place. You never know who’s watching you. If you’re in a coffee shop using the public Wi-Fi router there, you’re wide open… to hackers, Google, your internet provider or the person sitting next to you. A VPN (virtual private network) acts like a curtain on your room. They’re mostly open with daylight streaming in, but it’s nice sometimes being able to close them, when you need the privacy – or are simply and justifiably worried about unwarranted hackers and pranksters.
VPNs have become a popular tool today. Once the domain of businesses seeking security and privacy, today it’s all too easy for hackers to infiltrate all of your devices, read your traffic or maliciously insert bugs, phishing efforts or other malware. When private matters are involved like health, finance and personal communications, a VPN can be the best and cheapest method of maintaining your peace of mind and security. By turning it on first before browsing, you’re far better protected.
Here’s a great explanation provided by Personal Technology columnist David Pierce of how a VPN works in simple terms:
“A VPN creates a ‘tunnel’ between your computer and the service you’re connecting to, using its software to make your connection direct and private. Once this tunnel is established, a VPN encrypts all of the data it sends to you and receives from you through the tunnel. Even if hackers decide to snoop on your data, they wouldn’t see anything they’d understand.
“Because your VPN provider is actually accessing the internet for you, the sites you visit won’t receive accurate identifying data like your location or IP address.”
You may be in California, but if your VPN provider is in New Jersey, your IP address jumps from California to New Jersey, and you’re not likely to be found.
While using a VPN does not excuse otherwise practicing safe computing, like strong passwords and multifactor authentication, it does add a whole new level of internet safety. Common sense ought to take care of most of the rest (e.g., not using your credit card on shady sites, that sort of thing…)
There are a number of inexpensive VPNs available to any user today. They typically charge between $3 and $12 a month. Most claim to store no data, though they may actually store a little, and often not directly attributable to you personally. Some names suggested by Mr. Pierce include the Hotspot Shield Elite from Anchor Free; Private Internet Access from London Trust Media; NordVPN; and Freedome VPN from F-Secure. Many of these are part of a broader suite of security products that may include a password manager or other useful tools.
Today, according to a survey by Wombat Security, about two-thirds of users use a VPN on a corporate and/or personal device. The rest either don’t use one, or (about 20%) don’t know what it is. That last group might want to read up as VPNs today work on phones, tablets and PCs all across the spectrum. And their added measure of security just might make them rest easier.