A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the simplest and most cost-effective means of improving your cybersecurity, especially when you’re on-the-go. With the massive shift towards remote work this year, VPN usage has spiked across the globe. But as useful as a VPN can be, there are a lot of misconceptions about how it works and who should use it. Thankfully, the cybersecurity experts at Digital Agent are here to help debunk the myths about VPNs.
Nothing—including a VPN—can make an online device fully secure. A VPN cannot prevent dedicated hackers from accessing your device or intercepting your information. But it can remove a critical vulnerability and allow you to more securely access your company network remotely. In other words, it will not protect you from every kind of attack, but it does encrypt your connection in a way that prevents hackers from seeing where your internet traffic is going to and coming from.
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Why would you need an encrypted connection if you aren’t doing anything illegal? Beyond simple privacy, you want the security of a VPN to prevent bad actors from intercepting your connection, stealing sensitive information about you and your company, and potentially selling that information on the dark web. A VPN provides a secure, encrypted tunnel for safe access to another network, such as your company network, which hopefully has even more security measures in place (like firewalls and Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems).
This is one of the most prevalent myths about VPNs, likely because there is a grain of truth to it. It is always good practice to use a VPN to connect to public WiFi. Hackers can create fake WiFi networks disguised as real networks, even seemingly trustworthy networks like those of a coffee shop or cafe. But that isn’t the only scenario in which it’s smart to use a VPN. Many businesses use VPNs to provide their employees with secure remote access to the business network, which ideally has much more robust security features than your home WiFi. It is important to use a VPN even at home when accessing sensitive company information, such as customer payment details or confidential patient health data.
While a VPN does “anonymize” you, it is helpful to understand how it does that, and the limits of the anonymity it gives you. A VPN funnels you to an “exit” node in a different location, which makes it appear as if you have the IP address and location of that exit node, not your device. This is only the case with VPN services that force all internet traffic through the VPN tunnel; some VPN providers only funnel specific types of traffic through the VPN, and allow other online activities, such as a browser-based lookup, to rely on your local internet connection instead. If all of your internet traffic does go through the VPN, then your Internet Service Provider (ISP) cannot see the specific sites you access, just that you are connecting to a VPN. Of course, if you are using the VPN to access any website requiring specific credentials, you will obviously be recognizable by your unique login information.
Despite what all these myths about VPNs might tell you, they are a great way for individuals and businesses to protect themselves online. But your VPN provider needs to be trustworthy; otherwise, using the VPN to conduct sensitive transactions may do more harm than good. Consult with your Digital Agent about using a VPN and other steps you can take to improve your cybersecurity, at work and at home.
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