Many people don’t know what a VPN, or virtual private network, is. As fate would have it, those that don’t know what a VPN is are tragically the ones that need it the most. Predator psychology dictates the baseline data point which is inarguable: criminal hackers are predominantly opportunistic, as opposed to conducting targeting hacking. This opportunistic approach provides a higher yield of desired results, due to a wider net of uninformed and/or underprotected end-users. Worse yet, these opportunistic criminal hackers have doubled-down efforts on misleading less tech-savvy computer users, and introduced VPNs that include malware or backdoors, negating the entire point of a VPN.
One needs only to look to the dozens of viruses that have made headlines over the past decade. While several major, well-publicized hacks on corporations and government have taken place over the past decade, far more frequently we hear about the latest digital affliction attacking broader targets. These broader targets have been low-hanging fruit for criminal hackers, and the importance of implementing a low-cost, easily-managed security measure can not be conveyed enough.
Whenever you browse the internet, your device (computer, phone, etc) exchanges information with other computers and servers. This data is most typically exchanged in a matter that reveals what is called your IP address. An IP address is an address unique to your present internet connection. For instance, if you are at home, your IP address is the address through your modem: subsequently, exposing any computers on your network. Out in public? That Starbucks you’re logged in at, with dozens of other people internet browsing, has a well-established IP.
The veil of security many computers have lies in a false sentiment of security provided by the ‘protection’ we all typically have- perhaps a passive default firewall on your router, or Windows Defender. Yet, as often as these firewalls or native security applications are updated, hackers update their methods. This contest between security providers and criminal hackers has been a game of cat-and-mouse for over two decades, and isn’t going to end soon.
What does a VPN do? Put as simply as possible, a VPN’s goal is to hide your IP address by serving as an encrypted relay between your computer and the internet. Sites you visit (or servers you exchange data with) will see the VPN’s IP address instead, which could show an IP address residing halfway around the world if you’d like it to. Utilizing a VPN, therefore, can not only protect your electronics: but a VPN is also a countermeasure to physical threats as well, since IP addresses can reveal physical addresses with devastating consequences. A major misconception regarding VPNs is that only criminals need to hide their location while utilizing the internet, which is far-removed from the truth: hiding or spoofing your location is a critical security measure, both for cyber and physical security, in your business and personal life.
There is good news: there are many well-established VPN services, and many are extremely affordable. As stated above, a free VPN is typically done for a tradeoff- often a tradeoff in a security risk, and subsequently, counterproductive. However, considering many VPN services cost under $40 per month, and many half that, it’s a substantially smaller investment for security than other countermeasures you’re likely already taking. Best yet, many of these VPN services offer free trials, so you can see which software fits your needs, and which speeds will work for you contingent with the VPN services server locations.
The importance of VPNs will only continue to grow with time. As more devices are created which connect to the internet, hackers target those devices. Any device that connects to the internet should be connected through a VPN, and many VPN service providers offer packages with implementations for both computer and mobile device use. Some VPN software providers offer packages that can be installed, in either a hardware or software methodology, for your router- protecting even your smart watch or smart home devices, and subsequently, all of your devices.
Far gone are the days where, if you got hacked, the most you’d likely be worried about is inconvenience over not using your computer optimally (or at all.) In modern times, we store sensitive work information or financial data on our internet-connected devices, so the effects of a hack can be life changing in the worst of ways.
There are other perks, too, of using a VPN. While, statistically, you’re likely not reading this from a country with an oppressive regime which censors the internet and monitors their citizens, VPNs still see a high use-case from this demographic. By using a VPN even in your safer, first-world environment, you’re doing a little bit of global social good: since many of these VPNs are lifelines to those not as fortunate as you.
Some public networks, especially those at schools and businesses, restrict access to certain websites. While utilizing a VPN may be frowned upon, or even against the rules of your employer/school/public wifi provider, the odds of getting caught are minimal- especially if you utilize a VPN service with numerous servers. Whether you want to watch Netflix at work, browse social media at school, or use Facebook in Iran, a VPN allows all of these things to be enabled for you.
There are very few downsides to using a VPN- the only one you may experience is a decrease in speed, which is often negligible, if not entirely unnoticed, if utilizing a more local VPN server and a good VPN service provider. With the extreme importance of all of the security benefits of using a VPN, it’s simply foolish not to be protecting yourself with a VPN.