Following on from my Facebook decision I have decided to toughen up my IT security generally. All my anti-virus protection is up to date across my devices but I wanted to go further. As of today I have finally bitten the VPN bullet.
What is a VPN? It stands for Virtual Private Network, which doesn’t help much, but let me explain for those of us who could do with a quick definition. Why do I (and you) need one?
The best way to think of a connection to the Internet when you try to access a web site or your email is that your PC or laptop, even at home, connects first to your home’s router (the WIFI box next to your telephone), then to the local telephone exchange, then to some server somewhere (think of this as a big switch that routes your internet request to the next place in the network), then another server (… perhaps several others …) goes and gets some information, packages it up for you, then reverses the trip back home again. Now you might (probably do) have a ‘secure’ connection to your home’s router; you’re pretty safe up to any equipment in cables in the road (although not necessarily), but after that? Who knows where your information goes. Now some of your connections like your bank transfers will be encrypted (deliberately scrambled like a military code) but some are not: They are sent ‘in clear’. This is generally true if you are sitting in a coffee shop using the public WIFI.
It is ridiculously easy to hack these transmissions and this can be done with a ‘sniffer’ if you have some basic network skills. I really do mean ridiculously.
This is where a VPN comes in. It sits on your machine and scrambles ALL your transmissions, and it works because of a system of mixed encryption ‘keys’ that only you and the server at the other end can unlock, and it is unique to your transmission.
There are lots of VPNs about and the good ones share nothing with governments, other companies or individuals. All that is necessary is to subscribe to a service (yes, this means paying about the price of a Netflix account but penny pinching with this is most definitely a false economy). Once signed up you download their software and it runs unobtrusively in the background.
I have gone with Express VPN for my VPN by the way, but advise you to look at a VPN comparison site to see which one fits your needs as I cannot recommend one for you. What I would say is GET ONE, whether you are worried about Russian hackers, crooks hanging around city centre coffee shops or Facebook tracking you, just do it.