Governments spy on citizens, websites track users all across the internet, ISPs sell user data for a profit, hackers attempt man in the middle attacks to get your information, when online shopping shoppers are price gouged based on their location, and large numbers of people are geoblocked from watching certain content just because of where they live. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Sadly it is all true and happens every day. It’s enough to make a person paranoid. It also impresses on all of us the importance of guarding our own privacy and security. One of the most powerful ways that you can do that is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
A VPN encrypts your data and masks your true location by hiding your IP address. To put it another way the information you are sending is encrypted so even if it is intercepted it wont be intelligible to the person trying to steal it and if someone tries to see your location they will be mislead to think you are somewhere else. How does all of this work? If you use a VPN your computer will connect with another computer on the internet. You will then use the other computers internet connection. All of the data that you send and receive goes through an encrypted tunnel. This is the reason that when you run a VPN it looks like you are at a different location than you actually are and your data is protected from hackers and other snoops.
Many times when you connect to free public WiFi you don’t know anything about who really runs the network or who may be watching the network traffic. This is a common tactic hackers will use to get your information. They use what is called a man in the middle attack. To put it simply they will set up a network and many times call it something that sounds believable enough that they think you will trust it. They will usually give it the name of a close by business. Then when you connect to the free WiFi they (as the man in the middle) will intercept your data. Your specific online activity will be hidden and data encrypted if you are using a VPN. This provides a great level of security.
We all know that corporations like Facebook sell your data to third parties. We also know that Google uses your data to target you with ads. Did you know that your internet service provider has tremendous insight into your online activities and can even sell anonymized data about you to others? A VPN Helps here as well through data encryption.
How about if you are traveling through a region that has a different language that you? That means the Google results and websites you visit may be in the local language which will make it harder for you to get the information that you are looking for. With a VPN you can connect to a server in a region that speaks your language. That way you shouldn’t have any trouble understanding what you are looking at.
Are there videos that you want to watch on Netflix or some other streaming service that aren’t available in your country? With a VPN you can connect to a server in a country in which they are available.
Are some websites that you want to visit blocked by your government? With a VPN you can connect to a server located in a country with a less oppressive government and go to the website that you want to visit. The VPN will further help protect your identity through encrypting the data. Please keep in mind that some governments are more tech savvy and well funded than others. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble so take every precaution and remember that there is no such thing as too careful.
Keep in mind that malware installed on your device can defeat a VPN. Also, authorities can try to match traffic patterns and compare your activity to that on the VPN server. All of this means that you still need to protect yourself from malware and be extra cautious in what you are doing online. Cookies will still be able to track your internet usage. In an upcoming post I will show you how to get cookies and third party tracking under control. If you are serious about anonymization and want to be as invisible as possible you will also want to use Tor. I will also go over Tor and using it with a VPN in a future post.
What Does a Vpn Do for You?
As you can see using a VPN carries many benefits. You are definitely more secure and anonymous with one than you are without. Here are some of the things using a VPN will do for you.
- Allow you to bypass geographic restrictions and censorship.
- Protects you from hackers that are trying to intercept your data.
- Increases your anonymity online.
- Allows you to download torrents without being flagged.
When making an online purchase or sending confidential information your credit card number, banking information, and data are encrypted.
- Protect your data and identity while using public WiFi.
- Stop websites from tracking you.
- Stop your ISP from selling your data.
- Get around ISP speed throttling.
- Download torrents without fear of harassment from your ISP or anyone else. I am not endorsing illegal downloads or piracy. This one is for informational purposes. Downloading copyrighted material from sketchy websites can be extremely risky and can easily lead to a malware infection.
Things You Still Need to Do Even When You Use a VPN
Even with the protection of a VPN there are still things that you need to do to be more secure. Using a VPN can only take you so far. But if you combine using a VPN with the following tips you should be in pretty good shape.
- Keep your operating system and applications updated.
- Use antivirus and keep your virus definitions up to date.
- Be careful what information you share with others online.
- Create strong passwords.
- Use Two Factor Authentication.
- Be careful what links you click on.
- Never open email or text message attachments from people that you don’t know.
- Install these extensions on your web browser: uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, Decentraleyes, and HTTPS Everywhere.
Things to Look For in a VPN
- Good encryption.
- Make sure the VPN offers a large number of servers. The more the better.
- Make sure it will protect multiple devices from a single account. You want it to be able cover all of your devices.
- Unlimited bandwidth.
- Make sure it is a VPN with a reputation for faster speeds.
- If you want to be anonymous to the VPN provider itself make sure they accept cryptocurrency or gift cards as payment methods.
- Make sure it has a kill switch. A kill switch will immediately terminate your internet connection if the VPN connection fails. It is rare for a connection failure to happen with a good quality VPN but if it does go down a kill switch well keep your data from being exposed.
- Make sure it is a VPN that doesn’t log user data. A VPN that keeps logs of user data is dangerous because the logs can be stolen, sold, or turned over to authorities.
- Make sure it isn’t a free VPN. There are various reasons to avoid free VPNs. For one thing many free VPNs will sell your data. Like anyone else they have to make money to stay in business and more times than not free VPNs sell user data to make a profit. Like they say, if you aren’t paying for the product then you are the product. Free VPNs also tend to be more limited and less reliable than their paid counterparts.
It is possible that some sites or networks might look for VPN traffic and deem it suspicious. In that case they won’t allow you to connect. In those cases you may not have any choice but to switch off your VPN or wait till you are on a trusted network to connect to them. Also remember that some VPNs are friendlier to torrenting than others. If you are into downloading torrents make sure you check out the VPN you are considering signing up for to see if they will allow you to download torrents. VPNs will also usually have an impact on Internet speed. So I wouldn’t run a VPN while playing an online game for example.
Here are some links to some excellent VPNs to choose from. The list is in no particular order:
I have used NordVPN for years and highly recommend it. I have had no major issues, it provides excellent protection, and it’s price tag isn’t bad. Any of the five listed above should work for you. Check them out and see what you think. With a VPN you will safeguard your privacy and security. It’s easy to get started.
- Choose your VPN.
- Go to their website and signup for their VPN service. Make sure to download their VPN app.
- Install the VPN app.
- Run the app and sign in.
- Connect to a VPN server. The closer the server the faster the connection should be.
That’s it. You are now running a VPN. From there you can learn more about your chosen VPN from their website, Google, and YouTube videos. Also take time to go through your VPN’s settings so you can customize your protection to your liking. What is your favorite VPN?