In today’s fast-paced society, understanding how to use technologies such as computers, phones, and tablets has become more of a necessity than ever before, as opposed to the niche skill set it once was.
While most people know how to operate these devices on a functional level for numerous purposes such as running a business or social networking, most people are still unaware of how easily their data, identity, and money can be accessed by hackers. Most people decline using anti-virus software because it costs money and slows their computer, or will not think twice about visiting unsecure websites. These are just two of many ways people put themselves at risk every day in cyberspace.
An emerging new technology that has gained traction in recent years are VPNs – or Virtual Private Networks – which aim to make it difficult for online predators to find your device on the Internet. But are these systems as effective as they claim to be? Below we’ll go over VPNs, how they help you stay secure, and some of the top providers.
How Does a VPN Work
A VPN is a different type of encryption. Encryption is a process of taking readable data (such as a word document or picture) and scattering it around. This means that potential hackers will have no way of rearranging it back to its initial form, kind of like a digital paper shredder, but the main difference is that anyone with a “key” can put the data back together, and return it to its original form.
A virtual private network doesn’t encrypt your files though, what it encrypts is your connection to the internet yourself. This means that anyone who may be recording your network traffic only gets the “shredded paper”, rendering it useless to the attacker. It should be noted that like encryption there are a number of ways to do it that have advanced over the years. The most common reason a new version type of encryption is created is because prior versions have been “broken”. When a type of encryption is broken it means that anyone with the right tools can take the encrypted data, which should be unreadable, and restore it to the original content making it readable again. Always make sure your VPN provider is using the most up to data encryption types.
Benefits of a VPN
Knowing how VPNs work, it is easy to start thinking of how they help in anyone’s personal or professional life. For a company, keeping their employee records, financial accounts, and R&D files secure is an absolute necessity. Sadly, cyber-attacks have brought down many businesses and will bring down more in the future. The personal life brings many of the same challenges, banking account information, email and social media accounts, or even hobby projects that may contain sensitive information.
A VPN is like the lock on a door. Without having one, anyone can come from off the street into a person’s house and take whatever they want. In the same way without a VPN anyone who knows a device's Internet address can connect to your PC and take your data.
Popular VPN Providers
While VPNs can’t be the only thing done for cyber security, it is clear they provide great value in protecting anyone on the Internet. When it comes to buying and installing an VPN, there are a lot of options, and different services tend to focus on some areas more than others. For example, some VPNs can be a lot slower than a normal connection; however, ExpressVPN has a focus on speed. Other services include ProtonVPN as one of the cheapest, and NordVPN being very reliable for streaming. Below are 5 of the most popular services and what they excel at. Before deciding, make sure to research them further.
- NordVPN, great VPN when getting around geo blocks or using streaming services.
- Surfshard, very affordable VPN.
- Mullvad VPN, company takes extra steps to protect user data, providing as much anonymity as possible.
- ExpressVPN, one of the fastest VPNs available.
- ProtonVPN, another VPN focusing on low-cost plans.