Like most of us, you probably keep a lot of important information on your computer. You probably run your business through several computers, and you access your bank information through your computer or local WiFi. Protecting your business should be your top priority. But what is the best way to protect that business? In certain circumstances, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is highly recommended.
Many advertisements will make it seem like the only thing you need is a VPN, but that is not always the case. In this post, we hope to clear up for you - if and when - you would need a VPN.
To understand the value of a VPN, it helps to think of some specific scenarios in which a VPN might be used. Consider the public Wi-Fi network, perhaps at a coffee shop or airport. Normally, you might connect without a second thought. But do you know who might be watching the traffic on that network? Can you even be sure the Wi-Fi network is legit, or might it be operated by some nefarious individual?
If you connect to that same public Wi-Fi network using a VPN, you can rest assured that no one on that network will be able to see what you're up to—not other users snooping around for would-be victims, nor even the operators of the network itself. This last point is particularly important, and everyone should keep in mind that it's very difficult to tell whether or not a Wi-Fi network is what it appears to be. Just because it's called Starbucks_WiFi doesn't mean it's really owned by a well-known coffee purveyor. Eddy, M. (2021, March 17). What Is a VPN, and Why You Need One. PCMAG. https://www.pcmag.com/news/what-is-a-vpn-and-why-you-need-one
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection between two points. It is most useful when connecting to a company or other private database, applications, or services which unauthorized individuals should never have access to.
Typically, a VPN is used over a less secure network, such as the public internet. Internet service providers (ISPs) normally have a rather large amount of insight into a customer's activities. In addition, some unsecured Wi-Fi access points (APs) may be a convenient avenue for attackers to gain access to a user's personal data. An internet user could use a VPN to avoid these encroachments on privacy. Gillis, A. S. (2020, December 2). VPN (virtual private network). SearchNetworking. https://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/definition/virtual-private-network
What does a VPN hide?
A VPN can hide a lot of personal information that can put your company at risk. Here are a some ways that VPNs can help protect you.
Your IP address. If a hacker captures your IP address, they can access what you’ve been searching on the internet and where you were located when you searched. This could include sensitive bank information or even secure documents that you don’t want anyone but the right people to see. Since a VPN uses an IP address that isn’t your own, it can help maintain your online privacy so you can search the web anonymously and securely. You’re also protected against having your search history viewed or sold.
Browsing History. When you go on the internet, your internet service provider and your web browser can track and document almost everything you do online. Most websites you visit will also keep a history of you. Web browsers can easily track your search history and link that information to your IP address. You may want to keep your browsing history private because what you search for can be saved and used to send you targeted advertisements. Or you can be misled to believe the prices you are looking at are the best ones available, when that may not be true. Your internet service provider may also be selling your browsing history.
Your devices. A VPN can help protect multiple devices such as your desktop computer, laptop, tablet, and smart phone. Accessing the internet on one device can open your other devices up to be targeted by hackers. You want to be cautious with open WiFi networks. A VPN can help secure your devices from hackers.
A VPN connection disguises your data traffic online and protects it from external access. Unencrypted data can be viewed by anyone who has network access and wants to see it. With a VPN, hackers and cyber criminals can’t decipher this data.
Secure encryption: To read the data, you need an encryption key . Without one, it would take millions of years for a computer to decipher the code in the event of a brute force attack . With the help of a VPN, your online activities are hidden even on public networks.
Disguising your whereabouts : VPN servers essentially act as your proxies on the internet. Because the demographic location data comes from a server in another country, your actual location cannot be determined. In addition, most VPN services do not store logs of your activities. Some providers, on the other hand, record your behavior, but do not pass this information on to third parties. This means that any potential record of your user behavior remains permanently hidden. Kaspersky. (2021, February 9). What is VPN? How It Works, Types of VPN. https://www.kaspersky.com/resource-center/definitions/what-is-a-vpn
But aren’t the VPN servers tracking my information, too?
Most major ISPs do not care about what you’re using the provided bandwidth for. There may be some smaller ISPs that can insert themselves in the middle of the connection and view your data, but that would be like, “Joe Schmoe down the street is broadcasting his internet connection so that the whole street can use it.” The only real issue with ISPs seeing your browsing is possibly targeted advertisements.
When it comes to a good VPN service, they are looking at data as they secure it. That is where any good VPN service comes in to play. If the VPN service puts into writing that they will not disclose or access your information, then you have an extra level of legal security and peace of mind.
So, what will a VPN not do for me?
Now we know what a VPN does for us, how it works, and why we may need it. However, it’s good to also know what a VPN will not do. Here are a few of those things:
1. VPN solutions don’t protect against an account being broken into – Between your home life and work life, you are probably using a variety of technology solutions such as Microsoft Office 365 for email, maybe a web-based CRM, an accounting application, or even a tax software where you keep your income tax information for filing. A VPN could encrypt data between two points, but if your authentication information is insufficiently secure, a hacker could get in and start snooping around for data or commit fraud.
2. A VPN won’t do anything to protect your team from phishing attacks – Phishing is on the rise because it’s cheap and effective. It also circumvents many common security tools and is a direct attack on personal vulnerabilities, as opposed to technical vulnerabilities. When you volunteer information after clicking a bad link or allow malware to be installed by being tricked into it, a VPN won’t do you much good.
3. A VPN is unlikely to improve speed or performance – While a good VPN solution will likely not hurt your connectivity, a bad one could make things worse. Some VPN solution providers make claims about performance improvements that are dubious at best.
4. A VPN will do nothing to address insider threats – When we extend a corporate network by using VPNs to give users access to technology assets, we are giving them the keys to the castle, so to speak. Once someone takes data back to their home PC over their VPN connection, for example, you don’t necessarily know what they are going to do with it. If they took that data and put it on another unauthorized device or share it with people that they aren’t supposed to, your VPN will be of no help.
5. A VPN won’t address any vulnerabilities on the devices themselves – Creating a series of VPN tunnels could create a strong private network where you could feel confident that data transmission is private and controlled. However, if the servers, desktops/laptops, and other devices have flaws that haven’t been addressed, or if those devices are in a non-supportable state, you could experience a data breach through those vulnerabilities regardless of the VPN. In fact, you could make the case that VPNs aren’t really addressing the right risks for certain organizations with aging technology infrastructures. Tripwire Guest Authors. (2020b, July 16). VPNs: What Do They Do, and What Don’t They Do? The State of Security. https://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/featured/vpns-what-do-they-do-what-they-dont-do/
What VPN Should I Get If I Need One?
Finding the right VPN might seem like a daunting task because there are so many different companies offering their VPN services for varying prices and services. There are even a few places that will offer free access to VPNs. However, here at DataCom Technologies, we like to say that you get what you pay for in the technical industry. We recommend avoiding free services - especially where security is involved - if you can. A good VPN service will be very transparent to the end user and provide clear communication as to how data is being encrypted. Good VPN services should use the latest in encryption and security technologies. DataCom Technologies can also assist with recommending a VPN service that will fit your company’s needs.
However, if you are browsing and want to know what to look for, here are a few non-negotiables to look for:
You want a VPN service that has an easy-to-use app so that it’s a simple process to get connected and then choose your server.
Search for features like a kill-switch that will automatically stop your Internet access if it is not encrypted.
Some VPN services let you pay extra for your own dedicated IP address, adding an extra layer of security just for you.
The average price for month-to-month could range anywhere from $9.99 to $12.99. There are some companies who offer a two-year package. If you pay the full amount for two years of service up front, it could reduce the price of the service overall.
I don’t own a business. Do I still need a VPN to be secure?
Is it really important for non-business owners to have a VPN? No. But if they want an extra level of security and anonymity, and do not mind the slowed browsing speed, then more power to them. The real security comes from knowing what information you should or should not put on the public internet, and how you protect your internal network with things such as antivirus, anti-malware, and following good firewall practices. Our post about Nate Sheen’s book – The Cyber Security Guide – is another good resource for learning more about these topics.
Finding the right internet security for you is always a task in and of itself; however, we hope this blog offered informational tips on how to help you navigate the world of Virtual Private Networks.
There are thousands of advertisements out there for VPN services. They would lead you to believe that all you need to do is buy their VPN service and you are safe online. While a VPN can help, in this post we tried to help you realize that it is not the only tool you need to stay safe online. In fact, a whole collection of tools is needed to protect you and your business online. A VPN is just one small piece of the security puzzle.
If you would like assistance in finding the right service collection for you, contact DataCom Technologies here via our site, or call us at 330.680.6002. We’ll be happy to work with you to build a protection plan for your business.