What's In This Article?
Your personal information is easily exposed through data breaches and they’re happening more and more often. That has people thinking about online privacy and how to protect their privacy.
But it’s not just data breaches that have people concerned. Websites you visit and your ISP (internet service provider) collect data about you every time you browse the internet, and information that is collected about you is often sold to marketers, but there is something that you can do about it. It can protect your private data and keep you safer on the web.
How Much Information About You Is Available
Many of us browse the web every day and do not think twice about the little programs that are running in the background monitoring our every move. Websites and your internet service provider use trackers to collect data about you every time you visit a site. They keep tabs on everything you click on, every like, every comment, and every time you share something on social media.
Some trackers will follow you across multiple sites, like when you visit your favorite news site, shop at your favorite stores, and which YouTube videos you watch. There is a huge data bank of information out there about you that you probably did not even know existed. Not only that, your ISP might be one of the biggest offenders. Some ISPs are beginning to consider making you have to pay extra for privacy.
Why do they do it? It is all about the money they earn from selling your data and getting you to buy more. You have probably seen this tracking at work. Did you ever Google something like coffee makers, and then suddenly have all of these ads for coffee makers show up in your Facebook feed? Trackers are the machines behind the ability to give you these customized experiences. They probably know more about your habits, preferences, and wants than you do.
Trackers allow websites to be able to give you personalized browsing experiences, but there is a big downside. Sometimes, marketing agencies and big businesses will buy these lists. When this happens, it is possible for a company that you have never even heard of ending up with some highly personal information about you. You have no agreement with these companies and no control over what they do with your data. What is even scarier is that if a data breach occurs, your information could end up in the hands of phishers and identity thieves without your knowledge at all.
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to gain a certain level of privacy online. It uses encryption technology to create a tunnel between you and the websites that you visit. Encryption transforms every piece of data you transmit into a secret code. The code can only be read by an authorized computer system with the decryption key. This is sort of like those spy games we used to play as kids. Only this is on a much bigger level and happens much more quickly. Even if someone were to intercept your data, it would not be useful to them without the secret code to see what it says.
The VPN is in the middle of your browsing activity and encrypts, sends, and decrypts data to and from the websites that you visit. Now, encryption technology has become quite complex, and very secure. Several different types of encryption exist, including symmetric, asymmetric, 3DES, Blowfish, and RSA.
It is not important to understand each of these, but they are all tools that the provider can use to keep your data safe. Some providers use multiple layers and multiple types of encryption, making it nearly impossible to break the code and read things like bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and other private information.
Before we get to the gist of virtual private networks, we’d like to introduce you to some great VPN services. If you want to skip down to the deep dive on VPN click here.
Though this is one of the pricier options on the market, it is also one of the best. NordVPN boasts many features that other VPNs don’t have. You can have up to six simultaneous connections. The service uses WireGuard technology to protect your data against potential threats, and all of your information is encrypted.
|😀 PROS||😡 CONS|
|Uses WireGuard technology||Expensive|
|Many server locations||Cramped interface|
|Strong privacy levels||Only 6 connections|
FastestVPN is a popular choice of VPN due to its position in the Cayman Islands. It is not subject to the international surveillance of some other options. The company only logs whatever information is necessary to keep your account active unless you choose to save your web activity and traffic.
|😀 PROS||😡 CONS|
|Based in Cayman Islands||Limited split-tunneling|
|No extra data logging||Some features are pricey|
|Includes anti-malware and adblock||Some Mac and Windows limitations|
With a company based in Hong Kong, PureVPN boasts more than 6,500 total servers across over 180 countries. It is one of the most popular choices for secure browsing and accessing regionally locked content. The software does not log the websites you visit or your IP address. It has been audited by third parties to ensure that the privacy levels are adequate.
|😀 PROS||😡 CONS|
|6,500 servers in 180 countries||Not the best tech support|
|Packed with features||Only five connections supported|
|Great speed on Mac and Windows||Can be pricey|
VirtualShield provides affordable protection, with every plan including all offered features. Plans are scaled based on the number of devices you’re covering. The VPN’s servers are located in countries all over the world, allowing you to access regionally locked content. You can also make purchases in public and torrent content without your information being stolen.
|😀 PROS||😡 CONS|
|International servers||Covering multiple devices is pricey|
|All plans access all features||Few advanced security features|
|Encrypted connection on public WiFi||No refund policy|
Dangers of Public Wi-Fi Networks
Let us pause for an instant to give you an example of how a virtual private network can keep you safe. If you are one of those who enjoy logging onto their bank account while sipping a mocha latte at Starbucks, you are doing something dangerous. Not all public Wi-Fi is up to the latest encryption standards. Those that use older Wi-Fi can leave your information vulnerable.
Another practice that some thieves use is that they will be sitting nearby working on their laptops. They will create a Wi-Fi hotspot and name it “Starbucks.” You might think that you are logging onto the real Wi-Fi network, but instead, you have just logged onto a fake account, and you have put your banking password and information into the system and giving it away to the thief with little effort on their part.
There is also software out there that can steal your information right out of the air. If you were using a VPN, the hacker would just get encrypted information that is useless to them. If you frequently use public Wi-Fi, then you need to consider getting one.
How Does A VPN Keep You Safe?
A virtual private network is like sending your data through a protected tunnel. No one outside of that tunnel can access or see your data. It also disguises your location by sending your information through a network of servers around the world. You can be sitting in Houston, Texas, and it looks like you are in Paris, France to any would-be hackers.
The virtual private network is like a shield that protects your identity from thieves and prying eyes. It is important to understand that this solution is not complete protection, and you still need malware software, and you still need to practice good password safety. The service hides your IP address and can even keep what you are doing from being seen by your ISP.
A VPN can also help get around certain content filters and into sites that are blocked in your country. Because you are not sharing bandwidth with all those trackers, your Internet browsing can even be faster in some cases. Sometimes, ISPs will slow down your speeds if they think that you are using too much bandwidth, like when sharing large files. With a virtual private network, they will not be able to do this as easily.
There are certain times when you will want to consider using a virtual private network. One of them is anytime you are using public Wi-Fi, either on your laptop or your mobile device. You should use it when you are going to be doing activities that involve putting in your credit card numbers or banking information like booking an airline flight or buying movie tickets. They are also good if you are playing large multiplayer games and your ISP keeps throttling your speeds.
Be Careful: Free Is Not Always A Good Deal
As you can see, a VPN is an excellent way to keep your privacy and identity safe, but you must beware when you are choosing a provider. Many hackers and malware sites will advertise themselves as a free VPN, but what they actually do is install malware or viruses on your computer.
They are “free,” but they are collecting your information, and possibly even stealing your identity in the process. To avoid this, always go with a reputable company, and do not fall for any “free” offers when it comes to a VPN. You can get a reputable VPN for around $10-12 per month.
Choosing a VPN
When choosing a VPN, make sure to read their policies, because some of them do not block all information. Also, be aware that VPNs must provide your information to government authorities if they are sent an official request. Some claim that they do not, but how they get around providing information to government authorities is questionable. More than likely, they would still provide it if they were officially requested to do so.
Also, some VPNs offer anti-malware software, pop-up blockers, and software to defend against tracking, but this should never be considered a substitute for dedicated antivirus software. The programs offered with VPNs are not as robust as dedicated antivirus software, and they do not run scans on your machine. The most important factor is to do your research before choosing a virtual private network provider.
As you can see, there are many reasons to consider using a VPN when you are browsing the internet. In some situations, it is even more critical, such as when using public Wi-Fi or transmitting personal information. They are not 100% foolproof, but just like the locks on your doors, they do a good job of deterring all but the most determined would-be identity thieves. For the price, they are definitely worth it for peace of mind.