Privacy and the protection of private information have really taken the limelight over the past few years. Just last year, according to Lifelock, over 60 million Americans have fallen victim to identity theft. In many cases, it is because an individual browsed an untrusted website or simply fell victim to snooping when connected to a WiFi at a local coffee shop. This is why the adoption of virtual Private network (VPN) technologies have become far spread.
What is VPN Technology?
A VPN is a technology that encrypts your browsing activities and improves your overall online privacy and security. Typically a commercial service, your system, whether it is a tablet, phone or computer, will connect to a server that is maintained by the VPN provider.
The connection is heavily encrypted, leaving all transferred data between the VPN and whatever device you are using is scrambled so no one is able to read it. The benefits are far-reaching and far too important to not consider adopting it as standard practice.
The Importance of VPN Technologies
Achieving anonymity on the web is the only way to provide adequate protection for your private information, but the benefits go beyond just an encrypted connection.
A Man-in-the-Middle attack (MITM) is perhaps one of the most common attacks used to compromise systems and steal private information. Most commonly employed on a public Wi-Fi, an attacker will relay and alter communications between two systems and eavesdrop. Information passed between systems is intercepted.
How Public Wi-Fi Puts You at Risk
Public Wi-Fi sometimes lacks proper encryption, making this an easy attack to carry out. The end result is that any information to include credentials to different services, bank account information, credit card information, and more are potentially compromised.
How a VPN Service Protects You on Public Wi-Fi
If you were to connect to a public Wi-Fi in conjunction with your VPN service, your information is encrypted. Even if a bad actor were to try to intercept communications, he or she would not be able to do anything with it. Another type of attack known as an “evil twin”, can occur when someone sets up a fake hotspot.
It is rather easy for someone to create a hotspot under the name “Free Coffeeshop WiFi”. The moment you connect, your information can be intercepted using a packet sniffer. Your data will still be safe because it is encrypted.
TypoSquatting and Nefarious Websites.
Typosquatting, which is also known as URL hijacking, is a type of attack that targets internet users that incorrectly type a website address. If you typed goggle.com instead of google.com, or amazoon.com instead of amazon.com, you may find yourself led to an alternate website owned by a hacker that is specifically designed for malicious intent. These websites are often created to imitate your intended destination.
Sometimes these websites are configured to attempt to install malware onto your system or try to collect your geolocation information. Your IP address is hidden because the VPN service you are connected to is the intermediary between you and the web, or what is known as a proxy. Malicious websites can only capture the IP address of the VPN server and not the one that belongs to your real system. This in conjunction with whatever antimalware that may be coupled with your VPN service reduces the likelihood that you will fall victim to typosquatting.
When you go on the internet, your ISP and the browser that you are using have a record of every action you take, and every place that you visit. Websites you visit can also keep tabs on your history in order to make your experience more streamlined.
Certain browsers can even track your search history, which can then be tied to your IP address. If you have a specific medical condition that you do not want to be disclosed and you are searching for specific treatments, you are freely sharing that information. You may even start experiencing ads targeted toward your ailment.
If you are using a VPN, your browsing activity is hidden. You protect yourself from potential targeted ads, and you are also stopping a government agency or ISP from having records of your internet activity. In the end, your history cannot be collected, viewed, transferred, or sold to a third party.
Net Neutrality and Government Control
Network neutrality, or the idea that all data that travels over networks on the internet should be treated fairly by ISPs’ and without any discrimination toward services, sites, or apps. The openness and free-flow of information have connected the world in ways like never before.
Different governmental bodies and private entities have sought to control the internet for power and personal gain. China with their strict control over content, and ISPs’ in the U.S lobbying for control over content for monetary gain are prominent examples.
FCC Rules on Net Neutrality
Most recently in the U.S, the FCC imposed rules that rolls back net neutrality protections. Since then, ISPs have had the ability to potentially throttle, or slow down, consumer internet access in an attempt to incentivize a paid prioritization model. Consumers can now find that content like videos or games can be slowed to a crawl because you ran out of data.
By using a VPN, you are in a way, protesting ISP throttling. Keeping the content of a user away from the eyes of an ISP and circumventing controls put in place by any organization means that traffic and content access cannot be regulated. Specific user activities also cannot be controlled if it can’t be seen.
Securing a desktop in your house or your laptop on-the-go can be useful, but we now live in a world where multiple types of devices rely on the same internet in order to function. If you browse the web or conduct business from a phone, tablet, or other smart devices you are just as vulnerable and unprotected as if you were using a computer without a VPN. In the past, VPN services were specific to standard PC configurations. Now, VPNs’ can be used across multiple devices.
VPN services exist in the form of apps and are not limited to specific operating system platforms like in the past. They function on iOS, Windows, Linux, Android, and a whole host of other platforms across most devices. This is incredibly important, because you are no longer limited to what device you want to be protected on and can employ a holistic approach to web security.
How VPNs Interact With Cookies
When “cookies” are mentioned, most people think you are talking about a snack. When it comes to computers though, it is not something you would want on the menu. They do great work that makes it possible for you to easily browse the internet, but can cause severe trouble in certain cases.
What Are Cookies?
A cookie is a packet of data that a computer receives and then sends back. When you visit a website, you are sent a cookie and your computer stores it in a file that is located inside your web browser.
The main purpose of these mini-programs is to allow the website to keep track of activity and visits. This is not necessarily bad- most retailers use them to keep track of items in your shopping cart for example. Without them, your cart would reset to zero every time you clicked on a new link. They streamline your browsing experience.
Cookies Can Be a Threat To Your Privacy
Cookies can also exist for nefarious purposes. Websites can use them to track your browsing history, and even obtain the information you do not want to be collected.
Some of your personal information is sent to agencies that will now target you with ads and may sell the information to another third party. Your name, location, authentication data, IP address, saved preferences, and other information can belong to someone else.
VPNs Reduce The Risks Associated With Cookies
Cookies can easily become a threat to your privacy. VPNs can create a powerful barrier against threats that may be attributed to cookies. The simplest idea behind a VPN, hiding your IP address, effectively disconnects your identity from website created cookies.
Your information is much safer, and you are also saved from having to deal with annoyingly targeted ads. Even with a VPN though, best practices include regularly clearing your cookies and cache as well as browsing in incognito mode in addition to.
Whether it is performed by governments for political control or private organizations for copyright protection, geoblocking stops users from accessing content based on the region they may reside in. Using your IP address, you could be blocked from visiting websites you normally would in your home country, or even from content hosted in a different part of the world. Employing a VPN makes it seem like your IP address is coming from a different origination. If you are connecting to a VPN server hosted in the UK, you now have a UK IP address and can access content that might otherwise be blocked. If you are in China and connect to a server back in the US, you will not succumb to the country’s stifling censorship.
Using a VPN Keeps Your Information Safe
The fact is that the internet is just too dangerous nowadays to even consider not using a VPN. Every corner is a potential booby trap that can lead to your system being infected, or even worse, your critical and private information being compromised. In a world where even your own ISP is targeting you for personal gain, it is important to fight back any way that you can.
VPNs are the world’s way of saying the internet belongs to everyone, and no single person, company, or government entity will ever have control over it. Protect yourself, your information, and keep the internet free by using VPN services.