Privacy is becoming one of the most valued commodities in the information age. With companies tracking our every move online, our data is being sold and handled in ways beyond our control. Maintaining some sense of privacy online has pushed many people toward using Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs. Today we’ll discuss what VPNs are, what you should know about them, and how using one can improve your safety online.
What is a VPN?
All communication online goes through a network of computers and servers. When you connect to a website, your device sends and receives packets of data to/from that website’s server. The problem is that a third party can intercept these packets of data. Anyone from hackers to your ISP can monitor your data, intercept packets, and potentially compromise your online security. A VPN is a service that helps protect these packets of data by routing all of your traffic through a set of encrypted servers. That way, the data you send or receive from a website is completely protected.
Why would you need a VPN?
There are several reasons why a VPN or Virtual Private Network is a good thing to have. The very first thing that comes to mind is personal data security for people who frequently use public Wi-Fi networks.
This means students, people who use Wi-Fi at work, and similar users. The issue with public networks is that they’re usually neither safe nor moderated. A capable individual could connect to a public Wi-Fi network and use malicious software to intercept all kinds of personal data from devices connected to said network. Using a VPN protects you from this type of attack.
Another reason why you’d want to use a VPN is safety abroad. In some locations around the world, the government has complete control over the internet. So much so that some countries run active surveillance programs, monitoring almost all traffic that is coming in and out of their countries. Using a VPN service can mask your presence and allow you to visit websites that would otherwise be banned or blocked by the government.
What about VPNs for businesses?
Just as individuals require privacy protection online, so do businesses. In fact, businesses frequently find themselves on the wrong end of a cyberattack. Whether it is corporate espionage or a lone wolf looking to cash in on some data, companies, and corporations often require protection. The solution is a VPN service, but a slightly different one. VPN-concentrator is a type of VPN that allows multiple users to access a single location to retrieve data. Think of it as a VPN-protected central hub that is accessed using remote access privileges.
Denial of personal data collection
Private internet browsing information is a valuable asset in modern marketing. In most cases, the data is collected without one’s knowledge, making the whole issue complicated. Worst of all, the ones most responsible for this form of data collection are the ISPs.
Your logical internet service provider is collecting massive amounts of data about your internet activity. Although they won’t be exploiting your credit card information, they will gather data about sites you visit, how often, at what times, etc., and then sell that data to the highest bidder.
Companies purchasing this data often use it to profile users and come up with advanced marketing strategies. It’s all about product placement. That being said, using a VPN can protect you from this. Instead of connecting to a known node within your ISP’s network, the first place you connect using a VPN is your VPN’’s server. That’s as far as your ISP can track you.
The limits of VPN services
We’ve talked about the cool things a VPN will do for your privacy. However, a VPN isn’t a magical tool. In fact, you have to be careful who you’re entrusting with your internet traffic. The general rule of thumb is that nothing comes free. If something is free, you’re the product.
While there are legitimate free VPNs, most of the ones that are free to use will gather your data and sell it to the highest bidder. If you want to be safe from this type of intrusion of privacy, you’ll need to get a paid VPN that has a proven track record.
Even then, you’re not 100% anonymous. A VPN isn’t a be-all, end-all tool that will allow you to do illegal things online without facing the consequences. Most VPN providers will gladly cooperate with the authorities should they need to. There are numerous cases of VPNs not only handing over data about some of their users but handing over information that proves they’ve been collecting data from day one.
How to find the right VPN?
Finding the right VPN depends on what you’re looking for. Not all VPNs are created equal. For example, there are VPNs designed to offer access to region-locked content, such as different Netflix libraries. Then there are VPNs designed to optimize browsing speed etc.
Also, just because you’re using a paid VPN doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good one. You’ll definitely want to shop around for the best deal and a proven track record of privacy protection. Fortunately for everyone, there are many, many great VPN providers out there who will meet all of your needs. You just have to do your research and select the one that best fits your needs and your internet usage habits.
Is a VPN worth it?
Absolutely! If you successfully navigate the sometimes murky waters of VPN services, you’ll usually find a good provider who values your business and is actively working on keeping your information safe. Even though a concentrated, targeted attack would be hard to repel even with a VPN, you’ll be well protected against most of the more common attacks.
Why risk having someone intercept sensitive information such as your email credentials, credit card information, or other when you can stay anonymous using a VPN? The monthly subscription is a small price to pay, considering the risks that are eliminated.