Regardless of your internet usage, it’s highly advisable to keep online security in mind. In an era when most people think viruses are a thing of the past and data breaches are the new norm, it can seem like there’s simply not much you can do about it. While data breaches are often an external occurrence, there is one cost-effective way to handle the aspects of online security you can control. It’s called a VPN (or virtual private network) and it’s a sophisticated tool to make sure your internet usage is not only protected from hackers, but also from the prying eyes of the government, your internet service provider (ISP), and annoying ad networks that seem impossible to opt out of. It’s also the perfect solution for using public WiFi connections safely.
Online rights activists believe your internet usage is private information just like medical records. There’s a law (HIPAA) to protect your medical records, they argue, so why not other aspects of personal privacy and data? The time of sweeping online privacy legislation may be far off, but for now, finding a reputable, affordable VPN service is your best bet.
VPN 101: The Basics
Let’s keep it simple. Normally when you connect to the internet, you begin by connecting to your ISP, which then redirects you to whatever website you want to visit. In the process, all your data, sent and received, runs through the ISP’s servers, creating a log of everything you do online. Not only will they hand it over to government agencies, but they may sell it to advertisers or even readily share it with various third parties.
With a VPN, this process is in your control and yours alone. Your data becomes private. When activated, your data passes through a remote server configured to remain private before passing to your ISP. All the data you received (anything you download, the sites you visit, etc.) and all the data you sent in your session is encrypted and rendered unreadable. Often VPNs don’t even store a log of your data, so this is a foolproof way to protect yourself online.
Why Use a VPN?
With many internet security topics and technologies, there’s room for abuse of this security. Many bad actors and cyber criminals engaging in illicit activity on the Dark Web have made it easy to paint VPNs in a negative light. If you happen to side with data privacy advocates, you likely have the opposite impression. The fact is, VPNs are highly versatile and cover many purposes all aligned with simply protecting you when you go online.
Makes Public WiFi Safe
Public WiFi is notorious for hackers and data theft. Anytime you connect to a public network, password protected or not, it’s possible for cybercriminals to tap into that data and use it for nefarious purposes. If your laptop or mobile device has a VPN client installed, you’re making public WiFi secure and obscuring your data from theft.
Secures Your Browsing
As mentioned above, a VPN protects your browsing and web history. Here’s a more technical explanation. VPNs create a tunnel by authenticating your device and connecting it to the VPN’s server, of which there are thousands globally, then running encryption over it. This provides end-to-end security, wrapping your data packets in encryption during transfer and decrypting it afterward. One way of looking at it is that each time you connect to the internet, it treats you as a unique but anonymous user each time.
Defeats Online Advertising
Ad tracking doesn’t work once you use a VPN and many clients provide ad blocking on top of this. No need to opt out of ad tracking, deal with pop-ups, or have your search data monetized.
Defends Your Online Finances
While banking institutions are remarkably tough on a digital security standpoint, banking on unsecured networks can be risky, especially now that all of our mobile devices are packed with credit cards through Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Our devices hold all kinds of privileged information and having it breached because of weak networks is avoidable with a VPN.
Offers Access to Global Web Content
VPN clients offer locations all over the world. They allow you to connect to any remote server and that tricks your ISP into thinking you’re elsewhere. If you connect to a server in Germany, your internet thinks you’re actually there. This means that you can access content you might not otherwise have access to, like that new streaming movie that isn’t available in the US until next fall. This applies to most content and streaming video and audio services.
Protects Dissidents and Journalists
In troubled times and regions, journalists, bloggers, and dissidents often pay the price for printing or seeking the truth. Journalists commonly rely on VPNs to get the facts out anonymously to avoid any kind of oppression or retribution. Dissidents use VPNs to break government censors and jump state security apparatuses.
A Final Word
If any of this resonates with you, it’s because internet freedom and data security are extremely valid and useful to all people. It makes sense that your personal data be treated as what it is—personal. While we’re not recommending a specific VPN provider, there are dozens of options. Choose wisely and be sure to get one with a no-log policy and a kill switch. Just a little added protection on top of an already awesome, affordable solution.