Changing your password every so often is simply not enough now to protect your privacy and online security. Advances in technology mean that unless you are using something like a VPN (virtual private network), then your personal information is no longer safe from people who want to see what you’re up to.
Privacy is a precious commodity online and you only have to buy something online and get the inevitable pop-ups to realise that your online activity is being monitored and tracked.
So, more and more people have turned to VPNs to try and protect themselves from security threats.
What is a VPN?
The encryption technology used by VPN’s prevents unwanted eyes seeing what you’re up to and keeps your online habits private.
It allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet and can be used to access region-restricted websites, shield your browsing activity from prying eyes on public Wi-Fi, and more.
A VPN is also used to access region-blocked content by spoofing your location, so you show up somewhere else in the world rather than where you actually are. It’s a great way to watch the Netflix offerings in other countries!
They help keep snoopers at bay by offering completely anonymous browsing, but can also allow you to access blocked content and region-blocked sites such as Netflix, Hulu and BBC iPlayer.
VPN redirects your connection to the internet through a remote server run by a VPN provider. This way, the server becomes your secure launching pad for accessing various websites.
When you try to access a website on the internet, you start by connecting to your internet service provider (ISP).
They redirect you to any websites (or other online resources) that you wish to visit. All your internet traffic passes through your ISP’s servers, which means they can see and log everything you do online. They may even hand your browsing history over to advertisers, government agencies, and other third parties.
It redirects your internet traffic through a specially configured remote server. This way, the VPN hides your IP address and encrypts all the data you send or receive. The encrypted data looks like gibberish to anyone who intercepts it and is impossible to read.
Free VPN’s vs paid for VPN’s
While the free option might look tempting, a paid-for secure version is commonly thought to be the more sensible option.
Studies have found that some free services collect your browsing data and sell it on to advertising and marketing companies. Worryingly, there was also malware found in several free VPN’s.
There are hundreds of companies offering VPN services. Some of the most highly rated ones include: NordVPN; ExpressVPN; CyberGhost; ExporessVPN; PureVPN; Surtfshark; TunnelBear and VyprVPN.
Is using a VPN legal?
A VPN is a perfectly acceptable tool in keeping your online activities private. They prevent companies and hackers from acquiring your browsing habits, purchase histories, and in some cases political preferences.
It’s illegal – or certainly a grey area – to use a VPN in China, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, and the UAE among a handful of others including Iran and North Korea. Some of these countries merely discourage the use of a VPN or limit the service’s capabilities.
The reasons for this are typically because the countries’ governments want to prevent dissent or restrict access to Western services and news sources.
There have also been instances where free VPN services have been found to spy on users, access sensitive information, or provide no encryption at all. Free VPN’s are also quite limiting in their server locations or data allowances too.
When talking about VPN’s, inevitably, someone will mention “Five Eyes”, “Nine Eyes.” or “14 Eyes”
If security is your main priority, you shouldn’t use a VPN that’s domiciled in one of the Five, Nine, or 14 Eyes countries. Nor should you connect to servers in one of those countries using a VPN provider from a non-14 Eyes member.
Five Eyes is a nickname for the United Kingdom–United States of America Agreement (UKUSA).
Despite the official name, UKUSA agreement consists of five countries. They are the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The deal has its origins in a World War II intelligence-sharing agreement between Britain and America.
Nine Eyes is another intelligence sharing agreement. It’s grown out of the original Five Eyes alliance. It includes all the Five Eyes members, plus Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway.
The 14 Eyes agreement adds a further five countries to the list: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.
Tech experts advise that users do not use a VPN from a Five, Nine or 14-Eye country if you want to protect your privacy and anonymity as they are subject to the rules of that country.
They argue that the easiest way to prevent governments from around the world from spying on your data is to use a VPN located in a different country.
What information does a VPN keep?
VPN providers have different levels of logging. Some choose to log connection time stamps, IP addresses and bandwidth used, while others log nothing at all. Some will also store basic payment information such as your name and address.
However, those looking for complete anonymity can seek a provider that accepts payment in the form of gift cards or Bitcoin, which makes it near-impossible to trace back to an individual.
Proposed porn block
VPN’s have been in the news lately after a surge in interest in the use of VPN’s since the government announced plans to check ID’s for access to porn sites.
A proposed porn block was due to come into force next month but there have been calls for it to be ‘delayed indefinitely’ after concern’s over privacy.
The delay comes after experts branded the ID checks a “privacy timebomb” for 20 million Brits.
The ban on instant access to well-known porn sites such as PornHub has been slammed by campaigners who fear it’s a privacy nightmare.
There are concerns that the age-verification system could present a target for hackers looking for blackmail material or to steal personal data.
It’s also unclear how effective the new system will be because users will be able to use a VPN to sidestep the restrictions.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which classifies movies in the UK, will be the age verification regulator.