Do you use a VPN to keep your data secure when browsing the web? Or does your business use one as part of its access management plan?
Even if you’re not sure, the answer to that second question might be “yes”: Many businesses pivoted to VPNs during COVID as a quick and relatively safe way for people to access server resources from home.
If you’re using a VPN, whether for personal or professional reasons, the thinking goes that you’re a whole lot safer and more secure because of it. But it turns out not all VPNs are created equal, and some of them might be doing the opposite of keeping you safe.
Here’s what you need to know about using VPNs, including what to watch out for if you do.
What Is a VPN?
The acronym VPN stands for “virtual private network.” It’s a way of connecting your computer to an online resource by way of another connection point. Virtual private networks act as a middleman for internet or network traffic: instead of a computer connecting directly to a server (whether that’s Netflix or your server at work), a computer might connect through a VPN, which routes its traffic through another server that’s owned by whoever is providing the VPN service.
That VPN server then typically connects you to where you wanted to go in the first place, but it hides your IP address and keeps your personal data private.
…at least, that’s what happens in theory, and when you use high-quality, reputable, paid services.
Why Do People Use VPNs?
All of that sounds a bit technical and like it might be a hassle. So why do people use VPNs? A few different reasons.
One is that sometimes people don’t want the sites and servers they’re accessing to know who they are or where they’re from. Using a VPN could make it look like you’re accessing the internet from a different country or even another continent — something that’s really handy if you want to watch Netflix shows that aren’t available to US subscribers, for example.
There are many more serious reasons to use a VPN, too: journalists and others in high-risk scenarios might need to obscure their internet traffic for safety reasons, or to bypass censorship or surveillance.
And, of course, businesses use them as a secure way to access resources. Only those with the right VPN credentials can access the server remotely, keeping business data safe and compliant.
Why Are Some VPNs Not as Safe as Others?
It all goes back to how the VPN service works. Remember that when you use a VPN, all your internet traffic routes through the VPN provider’s servers.
Well, it didn’t take less reputable types long to figure out that if they posed as a VPN — offering a real service people could use, and maybe even giving it away for free — they could suddenly gain access to all sorts of data. Because now that data routes through their servers — and they can see all of it.
Even if they aren’t stealing all your data, they could be doing other things you don’t want, like injecting ads and tracking cookies, or perhaps selling advertising information about browsing habits.
How to Identify Risky VPNs
If a VPN doesn’t cost any money, that should be a red flag. It costs money to run a VPN, so if you aren’t paying, you (or your data) are probably the product someone else is paying for.
If you need to use a VPN for work purposes, choose a reputable provider that costs money. It won’t break the bank, and the added security and peace of mind is absolutely worth the cost.
We’re happy to recommend a VPN that’s safe, secure, and will meet your needs. We might even have a better solution that doesn’t rely on VPN technology. If you’re concerned about any of this and want to get an expert opinion, give us a call. We’re here for you!