A VPN is an acronym for a Virtual Private Network, in layman’s terms a secure connection from one network to another over the Internet. Establishing a VPN connection creates something called a ‘Tunnel’, which is the secure connection between two points on the Internet. The idea being that all of the data transmitted down the tunnel is encrypted and can only be understood by those at either end. This makes it very difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on the data going backwards and forwards over the VPN.
VPN’s are largely used by businesses to establish secure connections between their sites and remote workers. However, due to the increasing number of stories hitting the headlines relating to the security of personal data online, VPN services are becoming a very popular means for the home user to secure their online activities.
A VPN Service provides a subscriber with a tool to optionally mask their IP address. This means that your actual IP address handed to you by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will not be recorded by any websites/services your use. This has a number of advantages!
Why do I need a VPN Service and how can it help me?
As already mentioned, in its simplest form, a VPN Connection will simply mask your IP address with one from somewhere else, even in another country. So, say your actual IP from your ISP is 188.8.131.52. Once you connect to your VPN service, no online website or service will see your IP, instead they will see the IP given to you by your VPN Service, for example 184.108.40.206.
Some online services are controlled to some extent by your IP address. For example, the USA’s famous online TV/Movie streaming service Hulu is only available to residents of the USA. They control this by looking at your IP address and determining where it is from. So, if you are in the UK trying to access Hulu with your IP from your ISP, you will not gain access to the service. However, connect to your VPN Service, choose to be handed an US IP Address and Boom! you have access to Hulu. Why? Because you’re ‘virtually’ located in the United States. Clever eh?!
Where can I get a reliable VPN Service from?
Due to the increasing popularity of the personal VPN services, the number of VPN service providers are increasing, some more reliable than others. To help you on your way, here is a quick overview of one of the more popular VPN Services.
How can a VPN help me to stay safe when using Public WiFi?
Today, you can get Internet access almost anywhere. Public WiFi Hotspots are become more and more popular and are often available for free. There is a downside to using a public wifi hotspot however – your security! You have no say in how the network is managed, what security features are in place and who uses the network. If someone wants to steal your data, there often isn’t much stopping them as they are already on the same network as you, all they need is some knowledge on how to get around the poor hotspot security. The trouble is, a lot of these public wifi installations are thrown together, without much consideration for end user security. The installers are more focused on the coverage and performance, and as many of us in the field know, security needs processing power which in turn affects overall performance.
I have a local firewall and up-to-date antivirus, is that enough?
In short, no. A local firewall is better than nothing at all, but it isn’t going to protect against determined hackers. Also, a firewall doesn’t encrypt traffic, it just looks at a set of configured rules and says ‘I accept’ or ‘I decline’ based on the type of traffic hitting it. If is accepts it, the traffic is simply allowed to carry on to it’s destination.
If you have up-to-date antivirus – excellent! Always a must when connecting a device to the Internet. Again though, it isn’t going to do much to stop those sneeky snoopers sitting in the corner of the coffee shop who are determined to access your files!
A VPN is one of the most effective ways to increase your personal security online. Public WiFi Security can be dramatically increased by subscribing to a Personal VPN Service. Your connection becomes encrypted, and you remove yourself from the pool of vunerable people sat connected to the unsecure Public WiFi Hotspot.