The invisible villain and why you need a VPN

Well, I’ve begun looking into how I can work safely on the internet (and not use all my mobile data allowance) whilst we’re away in the Adventure Van. And my goodness, it’s been an eye opener!

I’ll start by saying that I believe most of us are fairly security conscious. We lock our doors and windows, we leave things out of sight when we park our cars, we look out for any suspicious activity in the neighbourhood.

But what if I told you that it isn’t just the villains on the outside of our homes we need to watch out for anymore. We are unwittingly inviting invisible, silent villains into our homes. Many of them are corporate companies as well as lone wolfs (hackers), all because most of us don’t actually realise what’s going on in the background. 

To put things into context, here are a couple of my findings:

  • Internet service providers (who you buy your broadband accounts from) can, and do, follow and save our every online movements whilst browsing the net.
  • Amazon records every motion detected by its Ring doorbells*.

This got me thinking. If someone was physically following you on a daily basis, chances are you’d get in touch with the police and report a stalker. 

So why should it be any different online?

Having spent some time looking into how I can securely use the internet in the Adventure Van and at home, I realised what I needed to do first was to invest in a VPN.

Some of you may already be familiar with VPNs but for those of you who don’t know, a VPN is a vital tool to have in your online security tool kit to prevent hackers from snatching personal data and, as it turns out, prevent ISPs from stalking you on a daily basis. 

Knowing what I know now, I would highly recommend everyone installing a VPN at home. 

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It works by routing your device's internet connection through your chosen VPN's private server rather than your internet service provider (ISP) so that when your data is transmitted to the internet, it comes from the VPN rather than your computer. 

How does a VPN work?

Normally, you would access the internet directly using a device via your ISP. What a VPN does is creates a tunnel through the internet to one of its own servers. These servers can be based in a different city or even country. The server then connects to the internet on your behalf, encrypting your data along the way. This means you are keeping your data safe AND you are masking your location by making the internet think that you’re located where the server is. 

Important Note: A VPN is NOT an internet connection. It is a secure way of accessing the internet.

What are the benefits of using a VPN?

Using a VPN will allow you to use a public wi-fi network** in a coffee shop for example, without being intercepted by a hacker who may be in the same coffee shop on the lookout for usernames and passwords. The VPN will give the appearance that you are in a completely different location.

If you’re away on holiday in a different country, by using a VPN, you can trick the internet into thinking that you are still based in your home country by choosing one of your VPNs servers based there. An advantage of this is that you can bypass streaming services that are restricted via geo-location and continue to use them whilst your away. Amazon, Netflix and the BBC iPlayer are great examples. 

Important Note: If you use these services or similar, check that the VPN provider enables you to do this before you sign up with them. Not all VPNs do. 

Why would you NOT use a VPN?

Many people still don’t realise the dangers of using public wi-fi networks and is the main reason why the majority are still not using VPNs.

Using a VPN may reduce your internet speed. This is because data is being encrypted and re-routed, so it could slow things down a bit.

VPNs cost money. There are fee VPN providers out there, but they could sell your data onto third parties which is exactly what you don’t want to happen. 

Which VPN?

I chose NordVPN. Here’s why:

  • They don’t track, collect or share private data.
  • There is an Automatic Kill Switch. If a VPN connection accidentally drops, the Kill Switch blocks my device from accessing the web.
  • There are no bandwith limits.
  • I found that it suits my needs. NordVPN allows the use of 6 pieces of equipment at the same time including Smart TVs and routers (who knew Smart TVs could be a security risk?).
  • It was really easy to install. I have even got Sam using it on his mobile, laptop and iPads too. He is definitely a technophobe, but we haven’t come across any issues so far.
  • I was happy with the price range.
  • It means that I can use public wi-fi networks whilst I am away which will cut out draining my mobile network allowance.

I have started using the VPN every day now whilst working in my home office. It gives me some peace of mind that I have an added layer of security whilst working with clients. I would strongly recommend anyone working from home to do the same. 

Before investing in a VPN

  • Choose a paid VPN service that keeps no logs and offers high-end security (VPN protocols like SoftEther and OpenVPN, military-grade encryption, DNS leak protection, access to a Killswitch).
  • Not all devices natively support VPNs. VPN services generally work on the most popular platforms (Windows, iOS, macOS, Android) but there may still some be operating systems and devices that don’t really support VPN applications, or platforms for which VPN apps aren’t developed because they’re not that widely used. It's worth checking out BEFORE you buy a VPN service. It might be that you’ll have to manually set up VPN connections on the device/operating system you want to use.
  • Some gaming consoles, some smart devices and set top boxes may not be compatible either which means you will have to set the VPN up on your router first. Make sure you check your router is compatible. Once the VPN is installed on your router, your devices will use the configured VPN connection when they access the web through the router.

With the speed at which technology is evolving, it’s more important to secure our computers these days than it is to lock our doors! 

One last point. There isn’t a 100% guarantee that you won’t get hacked whilst using a VPN. Having said that, it will make it much harder for hackers and corporate businesses to access your data. Don’t make it easy for them.

Here is a list of VPN providers

*Want to read more about Ring Doorbells? Here’s an article by the BBC  - Amazon's Ring logs every doorbell press and app action
**Choose a VPN carefully. Free VPNs are not recommended as they will not be as robust as paid for services. Do your homework. Check out a few VPN providers and find one that is suited to your needs.

Tune in next week to find out how we got on using the internet whilst we were away on our recent staycation.


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