Virtual private networks are the actual intermediaries in our online communication. They can increase our cyber security (to some extent) if we use encrypted VPN, according to the latest (and most secure!) protocols available today.

There are some differences as to which data encryption technologies use different VPN services, but the most important thing is to use VPN which ideally has "end-to-end" encryption according to the latest technologies and data encryption protocols.

  1. Increased security when browsing online, at home and in the workplace.

Almost all internet users today understand – online surfing, online shopping, downloading software can be risky if we are not properly informed and don’t use the internet wisely. Sharing our personal data with third parties online is always a process of interest to other actors besides the sender (us) and the intended recipient (say, the online shopping website). There are many steps we can take to ensure that our data ends up exactly where we intended to send it, and make intercepting this data very difficult for the average criminal.

Using an encrypted, well-placed VPN drastically reduces the risk of our data being intercepted by unwanted actors. The main task of the VPN is to "mask" our IP address, for all outsiders, including anyone trying to intercept our communications. This becomes especially important when we talk about formal communication, in and out of the workplace (sending an email from a mobile device, for example). If all devices in the workplace use encrypted, “no-log” VPNs, then it becomes very difficult for people outside the organization to find out which websites you visit, or which platforms you interact with.

The good starting point is to make sure all your devices are properly covered by VPN. In addition, good VPNs have a built-in "kill-switch", i.e., every time you connect to the Internet, this functionality makes sure that you are immediately connected via VPN, and if the connection is accidentally lost - it will be automatically terminated on both ends.

Bonus tip: if you absolutely must connect to an open Wi-Fi network (at the airport, coffee bar, etc.) make sure you always do it through VPN. This will drastically reduce your chances of becoming a target for hackers and other culprits.

  1. Reducing your digital footprint.

Our digital footprint is an inevitable consequence of online activities - which should not intimidate us or make us give up finding ways to reduce it. Namely, our digital footprint (especially the active one) can be useful in cases when, for example, the potential employer will decide to "research" us online, in effect “exploring” our views and the content that we have shared. However, a useful exercise for all of us is to leave as little digital footprint as possible within our online activities, especially when it comes to the so-called passive digital fingerprint.

The use of VPN directly affects the reduction of our digital footprint. Because the address from which we access the pages is "masked", the websites or platforms do not know that a particular user is visiting them again, and the repeat visit is not linked to the previous cookies saved for that particular visitor or user. Also, because geo-location is really difficult to determine when using VPN, most websites will consider us a "new visitor" every time we access them using VPN.

Online shopping or ticketing websites also cannot "discover" us during repeat shopping, and this can affect the deals offered to us as consumers. For most websites, our digital footprint (especially the passive one) will always be "fresh" and new.

  1. Work-from-home made easy.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that working from home is not science fiction - many jobs today can be “moved” to the privacy of our home. Of course, there are many factors and types of problems related to this topic, such as the psychological effects (short-term and long-term) associated with the "mixing" of traditional work-space and home atmosphere.

On the other hand, for a huge number of people (and companies!) working from home, when there are sufficient conditions for it, has proven to be an excellent measure to prevent the spread of the virus, but also as a measure that has managed to save money for companies and employees alike. Connecting to the office from the comfort of your own home has never been easier, but that ease comes with a number of data security risks.

VPN is here to help. When it comes to working safely from home - VPN is almost an integral part. Properly set up, encrypted VPN will help maintain the level of security we normally enjoy in our offices. Typically, these VPNs work with a direct payment model for their services - but - these funds are money-well-spent, and the risks they protect you from are far, far greater than the extra $ 3 or $ 4 in monthly expenses for your company or institution.

Bonus tip: for even greater security, make sure your VPN provider has a clear “no-log” policy, i.e. the data and metadata are not stored or sent to your ISP or third parties. This policy can usually be found in the Terms of Use.

  1. Avoid censorship when traveling abroad.

Very often, in some countries, certain websites, as well as entire social networks are blocked. VPNs can help you bypass geographical restrictions, and access content. Simply put, VPNs do this by masking the request to access the website as if it were coming from another location (another country). This way of using VPN is most frequently adopted amongst the public, because it provides access to the desired feature films and series, as soon as they become available to the "domestic" audience, no matter where you are in the world.

Important: It is the responsibility of the VPN user to identify whether their use is legal or not, and to check the laws of the country before using the VPN.

Bonus tip: If you are a fan of a sports, accessing certain, related news pages will give you access to content intended for the local audience (fans). There are also TV stations that stream only to a specific audience (geographically targeted). It is possible to circumvent this by using a VPN.

  1. Last but not least – avoid “free VPN” services.

If you do not pay for the product, you are the product. This of course also applies to free services for VPN, i.e. the difference is whether the company earns directly from the users of the VPN (direct payment model), or from the sale of data generated by traffic through the given VPN service. There are also VPN services that earn from ads placed on their applications (Android, IOS), but in general, all VPN services are created for profit.

Choosing a quality VPN can mean paying for it, if you value your privacy online. VPNs give you the opportunity to add additional layers of privacy and security to your online activities, which in themselves are not absolute anonymity or security, but will help you protect your personal information online and reduce your digital footprint. The right VPN for you is the one that will offer a secure private network that will help keep your personal data safe from cybercriminals and anyone else who might try to intercept it.

Background illustration: Photo by Prostock-studio from Adobe Stock / Adobe Stock license