A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides a way to connect securely to a public network through a private network. While proxy servers act as intermediaries to hide your IP address and protect your privacy, VPNs take that concept one step further by encrypting all communications and the channels through which they travel. See What is the Difference Between a Proxy and a VPN? for a full run-down on the advantages a VPN carries over a standard proxy server.
The Politics of Privacy
Ever since WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden came on the scene, privacy from state governments has been a hot topic in public debate, and it’s an issue that is here to stay. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology have devoted countless resources to educating the public about the dangers government surveillance has to a functioning democracy.
Now, however, the topic has been in the public eye long enough that academic institutions are beginning to collect data suggesting the mere knowledge of government surveillance is dangerous in and of itself. Individuals reportedly post less on social media if they believe their opinion is in the minority, and Wikipedia has announced a drop in topics surrounding contentious topics (such as terrorism and censorship). Online culture is shifting from the adventurous pioneer spirit associated with the 1990s to one in which individuals stop themselves from researching and commenting out of fear of ending up on some government watchlist. By making online encryption and privacy protection a norm, however, we can reclaim that sense of freedom in online activity.
Even those who aren’t interested in public discourse have faced the annoyances of corporate data mining. Increasingly aggressive advertisements collect user data to help businesses create “personality profiles” of potential consumers. This information is bought and sold on a virtual data market whose participants include credit card companies, marketing agencies, and retail corporations.
Those are all the public and (questionably) legal threats to online privacy, but the era of malicious hackers is far from over. With more consumers than ever doing their shopping online, identity theft rates have spiked. Every time you use your credit card and send personal data online, you can be assured some group is attempting to access it. Headlines across the US continue to report stories of major retail chains getting hacked by malicious attackers after credit card information, while internationally reports rise of underground data markets where buyers purchase personal information to commit tax fraud.
Even if your personal identifying information is secure, your computer has its own identifying information that can be used against you. Our IP addresses are available every time we make requests through unsecured channels (such as public Wi-Fi). Computers become the unwitting hosts to networked malware known as “botnets.” What’s worse, some governments (including the US) have drafted legislation that gives the government warrantless access to hack into any device suspected of hosting a botnet, meaning even victims are treated as criminals.
Privacy has been an important issue long before the Internet. Institutions such as libraries advocated for the privacy of their patrons’ records, arguing that nobody should ever have access to what others check out for use at a public library. Today, the same should hold true with online content streaming, whether it’s a video on Netflix or an educational article on a journal database. Voting is another norm in which we have come to assume privacy is expected, but what good is a private ballot when our online searches and private communications can be picked up?
A VPN is the Hammer for Every Nail
By now, you know that protecting your privacy is an essential for anybody accessing the online world today. The question now then is not “if”, but “how?”. A VPN is the best tool available today to bring privacy and security to the entire connected world. Through encryption and authentication, VPNs provide the most comprehensive resource to anybody trying to browse the web, stream content, chat or email online, and access blocked content. See How Does a VPN Work? to learn more about the security protocols that make VPNs possible.
Once, installing a personal VPN was a luxury only accessible to the highly technical. Now, a rising number of organizations and startups are emerging from the premise that everybody should have access to a secure VPN. Installing your own should be as easy – and ordinary – as installing an antivirus software on a brand-new computer. These days, it isn’t just our computers themselves that are at risk; everything we say and do is becoming incorporated into the Internet of Things, and VPNs are the most all-encompassing security tools to date to ensure we are protected on all fronts.
Now that you know you want a VPN, the possibilities are endless. Let us help you get started by checking out our how-to articles to learn everything you need to know about setting up and using your VPN.