What is a VPN?
A VPN is a service that allows you to not only browse the internet securely but also access region-restricted websites. It hides your identity and true IP address from anything on the web that can track you. This way, you can surf with a genuine sense of privacy and anonymity.
How does it all work? Once you connect to the internet with your device via a VPN, you create a connection to a remote VPN server. As a result, the device will act as if your IP address is in the same area as that of the server. This secure connection hides your online activity from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and protects your data if you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
While having access to a VPN increases your online security, it isn’t a be-all and end-all solution to the vulnerabilities of the internet. For example, VPNs cannot protect you from phishing and weak passwords since these are user-dependent issues. VPNs are also unable to make your internet connection faster.
How to set up a VPN
Depending on which VPN service you choose, there are usually two different ways of setting it up. Assuming you’re using a Windows operating system, one way is to go to your Settings then look for VPN. All you need to do is enter details such as the name and address of the VPN along with the proper login credentials and you’re good to go. The other, more common way is by downloading the VPN app on your device, logging in, and, finally, connecting to the VPN.
Let’s jump right into our list of do’s:
- Do check the fine print.
All VPNs promise privacy and security, but not all of them are 100% risk-free. This is why it’s good practice to read the fine print before committing to a service provider. Specifically, check what their logging policies are.
Having a no-log policy is important because it ensures that the VPN provider doesn’t keep a record of your online activity. There are several VPNs (usually the free ones) that offer a working product but at the expense of your privacy.
Now, not all VPN providers that keep a log of your data are necessarily doing it to carry out illegal activities (like hacking your financial accounts, for example). Most of the time, however, they’re selling your data to marketing companies, which makes you vulnerable to spammy ads and offers that are intrusive at worst and annoying at best.
- Make sure your configurations are on-point.
Upon setting up your chosen VPN, make sure to double-check and reconfigure its settings before using it for the first time.
Make sure the kill switch feature is turned on if your VPN has one (though really, if you decide to invest in a VPN, you might as well make sure it does have a kill switch). A kill switch is a safety feature that shuts down your network in the event your VPN experiences a drop in connection. This ensures that hackers and other security threats won’t have the opportunity to seize these momentary VPN “trips” to steal your data.
- Be consistent.
You have to use your VPN every single time you do financial transactions (and other such activities that require security and privacy) online. Using it most of the time or even worse, only when you remember it, can be dangerous. After all, it only takes a single instance of successful hacking for your data to be stolen.
Now that we’ve discussed the do’s, let’s look at the flip side and talk about the things you shouldn’t do with your VPN.
- Don’t limit VPN use to your browser.
Many people are guilty of this one, likely due to the popularity of free VPN services that are in the form of browser extensions. But when you limit VPN use to your browser, you’re essentially protecting only your activity within that said browser. This means that if you use external apps and other online software, there’s a chance that the data you transmit through them will be compromised.
Generally, it’s recommended to enable a VPN across your entire platform. This will protect every single bit of your data, as well as keep all the activities you do online hidden.
- Don’t forget to install your VPN on all your devices.
This one’s an extension of the previous point. If you’re using multiple devices to browse the internet, it makes sense for all of them to be protected by a VPN. This is more relevant than ever considering that we do pretty much everything on our phones now, including high-risk tasks like mobile banking and file sharing.
- Don’t leave your VPN enabled when you don’t need it.
While it’s important to be consistent with your VPN use, there are also specific situations where it might help to turn it off. It’s already a given to keep your VPN enabled every time you’re doing something that calls for utmost security and privacy. But if you’re just streaming a random Netflix show, the speed boost you’ll get upon disabling your VPN is likely a perk you wouldn’t want to pass on.
This also applies if you’re working from home and using the company’s remote VPN. The company VPN only has so much bandwidth, so you want to make sure that it’s available for those who need it. If you’re on your lunch break and just streaming entertainment videos, better turn the VPN off to preserve bandwidth. There’s a chance that at that very moment, one of your coworkers is trying to upload large, confidential files while working from a public library. You want to make sure it’s available to them.
These are the do’s and don’ts that you need to keep in mind while using a VPN. Following these tips religiously will help you maximize the security and privacy afforded by your chosen VPN provider.
Remember: while most people use VPNs to circumvent content restrictions and access websites from a different location, it is, at its core, still a security tool that lets you enjoy the wonders of the internet while keeping your IP address hidden, and your identity anonymous.