At one time Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) used to be tools exclusive to corporations and techie friends who appeared overly zealous about masking their online activity. However, with data breaches and privacy concerns at an all-time high, VPNs are becoming powerful security tools for anyone who uses digital devices.
What’s a VPN?
A VPN allows users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. Much like a firewall protects the data on your computer, a VPN protects your activity by encrypting (or scrambling) your data when you connect to the internet from a remote or public location. A VPN allows you to hide your location, IP address, and online activity.
For instance, if you need to send a last-minute tax addendum to your accountant or a legal contract to your office but must use the airport’s public Wi-Fi, a VPN would protect — or create a secure tunnel in which that data can travel —while you are connected to the open network. Or, if your child wants to watch a YouTube or streaming video while on vacation and only has access to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, a VPN would encrypt your child’s data and allow a more secure internet connection. Without a VPN, any online activity — including gaming, social networking, and email — is fair game for hackers since public Wi-Fi lacks encryption.
Why VPNs matter
- Your family is constantly on the go. If you find yourself conducting a lot of business on your laptop or mobile device, a VPN could be an option for you. Likewise, if you have a high school or college-aged child who likes to take his or her laptop to the library or coffee shop to work, a VPN would protect data sent or received from that location. Enjoy shopping online whenever you feel the urge? A VPN also has the ability to mask your physical location, banking account credentials, and credit card information. If your family shares a data plan like most, connecting to public Wi-Fi has become a data/money-saving habit. However, it’s a habit that puts you at risk of nefarious people eavesdropping, stealing personal information, and even infecting your device. Putting a VPN in place, via a subscription service, could help curb this risk. In addition, a VPN can encrypt conversations via texting apps and help keep private chats and content private.
- You enjoy connected vacations/travel. It’s a great idea to unplug on vacation but let’s be honest, it’s also fun to watch movies, check in with friends via social media or email, and send Grandma a few pictures. Service to some of your favorite online streaming sites can be interrupted when traveling abroad. A VPN allows you to connect to a proxy server that will access online sites on your behalf and allow a secure and easier connection most anywhere you go.
- Your family’s data is a big deal. Protecting personal information is a hot topic these days and for good reason. Most everything we do online is being tracked by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). ISPs track us by our individual Internet Protocol (IP) addresses generated by each device that connects to a network. Much like an identification number, each digital device has an IP address which allows it to communicate within the network. A VPN routes your online activity through different IP addresses allowing you remain anonymous. A favorite entry point hackers use to eavesdrop on your online activity is public Wi-Fi and unsecured networks. In addition to potentially stealing your private information, hackers can also use public Wi-Fi to distribute malware. Using a VPN cuts cyber crooks off from their favorite watering hole — public Wi-Fi!
As you can see VPNs can give you an extra layer of protection as you surf, share, access, and receive content online. If you look for a VPN product to install on your devices, make sure it’s a product that is trustworthy and easy to use, such as McAfee’s Safe Connect. A robust VPN product will provide bank-grade encryption to ensure your digital data is safe from prying eyes.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).