It is hard to imagine a time before the internet. Today, so much of our everyday lives is digital and connected. From office work to banking, shopping and entertainment, few activities do not require some form of login and password to use.
With so much personal information being sent and received online, keeping it safe can feel daunting. With Ransomware attacks and data breaches making the headlines, and governments seeking to bring in measure like the Snooper’s Charter, traditional antivirus may no longer feels as though it is offering enough protection.
This is why the use of a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is becoming increasingly popular. Whether at home, in the office or out and about, a VPN will help to keep your data secure. Using a mobile app can be as simple as flicking a switch, but on setting up a VPN on a PC or Mac can feel a little more intimidating. While there are likely to be more settings and options available to you, they work in exactly the same way.
A VPN is not a universal solution, rather, a tool to complement other security measures, which should include antivirus, a firewall and good practices like using strong passwords.
When you activate a VPN, all of the data you send and receive will be encrypted and travel through a ‘tunnel’. This stops anyone, including your ISP, from seeing your traffic and activity. All that they’ll be able to see is that you are online and using a VPN. Meanwhile, you will also be benefitting from end-to-end encryption, adding another layer of protection to your browsing session.
While this will not make you completely invisible online, it will help you to keep control of your data. VPNs make it harder for companies to send you targeted advertising, and protect your data from malicious third parties.
It may sound complicated, but a VPN is simple to set up and use. However, with so many options available, there are still some things you need to consider.
With so many different providers available, it can be difficult to choose the right one for your needs. While it can be tempting to go for the cheapest or even free options, a VPN is a really good example of the adage ‘you get what you pay for’.
Funding up-to-date security and international servers is not cheap, and you should expect to pay a small monthly fee for a good quality service. Free services will also have to pay for their servers and in some cases, this may be funded by selling customer data to advertisers and other third parties.
Because they have less money to invest in their infrastructure, customers using free services may also find they have fewer servers to choose from and slower connection speeds.
Often when signing up for a VPN service, you will be allowed to connect a number of devices to your account. This can be almost anything from laptops to iMacs, phones and tablets, so you can be confident that no matter which device you are using, your information will be safe and secure. Many VPN companies offer Windows, Mac and mobile app clients, so you can use them however you prefer.
After following the installation instructions, you will be prompted to login with your new account details.
When you first connect, it is likely that you will be presented with a map of the world filled with servers that you can connect to. Whichever server you choose will be where your data is tunnelled through. For example, if you connect to a server in the United States, all that a third-party will be able to see is the US server’s IP address, making it appear you are browsing from America.
Choosing the correct server depends on your needs. If you are aiming to avoid geo-locked content, for example, to watch streaming services while travelling abroad, you can choose any country where that content is available. For example, if you are British and working abroad, using a UK server should give you access to content from the BBC iPlayer no matter where you are in the world.
If you are using a VPN purely for speed and improved security, then the best performance is likely to be the server closest to your actual location.
Some VPN services promote themselves as specialists in a certain field, such as gaming or streaming. However, most paid providers will be all-rounders and should be effective no matter what you are using their servers for.
And that’s almost it. Now you are connected to a server, you can browse as normal and should notice little difference. But to anyone looking in, your will be significantly more protected.
Alongside the standard features, there are many other settings that can improve your VPN experience. A Kill Switch is one of the most important for security. While VPN services offer end-to-end encryption, internet connections can always drop out. A Kill Switch notices any dropout and makes sure that no unencrypted data leaks out.
Another option that could appear quite intimidating to new users is choice of VPN protocol. This is the type of encryption used to protect your data. There are likely to be multiple options available and the default setting will be sufficient in most cases, but it may be worth switching between them to see if any give you faster connection speeds. Just be aware that different protocols offer different levels of security, and the default is usually the most secure.
Many people will be put off by the thought of setting up a complicated new security measure, but a VPN is a simple tool that is quick and easy to setup, and is one of the most effective ways to protect your personal data online.