These days, it is becoming more and more difficult to stay secure in what we know as cyberspace, the World Wide Web, or simply the internet. The internet, historically, was certainly not meant to be the all-encompassing digital world it is for billions of people today. It is an incredible thing to remember that the ‘net’ started its life as a scientific research project in the 90s, that would relatively quickly become one of the greatest and most revolutionary inventions of humanity.
Following its release to the public in the mid-90s, the internet saw a huge rise in activity, somewhere between 2004-2010, which coincided with major tech revolutions such as the release of the first iPhone. This period also saw the invention of Facebook, in 2004. In essence, social media and smartphone development really pushed the internet to unprecedented levels. Later in the 2010s, we witnessed even more internet revolution as everything picked up even more speed and breadth (especially the invention of apps), and major upticks in the amount of global internet usage were observed.
Of course, with such an enormous network that is alive, interconnects the entire globe, and keeps growing exponentially every day, there are now security issues to deal with that are a serious concern for anyone’s online activity. Cybercrime has risen and is not stopping anytime soon, which means that the need for cybersecurity has never been greater.
As malware reared its ugly head (malware is a general term for all malicious software such as viruses, spyware etc.), most notably at the beginning of the 2000s, the demand for cybersecurity grew in every sector, and grows to this day.
What Is A VPN
A Virtual Private Network, or commonly known as a VPN, is an essential tool that helps you stay safe online. It comes in three forms today; for desktop, enterprise solutions for businesses and as an app for smartphones. For this purpose, let’s talk about publicly available VPNs for ‘home’ users (we’ll leave business solutions out in this case). So what does a VPN do? When you connect to the internet, a VPN gives you the option of connecting to an external server that serves as a ‘tunnel’. These servers can be local, or international. Most VPN software offers at least a dozen choices of these tunnels to connect to, more or less.
When you connect to the VPN, this tunnel is encrypted (secured against intrusions), allowing all of your activity on the network to ideally be anonymous. So, this tunnel/server functions in the midway path between you and the rest of the internet.
We will later cover more on the distinctions between an average and a good VPN, why VPNs vary a lot, and are definitely not equal. There are several VPN choices to choose from, both free and paid, and your choice may vary depending on what they offer. First, let’s delve into why being cyber-aware is important, below.
Let’s emphasize why there is a need to keep the internet secure, and more importantly for you, why you need to protect yourself online. An entire industry of cybersecurity is thriving today in the midst of seemingly endless threats, and it is no longer strange to have software such as an anti-virus, anti-malware and a good Virtual Private Network, or VPN, installed on your system, all active at the same time.
Having specialized protection against malware is one thing, but in terms of your general safety, anonymity and freedom online, nothing approaches the importance of using a VPN today. As with any software, especially in this day and age, it is critical that you know what it is exactly that you have downloaded. To be truly cybersecure, while using a VPN, you must know what is happening to your data, as well as read up on the privacy policies of the software you have downloaded.
For instance, let’s talk about a few issues in order to highlight the importance of being cyber-aware; many people have made the mistake of logging into their computer or mobile phones, and downloading whatever VPN software they find, believing that they are now protected.
There are many free VPNs out there, but their reputation and legitimacy can be questionable. Then, what happens with your data when you connect to a questionable VPN? Why should you invest your time (and sometimes your money) in a good VPN service? Let’s talk about this.
What Makes a Good VPN
What does it mean when we say a ‘good’ VPN? There are a couple of points any VPN worth its salt should include. This would include the following critical must-haves;
- The VPN must guarantee a well-encrypted service
- The service must be able to unblock geo-blocks
- Look for encryption such as; L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, OpenVPN, WireGuard
- Make sure that you have 128-bit encryption at the least
- Go for a paid service, avoid free VPNs, for peace of mind
A good VPN should be able to give you a high-speed, anonymous, secure and free internet service. It should completely cloak your internet usage, and allow you to view search results in the country you have connected to. In most cases, you will rarely find a free VPN that guarantees all of these criteria, however there are of course exceptions if you do a little research.
A guaranteed way to check how secure you are if you have downloaded a VPN, is to do an extensive online security check. With these checks, you will be able to know if your Internet Service Provider, as well as the rest of the internet ‘sees’ you. A good VPN will show your location as the one you selected in your VPN program, and should not show any of your local info at all. You should also not have any DNS leak warnings when you do the check. Once you have completed this step, it is also advisable to download a secure browser that includes ‘do-not-track’ and ‘anti-fingerprinting’ options. A good browser combined with a good VPN are a fantastic combination for a free, safe and anonymous internet experience.