Whether you’re using the internet to make a living, play games or keep in touch via your socials, you might not realize how easy it is for internet baddies to hijack your accounts and / or your connected devices. Most ‘regular citizens’ don’t see themselves as potential hacker targets, and it’s that lack of awareness that provides malicious actors with their best opportunities.
Like any other activity, the more you do something, the greater the chances of something going wrong. If you’re a motorcyclist who only rides in good weather on the weekends, statistically, you have a lower chance of having an accident than a dispatch rider who is in the saddle 50 hours of each week.
Similarly with the internet, the more hours you spend online, the more chance that a hacker will come across your online presence and try to either extract money from you via ransomware or phishing attacks – or just hijack your social accounts for mischief. It stands to reason then that one of the simplest and easiest techniques to avoid your online security being compromised is to stay anonymous when you’re online.
Staying anonymous is a surprisingly effective security technique. Cyber criminals and pranksters are no different from street punks, they go for easy targets. For example, if you were to leave a shiny Cadillac parked in a sleazy suburb on the wrong side of the tracks, with an expensive designer handbag left on the passenger seat in full view of the world, the chances are that somebody is going to break the car window and steal whatever they find. But hiding that same handbag under the back seat of a 20-year-old rusty compact Ford usually means that thieves don’t give the vehicle a second look.
The same principle applies on social media. If you’re an influencer on a particular platform, perhaps promoting cosmetics and running your own e-commerce business, your online visibility will be very high. Hackers may well find your IP address via your various known online channels and target your internet connection accordingly. But if those hackers didn’t know where you were located or who the connection belonged to, they would probably walk on by. And the easiest way to stay anonymous is by using an urban VPN; which is just as effective whether you live downtown in the city center or in the swanky suburbs.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides an encrypted anonymous third party server between your connected device and the online service you’re using. So whether you’re streaming Netflix movies, playing co-op games with friends or booking a flight on Skyscanner, the online service you’re connected to can’t find your IP address. Neither can hackers. Your location and identity simply cannot be found.
But there are other advantages to using a VPN. Let’s look at a couple of the most useful benefits:
Ease Off The Throttle
‘Data throttling’ is a term which refers to an internet service provider (ISP) slowing down its customers’ connection (download) speeds to such a crawl that the connection itself becomes useless. Many ISPs deny that they carry out the practice, but it’s often performed to whole geographical areas when a particular event might be happening. For example, if a football team like the Boise State Broncos reached an important stage in a competition, the chances are that streaming platforms in Boise Idaho are going to be suddenly hit with a large demand at the time of the match. An ISP could therefore ‘throttle’ the connections to IP addresses in Boise to prevent their network being overwhelmed.
But if you were connected to the internet via a VPN, the IP address of your connection might indicate that you’re located in Birmingham Alabama or Beirut! In short, the ISP can’t throttle a connection if they don’t know who their customer is or where they’re located.
Winning Over Wi-Fi
Ever gone to a shopping mall, stopped for a coffee in whatever food court and logged onto the free unsecured Wi-Fi connection? Maybe you want to check out a friend’s Facebook feed or send an email. Whilst convenient, it’s probably one of the riskiest things you can do online. Hackers often set up ‘phantom hotspots’, which purport to be Wi-Fi provided by the mall, but in reality, you’re just logging onto the internet via a hacker’s computer. The miscreant might be masking their presence in a van parked just outside the mall; or they could be sipping a coffee at a corner table. You only need to put your password into your webmail provider and the hacker has you banged to rights! They then send you what appears to be a marketing email. Once clicked, your device may be infected with whatever virus the hacker chooses.
But reputable VPN providers offer encrypted servers that carry state of the art malware and virus detection systems. If your browser was protected by a VPN extension, the instant any external interference was detected, the server would cut that connection within milliseconds, before any harm could be done.
Saving Money Whilst Staying Safe
There are additional benefits to VPN use too, provided by the inability for websites to find your location via your IP address. Some travel ticket and accommodation reseller portals can use the concept of ‘dynamic pricing’ – this is where the AI behind the website’s analytics software displays a higher price for a product or service if you’re judged to be in a wealthy area. For example, if your IP address shows that you’re connecting to the web from a hotel in Manhattan, then the price you’re shown for a flight from NYC to California goes up. Conversely, if your IP address indicates that you’re logging on to the site from a trailer park in Detroit, a lower price may well be available. By using a VPN, you can choose where you appear to be located, from Maine to Mexico via Malawi – so you can save money by beating those AI bandits at their own game.
In summary, whether you’re online for business, pleasure or plain curiosity, using a VPN keeps you under the radar and undisturbed.