Most people have heard of VPNs and that they can protect Internet users from being tracked online. Still, it’s not exactly apparent when you should be using them — or how to use them, for that matter.
We spoke with Guy Baroan, President of Baroan Technologies in New Jersey, to help us understand what VPNs are and how they, and other safety steps, should be used to protect private identities and stay safe on the web. This information is useful for both individuals and business owners and upper-level management.
What Is a VPN?
Guy offers more than just VPNs as advice for staying safe while browsing the web. But before we dive into the details, let's explain what a VPN is.
VPN stands for virtual private network. Basically, a VPN is a service that allows you to mask your Internet protocol address, or IP address, while using the Internet.
Most of the time, your IP address is like your license plate number. Wherever you go online, it follows you. Whatever you do online, it follows you. Someone may be tracking what you search, what you click on, how long you stay on certain webpages, and much more with your IP address. Naturally, this can lead to security breaches in many forms.
To create a more private connection to the Internet, VPNs use random IP addresses, scattering your location and making it virtually impossible to track your online activity.
When Simple Browsing Leads to Security Threats
Perhaps there was a time when users could safely browse the Internet without fear of being tracked or targeted by cyber hackers. But that time is unfortunately long past.
Today, having a VPN in use (especially whenever you are using a public Internet connection) is indispensable to keeping yourself safe online. Guy states clearly that, “When you are on an unfamiliar wireless network, [you should] always use a VPN client software … Never connect to an unknown open wireless network. If you have no choice, do not log into sites that will require your credentials or other personal information.”
Here are his other recommendations for keeping your identity private and safe while browsing the web:
1. Ensure endpoint protection at all times.
No matter what devices you’re using, ensure that all endpoints are secure. Be sure to block unknown threats, constantly monitor all systems, protect all of the apps you use, and train your employees well in best practices for cybersecurity.
2. Update your software (and keep it updated).
Software is constantly changing, and updates and patches need to be installed regularly. Any holes in your updates could lead to a security breach when hackers take advantage of non-updated software and programs.
3. Be password savvy.
Passwords are one of the easiest ways for hackers to breach personal accounts and hardware devices. The best way to keep your passwords protected is to make sure you're not using the same password for multiple sites.
In fact, Guy says to, "Keep your passwords secure and unique per site. Do not reuse a password. Use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password."
4. Be careful providing personal information online.
Many people freely type in their full names, addresses, phone numbers, driver's license numbers, and Social Security numbers — without worry. In fact, this isn't a great idea.
Some websites that are secure may be fine to trust with your data. If you're not sure of the security of a certain website, however, never give up your personal information. This also goes for providing credit card information.
If you're not sure whether a website is secure or not, Guy says to, "Check for the lock within the browser address to ensure that there is a certificate in place which encrypts the communication between you and the site.
Today even the bad guys can make the site look secure. Be sure you know what site you are entering this type of information into."
5. Avoid sharing too much information on social media.
Because your social media account is likely connected to your real name and other detailed personal information about you, it's important to tread lightly. Don't share too much personal information on social media, especially if you have a public account and/or haven't cracked down on the security options in your system preferences.
6. Use a VPN whenever possible.
Again, VPNs are one of the best ways to stop yourself from being tracked online. If you have VPN software, be sure to flip it on when browsing. It never hurts to use VPNs at home, but, in particular, always use them on unknown networks.
Best Practices for Choosing a VPN
You've likely heard of a number of VPN services that are available. It can be difficult to choose between these many options, so below are a few of the features that Guy recommends looking for.
You'll want to find a VPN that:
Can be used on a number of platforms, including mobile devices and desktop computers
Has a good reputation
Allows for a fast connection
Is easy to use
Has servers located throughout the world
Will not collect your information
Has a high level of security
Is an established, sizable company
Is “always improving their services and product”
Do You Have to Pay for VPNs?
There are free VPNs available, but it's a better idea to purchase one with a good reputation. Any type of business organization should purchase a high-end VPN for all of their in-house computers and other devices as well as the personal devices of their employees.
Why Shouldn't You Assume You’re Exempt From Security Threats?
The bottom line of what Guy is trying to drive home is that you need to be aware of cybersecurity threats at all times and take steps to stop them.
These threats lurk everywhere, and hackers will stop at nothing to reach your systems and steal your data. It doesn't matter how big or successful your business is — or even if you have a business, for that matter. No industry is exempt, and no person is either.
Take the steps necessary to protect yourself from security threats. You won't regret it.