You may hear the acronym VPN, which stands for virtual private network, tossed around when talking about accessing the internet. Do you find yourself asking, “What does a VPN protect me from?”
For the average user, the values of a VPN may not be as apparent as they are to seasoned security professionals. For most users, a VPN is that mysterious logo on your work computer that pops up every day when you log in.
You’re told it protects you from malicious threats, viruses, and worms. But what does all this look like in layman’s terms?
In this article, we delve into the different ways a VPN can help protect and explain what some of these mysterious threats are and how they could affect you negatively if a VPN isn’t in use.
VPNs Help by Hiding Your Real IP Address
One obvious way a VPN can help protect you is by masking your actual internet protocol (IP) address location. You may be thinking, “why do I care if someone can see my IP address?”
Most people may not care, but it’s a necessity to use a VPN for those who want to retain their privacy while still being able to utilize the internet. The following are some malicious side effects that can occur by exposing your IP address to the internet.
VPNs Help to Prevent Spamming or DDoS Activity
There are free online tools that allow someone to spam or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) your IP address to cause disruption and even financial ruin if someone wanted to. DDoS is the process of crafting a ton of fake packets and sending them all to one destination at one time.
If you don’t have proper controls in place to either reroute that traffic or buffer it, it could bring down your internet service potentially. If you’re on a pay-per-consumption internet plan, you could end up paying a hefty monthly bill for all the traffic that was generated to your IP address.
This is a popular activity within the online gaming community. Other gamers may get upset by losing to someone, so they spam the other person’s IP address in a retaliation effort, thus limiting their ability to continue playing the game.
VPNs Mask Your Location
Your IP address and its metadata can point to a physical location. By using a VPN, you’re thus able to change your digital presence to a different physical location that could prevent someone from trying to locate you.
Whether you’re concerned about being physically tracked or trying to access IP-restricted streaming content on Netflix. Using a VPN service can help you achieve this.
VPNs Encrypt Your Traffic to Prevent Packet Sniffing
Whenever you use the internet, you could be exposing yourself to anyone who may be explicitly watching packet transactions happen online.
You may be thinking “Why do I care if someone is watching packets?” or “What are packets anyway?” Packets can interact with different things on the internet and are required for almost anything. Visiting a website, sending an email, doing online shopping all need you to send and receive packets containing information about your activity.
If you aren’t using a VPN service, malicious onlookers can tap into these packet transfers and monitor or interject your online activity. The following are some ways a VPN can help prevent malicious packet sniffing activity.
VPNs Prevent Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
As the name suggests, a man-in-the-middle attack is where an attacker can monitor your online activity and attempt to interject themselves into your transactions to perform malicious tasks.
You could be performing some banking tasks while logged into your bank’s web portal and by not using a VPN, the attacker would be able to capture your traffic live and possibly change some of your values entered.
For example, you initiate a bank transfer to your best friend’s account for the money you owe them.
Potentially, the hacker could intercept that request, change the amount of money being sent, and change the destination address to an offshore bank account controlled by them.
VPNs Prevent the Capturing of Sensitive Data From Being Sent Unencrypted
You expose all your traffic to the unencrypted internet when you don’t use a VPN. This means that anyone can read your packet in plain text without much effort.
Think about all the different activities you perform on the internet that contain sensitive data? Banking information, login credentials, Credit card data you input when shopping, and even your medical records can all be accessed online.
By using a VPN, you can secure these communication tunnels with encryption to make it harder or even impossible for hackers to view your data.
VPNs Prevent Phishing Attacks
Lastly, with your communication data exposed, you could be providing nonsensitive information to attackers that may be building an online profile about you to craft a malicious phishing email in an attempt to exploit your person or systems.
You may not think information like your dog’s first name or the street you grew up on is sensitive data. Still, when it’s gathered and combined, it can help an attacker create a narrative within a convincing email to help trick you into providing more sensitive information.
VPNs Provide Anonymization From Third-party Onlookers
Whenever you visit a website online, more than likely, there are several different third parties that can access your data or data that you input into that website.
Some may be metrics around which parts of the site you interact with the most, but others could be more intrusive. These third parties offer incentives to the website owners to do this in exchange for a monetary payment.
Then, the third parties usually take the data gathered and use it for market research to better their product or potentially they could sell it to other entities a bulk data lists. Either way, if you take pride in your privacy, using a VPN helps thwart this activity.
VPNs Help Circumvent Government Regulations or Restrictions
Depending on where you live, there may be restrictions or regulations in place that prevent certain online activities, such as gambling, streaming, and social media, from occurring. By using a VPN service, you can change your digital location to anywhere in the world that your VPN service offers a routing server.
By doing this, you can bypass these restrictions that may be preventing you from optimizing your online experience.
What does this protect me from? The answer falls along the lines of personal preference and freedom. Specific regulations and governing bodies may restrict your ability to enjoy freedoms elsewhere.
Think of a VPN as a vessel that can help you protect your freedom as a person to do what you please on the internet and not be buried by an overarching governing body.
Lastly, having a trustworthy VPN that includes all the features mentioned in this article is vital to your online protection.