Why you need a VPN to secure your data

Many IT professionals recommend that you use a VPN when you are connected to the internet through a public internet connection but what does it actually do?
VPN, which is short for Virtual Private Network, connects your PC, cell phone or tablet to another server. By connecting to that server you are able to use that server’s internet connection to browse the web. In addition, the VPN encrypts your data then sends it through a data tunnel to that server which makes your data unreadable to any hacker who is eavesdropping.

There are two main uses for VPN technology today. The first and original purpose is to allow remote workers secure and private access to company data. A client software of some kind is installed on the employee’s home or mobile computer and an encrypted session is created between that client and the firewall at the office. Any traffic sent between the workstation and the office is scrambled or ‘encrypted’ so that no third party observer can read or understand the content. It also is a way to let only the remote worker connect to company files without letting unauthorized people access it.

The second and newer use for VPN is to protect users web surfing habits from view. The websites users visit, their shopping habits and other private information is constantly being tracked by interested third parties like big tech companies and governments both foreign and domestic. Every Internet connection has a unique number called an ‘IP address’ that identifies it much like an address identifies a house or apartment. The IP address of your connection can be used to identify you indirectly and tie your different web surfing tasks into a single ID. A VPN can be used to shield the end user from this kind of spying by routing their traffic over VPNs to other points on the internet. Each connection point in the VPN provider has it’s own IP address that is shared amongst many users. It makes is nearly impossible to determine who is going where. It also protects the content of what you are accessing by encrypting it between your computer and the VPN service.
So what are the benefits of using a VPN?

– Your data is encrypted. Anything you send through a VPN is encrypted so no one can see what was transmitted.

– Your browsing history is hidden. Anything you search for or sites you go to are hidden from your local ISP.

– Prevents websites from seeing your IP address. Websites are able to see your computer’s unique IP address which helps them send targeted ads. These potentially embarrassing ads can pop up on your computer as well as anyone else using your internet connection.

– Bypass censorship. If you are using an internet connection that filters content you can use a VPN to get around that. You need to be careful though because in some countries VPNs are illegal because they want to retain their right to censor you.

– Allows you to access streaming services like Netflix in other countries. Did you know the content of Netflix varies from country to country? So if you are vacationing in Italy and log into your Netflix account you will only see movies that are allowed to be streamed there. Using a VPN can help bypass this.

One common question that is asked is “Does a VPN make me anonymous online?” The short answer is “No”. There are always identifiable markers that someone could trace back to you. The only way to be completely anonymous online is to not go online. Using a VPN does however protect your data from snooping as it travels between two points. If the other point is shared by many people then it can confuse anyone trying to track you specifically. It also cannot protect you from what you willingly post online to your social media accounts or willingly disclose online in any public forum. You still need to use some common sense to protect your privacy.

VPNs are a must have when you use any kind of public WiFi connection like a coffee shop or shared office space. This is because it is easy to watch what another person is doing online if you are sharing the same internet connection. You also you have no way of knowing who owns that WiFi connection. Even though you may be at a cafe and use their WiFi named “Guest” there may be another connection named “Cafe” which could be a potential cyberspy looking to view and exploit your data.

Should you use one at home? It depends if you want online privacy. Without a VPN, ISPs, corporations and government agencies can track you easily.

So what VPN is right for you? There are a lot of various VPN companies out there and it all depends on your budget, what operating systems you have and how many devices will be logged on at once. There are free services but those always come at a cost such as less reliability or not being secure.