Life Without a VPN
It has been a long day of taxis and airports and you just checked into your hotel for the evening. After putting down your bags you pull out your laptop to check your work email. Even though everyone knows you are not in the office, you still seem to always have a huge pile of unread emails. You open your Wifi app and are happy to see that the hotel does indeed have wireless internet. You click “connect” on the open network and get to work.
Then, you then remember that your nephew has a birthday coming up and decide to buy something on Amazon and send it to him. Finally, you close your computer and go to bed.
VPN stands for “virtual private network”. It allows you to surf the internet with privacy.
The next morning, when you go to buy a coffee from the cafe downstairs, your credit card is denied! You call the credit card company to find out that you have reached your spending limit, which is impossible because you never keep a balance on that card. The banker on the phone goes through the recent purchases and it soon becomes obvious that someone has been using your card. You are a victim of identity theft.
The Wifi connection you used last night was an open, unsecured network. While that may sound convenient since it doesn’t require a password, it is very unsafe:
- Unsecured means that anyone can access the network, and
- It also means that information sent across the network is not encrypted. Anyone can see it if they chose to look.
When you entered your credit card information to buy that gift for your nephew, someone, anyone on the network, was watching. They simply copied down your information and went to other sites to use your credit card.
What is even scarier, that criminal probably gained access to your company’s email server as well. Does your company use a separate email server, or is it connected to file servers as well? In other words, how much of your company’s proprietary information did you just divulge? People have lost their jobs for less.
What a VPN does
VPN stands for “virtual private network”. It provides a number of protections to the user, especially when using a public Wifi network, but also when surfing the internet at home. Here’s how it works.
When using a VPN, the first thing that it does is to encrypt your data. What is encryption? Read our article here.
The data then goes to a second server. This makes it look like you are in a different location, using a different IP address then you really are. It helps to keep you anonymous.
Life With a VPN
So what would have happened in the story above if you had a VPN?
You open your computer. You have already paid as little as $3/month for a quality VPN. When it boots up, your VPN window pops up and in about half a second tells you that you are securely connected to a VPN server. There are no extra steps for you to take. You then see that open network and connect to it without a password. You now know that it is not secure, but you don’t worry. Your data and identity are protected. You finish your business, go to bed, wake up in the morning, get your coffee, and it is smooth sailing the rest of your trip.
We use NordVPNhere at Sierra Secure, but there are many good options. If you chose to use a free VPN, be aware that these are not always hosted by honest entities. Running servers costs money, and if you aren’t paying for it, someone else is. They may not really be secure. They may be selling your data. A wonderful place to review your options is thebestvpn.com. They review services for price, features, speed, and overall user experience.