Virtual Private Network (VPN) for Security
An open, public Wi-Fi or hotspot at a hotel, airport, coffee shop, restaurant, library, etc., provides a convenient free internet connection, but is a security risk for users, unless a Virtual Private Network is used. Cyber criminals may be eavesdropping to capture user names, passwords, bank accounts, credit cards, and other confidential information.
If you are only checking news, sports, or weather, or searching for a restaurant, business location or entertainment listing, that may not be confidential, and maybe you are not concerned if someone may be eavesdropping.
Providing a Secure Internet Connection
But, if you are reading personal or business email, logging in to a work computer, bank or credit card accounts, purchasing goods or services online using a credit card, using other password-protected accounts, or want to do private web browsing, then security is needed.
With a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you install VPN client software on your PC, smartphone or another mobile device. The VPN software uses authentication, tunneling, and data encryption to provide a security shield to block spies.
VPN uses an authentication protocol to establish a secure connection between the VPN server and the user (VPN client). Users without proper credentials are locked out. Then a tunneling protocol (TP) is used as a protection layer to wrap around the data packets. Inside the data tunnel, data is encrypted, using one of several encryption protocols.
If a hacker tries to break through the VPN tunnel, the break-in is detected, and the message is sent by an alternate route, so the hacker cannot listen. If a hacker was able to break through the tunnel layer, the hacker would only see an encrypted message, not a plain text message. Some encryption methods are very strong and not crackable by criminals.
The Virtual Private Network connection is only between the VPN client and the VPN server. The VPN server relays the message to a final destination server. To maintain a secure connection to the final destination on the public internet, the destination must be a website using https, not http. An http connection uses plain text and can be monitored. Https uses encryption for a secure connection.
There is a data delay when using a Virtual Private Network since data must be encrypted, decrypted and relayed by the remote VPN server before reaching the final destination. You may select a VPN server located in another city or another country. The destination server will only see the IP address of the VPN server, not your actual IP address, providing a virtual location.
Avoid ISP Monitoring
Many Internet Service Providers (ISP) monitor and log website visits by their subscribers. If you want to keep your website visits private, you can use a VPN service.
Choosing a VPN Service Provider
Users may choose from many VPN service providers. Typical cost is $30 to $80 per year. VPN providers may use different types of encryption including OpenVPN, L2TP, PPTP, and SSTP protocols. PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) is older technology with weaker encryption that may be cracked. Some ISPs may block VPN traffic using PPTP. OpenVPN is regarded as strong encryption and not blockable if it uses TCP Port 443, where it looks like normal https traffic.
One VPN service that I have used is Freedome for Android from F-Secure, an internet security company. Freedome is easy to install and use, and comes bundled with anti-malware software to protect against viruses, spyware, tracking cookies and malicious websites. You can test it with a 7-day free trial, and you may find some discount codes online offering a longer free trial period. I found a code for a 90-day free trial. The Freedome website is at https://www.f-secure.com/en/web/home_global/freedome.
There are some free VPN services, but they may be slow and crowded with many users, may not include antivirus protection, and are often supported by nuisance advertising or nagging pop-ups urging you to upgrade to a paid version. For a serious computer user or business user, subscribe to a better quality VPN service.
Read the product description on the company website and read customer reviews before making a choice of VPN service. There are VPN companies and VPN servers based in many different countries. Free VPN services may only offer one server or a few servers.
Especially when using public Wi-Fi, protect yourself from identity theft, hackers, and spies by using a VPN service provider. At the least, only use an https connection.