- A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts your Internet connection using a secure server to keep data safe.
- Add a personal VPN to your family's devices for enhanced security.
- Pair a VPN with intelligent Internet practices for increased protection from cyber attacks.
Whether you are using a computer at home or a smartphone at a coffee shop, prying eyes may be working to intercept your web traffic. That’s where a virtual private network (VPN) can help; it’s an essential tool that encrypts and secures your Internet connection, helping to keep those with malicious intent at bay.
Follow along to learn more about VPNs, how they work and how you can easily add one to secure every e-mail and browsing session anywhere in the world.
What is a VPN?
“Public WiFi is not secure,” says Ellen Segriff, Head of Privacy and Cyber Information Security at UBS. “A VPN secures any kind of browsing that you’re doing, and it’s anonymous.”
A VPN creates a secure virtual tunnel between your device and a remote server. This encrypts web traffic between your computer and that server, stopping snooping eyes from gaining access. “A VPN builds a strong wall of encryption. It prevents others from listening in and any man-in-the-middle attacks,” Segriff explains.
Many large companies require employees to use a VPN when connecting remotely. Though using a VPN may seem like a hassle, it keeps your business e-mail and web connection safe when you’re out of the office and using shared and/or unsecured WiFi.
How a VPN works
To understand why you should consider adding a VPN to your personal computer and smartphone, it helps to learn how they work. Here is a high-level overview of what happens when you connect to a website or your e-mail with a VPN.
In practice, using a VPN is easy. Let’s say you just arrived at a hotel. You unpack your bags and boot up your laptop for a quick e-mail check-in. When you turn on the laptop, you open a little program that accesses the VPN—using the closest server—right after you connect to WiFi. Then you browse the web like usual.
Behind the scenes, the little button that turns on the VPN does a lot of work. When you browse the web or check e-mail at a hotel without a VPN, the traffic from your device travels through the hotel’s wireless router unencrypted, and your web requests go off around the world to various servers. With a VPN, however, all of your traffic goes from the hotel’s router to a secure server. Before leaving your computer or the remote server, every byte of data is encrypted, and only your computer and that server have the keys. Anyone who intercepts your data at the hotel or elsewhere only gets encrypted, garbled data.
Getting started with VPN
Your business may already have a VPN to improve security for everyone, but you can add a personal VPN to your family’s devices for enhanced security.
“There are a lot of service providers out there you can look into. Check to see what price point makes the most sense for you,” Segriff says. “Encryption can slow down your browsing. Look at the bandwidth and the locations of the VPN servers.”
Adding a VPN is easier than many people realize. You can get one up and running in just a few minutes. “A VPN is a way to stop a hacker in his tracks when trying to access your data,” according to Segriff. That is a technology often worth an investment.
Stay secure everywhere you go online
In the digital age, you must ensure you’re making smart cyber security decisions. “That requires always being alert and always being aware,” Segriff explains. Keep in mind that a majority of cyber attacks originate from clicking a link in a bad e-mail—even a VPN will not protect you from that kind of attack.
While there is no 100% effective method to evade hackers, you can make their job a lot harder. With a VPN, you remove a major vulnerability that online criminals use to steal your money, identity and digital assets. Pair a VPN with intelligent Internet practices and your information is that much safer from harm.