Thursday 10 July, 2014

Virtual Private Networks – How Safe Are They?

A virtual private network gives you a way to surf the web securely. Using a VPN protects your data and keeps it from falling into the wrong hands as it passes over the internet.

What most people don’t realize is that simply using a virtual private network doesn’t guarantee your safety completely. Many of the websites that tout the security of VPNs are doing so because they’re selling a VPN service. The truth is that you’re not totally safe just because you’re on a virtual private network.

What Is a VPN?

Let’s look at how a VPN works. A VPN is a private network that extends over a public network. It allows you to send and share data over a public network as if it were a private network; hence, the term ‘virtual.’

You can use a VPN to access your work network when you’re outside the office without security fears. You can do the opposite as well, using a VPN while at work so that your data is not passed over your work network. You can also use a VPN to access the internet using a public Wi-Fi connection without worry. It basically allows you to use the internet privately no matter where you are.

VPN Security Risks

When you use a virtual private network, there is still a third party involved. The VPN service provider you use needs to be trustworthy. They’re securing your connection, keeping your data encrypted and protecting your activity. Keep in mind that the provider itself can still access the data you’re sending.

Like a regular network, you can send data over HTTP or HTTPS. You should always use an SSL connection when handling sensitive information, even if you’re using a virtual private network. This prevents your service provider from seeing the data you send. They can only see the domain of the server.

Malicious Files

Although a VPN protects you from a third party intercepting your data, it won’t protect you from malicious files. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. A VPN is only a secure network, not an anti-virus program. If you download malicious files using a VPN, they will still damage your computer. Think of it as browsing on private or safe mode.

Surf Smart

Having said all of this, I still recommend using a virtual private network when using the internet on a public network. A virtual private network allows you to safely use public Wi-Fi, access the internet outside of a limited network, download files privately, bypass a country’s web censorship, etc. It is well worth it to use a VPN as long as you’re aware that there are some security risks.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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