Who likes being stalked by someone whose goal is to steal whatever information they can get for nefarious goals? Certainly, nobody. Even though there’s growing acceptance of the reality that it is very difficult to avoid keeping things private when going online, it is not impossible to defend yourself.
This is one of the reasons why VPNs exist. They provide a layer of protection against those who are trying to monitor your online activities and steal information they might be able to use for their nefarious goals. Some know VPNs as tools to get around censorship and regional restrictions on accessing certain websites. However, the role of VPNs in cybersecurity is more significant and merits greater attention.
Defending against cybercriminals
Cybersecurity firm ReasonLabs explains how VPNs are a necessity in the modern world. “VPNs are about three things: securing your data, protecting your privacy, and fair, unobstructed browsing,” As the phrase itself suggests, a Virtual Private Network creates a private network wherein the information exchanged between devices and details of the devices communicating or accessing the internet are protected from possible monitoring.
Information such as login credentials (usernames and passwords) and credit card numbers or other information submitted during an online shopping transaction is encrypted to keep at bay anyone who might be trying to sniff online communications data. Likewise, the IP addresses and geolocations of devices are hidden by showing other addresses that are usually in foreign countries.
It is true that not everyone who attempts to monitor internet users is a cyber-criminal. Some ISPs, for example, monitor internet usage to throttle some abusive users and give other users good service. However, it makes sense to be suspicious over user data gathering. Nobody is obliged to reveal information about their online activities while accessing the internet. Concealing information about how, from where, and where you go online is not illegal.
There are only around 10 countries that ban or regulate the use of VPNs. In most parts of the world, there is no reason not to explore the internet privately. It is arguably good judgment to take advantage of VPNs to prevent anyone from obtaining and using the information they can get about your online activities. It is a good precaution to treat any user data gathering as potentially malicious or harmful.
What makes a good VPN?
Not all VPNs are created equal. Sometimes, the VPN you are using is actually the one spying on you. There are also those that do not actually deliver on the privacy they promise. The case of the Facebook-owned Onavo Protect app, for example, shows that even something that comes from an established company cannot guarantee real protection.
Facebook’s VPN service was advertised as a tool to encrypt user traffic and protect user privacy. However, it was found to be gathering sensitive user information particularly the websites and apps opened by users on their devices. Facebook claimed that this did not compromise users, but their VPN failed on one of the key functions it was supposed to serve. It served as a tool for collecting user information for the benefit of an enterprising organization.
To make sure that you are getting the right protection from a VPN, it is advisable to look for the following features.
* Multiple servers spread worldwide – VPNs enable faster connections when their servers are near the location of the sites being accessed. Also, it is unlikely for VPNs to experience downtimes in case some servers fail if there are many of these servers to take the load.
* Zero logs policy – This feature prevents the possibility of getting tracked because somebody managed to hack the records of the VPN provider or a government agency secured the authority to compel a VPN provider to reveal data about its users. Some VPN providers keep user logs, which can contain information that can be used to identify or track users.
* Kill switch – This feature automatically prevents a device from going online when the VPN service is down or not activated. Why is this necessary? Sometimes, VPN servers fail which results in a lull in the privacy protection supposedly afforded by the VPN. The automatic internet disconnection prevents users from going online unprotected, as they will be forced to restore the VPN service first before going back online again.
* OS-agnostic and multiplatform support – The best VPN is one that can be used across different devices and operating systems. It should have a version not only for desktops but also for mobile devices as well as routers.
* Easy-to-use – Lastly, it should not be difficult to install/implement and use. Many companies tout one-click configuration for their products and highly intuitive interfaces that make it easy for users to find the right buttons or menus for the setting or function they want.
Many VPNs already have these features, but many also don’t, especially the “free” ones. Free-to-use VPNs generate revenues through ads, a “freemium” marketing strategy, or other ways. They freeze some of the important functions and will only activate these if a user decides to become a paying or premium user. There’s nothing wrong with these strategies, but it is important for users to carefully examine these before using any VPN.
Also, some VPNs are packaged with other cybersecurity platforms. These can be good options for organizations that want to have VPN integrated into their cybersecurity solution. RAV VPN from ReasonLabs, for example, offers an “Elite” platform that features several cybersecurity tools including antivirus, endpoint detection, and response, DNS filtering, firewall, threat intelligence, and behavioral analysis, and machine learning-based threat defense.
Home users should expect enterprise-grade security from the VPN they use. Their options should be limited to VPN products that employ top-tier encryption standards and continuous security auditing.
Virtual Private Network services like RAV VPN built and maintained by reputable providers provide a good sense of assurance that they will deliver on what they are advertised to do. They also have responsive technical support teams to address complaints and requests for assistance from users.
VPNs are not remedial or mitigating cybersecurity solutions. They are designed to prevent threats from becoming serious problems. The good thing about them is that they are inexpensive tools most organizations should be able to afford, and there are even freeware options.
Refusing to use a VPN because of hesitations on the cost and the actual benefits of having them is inexpedient. With the staggering growth in the volume and sophistication of cyber attacks, it is better to be safe by having the right preventative security controls than to end up regretting the consequences of a successful cyberattack that could have been prevented by a simple VPN solution.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.