Cyber Security Month Tech Tip #7
Happy Cyber Security Awareness Month digital citizens. Throughout the month of October different organizations and individuals will post cyber security focused tips and best practices to help users of the Internet keep the digital security of themselves, friends and family in mind. So to pay it forward I wanted to share as many cyber security focused tips as I could this month. While I have already written about topics from what a proper password should be to things to keep in mind when setting up your home Internet router one topic I can think about ties both of these concepts together. Using the Internet on the go. And while the state of mobile data networks is drastically better than it was when I received my first cell phone dead spots and back reception areas still exist that make users seek out and connect to Wi-Fi hotspots away from home. Unfortunately this can be a great security risk.
Virtual Private Networks – Security On-The-Go
We have all been there. Out around town and you are trying to get a news update or check your (insert social network of choice) feed and it is taking forever. As you look up at the reception icon on your phone you notice you barely have any bars showing. But surely someone in the area has free Wi-Fi you can jump on. Maybe you are next to a Starbucks or McDonalds. Better yet when you look at your available networks list the nail salon on the corner has four bars. Life safer right? WRONG!!!
When you connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot all your data is going though those devices. With a little effort people with legal or illegal access to that network can see what websites you are accessing, data you are sending back and forth, your social media logins, timelines, and messages as well as any and all other data that you are sending and receiving. That is a lot of trust you must decide to have in a nail salon or gourmet coffee place. And while a lot of sites and service make sure that all data uses https (hyper text transport protocol secure) to encrypt your data so that unwanted eyes can what you are doing, the Internet as a whole isn't completely secure. Especially when you factor in the danger of people setting up Wi-Fi hotspots that look like they are connected to legitimate business but are just there to allow devices to connect to them and record everything that goes from your device to the Internet. That's why if you are in the habit of connecting to Wi-Fi networks when you are away from home via your mobile phone, table or laptop computer you should really invest in a Virtual Private Network account (VPN).
A VPN is a way to create a connection to private computing devices over a public Internet connection. So if you are at your local pubic library or outside of Walmart and connect to free Wi-Fi you can start your VPN software and encrypt all your data. So even if you are connected to a fake Wi-Fi hotspot they will not be able to see any of the data you are transmitting in a readable format. There are just a few things you need to keep in mind so that you are getting the best experience and most protection from your VPN software:
You Get What You Pay For
There are plenty of VPN services on the Internet. And a lot of them are free. Avoid these at all cost. If you software is free and isn't being run by and truly altruistic non profit organization then the service is trying to sell you ads and use your data in some form to sell to advertisers. This doesn't happen 100% of the time. But it does a high percentage of the time. A simple search on any popular search engine will give you ads to plenty of good VPN services. And if you are an avid podcast listener you can always find trials and rebates on the more popular ones. (i.e.Honestly Tech Podcast and The Material Podcast).
If you are paying for a VPN you must be serious about your data privacy. So a VPN service that collects and saves log data on your connections to it should be an automatic hard pass. So make sure to read though the service's frequently asked questions pages (FAQs) or even text/call a technical representative and ask them directly “Do you keep logs?”. If they do ask for how long. If it is anything more that a few days or so think about moving on.
This one should not be such a hard one but in theory it is possible to have a VPN without encryption. Which is pretty much counterintuitive for what you will want to use it for. So make sure they service you pick uses strong encryption.
Many VPN services allow you to use multiple devices simultaneously. So make sure that is an option if you use more than one device on the go.
VPNs aren't something you need a lot of money to take advantage of. So you don't have to worry about breaking the bank. Just keep the tips above in mind and you should be able to find an affordable and secure VPN service that respects your digital rights. And please remember to pass on any cyber security tips #cybersecuritymonth tips you see or think up via email or social networking.