The Perils of Public Wi-Fi
Publicly available Wi-Fi networks usually offer no security at all or not enough to be of practical use. This means any information you send over such networks can be potentially intercepted by anyone else accessing the network, including hackers and data thieves. This is why logging into a bank, email or other business account or using credit/debit cards on public Wi-Fi poses serious privacy and security risks.
Home Networks May Not Be as Private as You Think
Additionally, although home-network encryption protects against external intruders and threats, most websites—especially ecommerce sites and advertisers—track individual internet usage to some extent. Google and Facebook spring to mind as some of the most pervasive trackers and collectors of personal data, but any website that uses “cookies” (more on those below) are keeping tabs on you. Moreover, most web browsers create logs of what you do and where you go, generating potential privacy/security risks. In fact, everything you do on the internet through your home network has potential to be tracked, catalogued or hacked.
A Virtual Private Network Offers Extra Security Layers
It’s possible to protect yourself on public networks and to create an additional layer of security at home with a sophisticated, easy-to-use tool called a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs can deliver encrypted, secure internet usage on public networks. They can also protect you against malicious actors who may be able to access your private data or hack you without breaching your home Wi-Fi password. And VPNs can prevent websites and browsers from tracking you.
What is a Virtual Private Network?
A VPN is a “software as a service” product that connects a device to a secure, third-party server in the cloud via computer and mobile applications. This creates a self-contained, “virtual” network between the user and the server that scrambles all the information a user sends and receives over the internet, making it invisible to third parties. A VPN server can be located anywhere in the world, which can be part of the benefit of using one (it can also be a drawback—more on that below).
Internet Protocol Addresses and Internet Tracking
Whether you’re on a home, business-based, cellular or public Wi-Fi internet network, each device you use generates a unique identifier known as an internet protocol (IP) address. Any internet site or other third-party with access to that IP address can see not only all websites visited from the device, but also the geographical location of the device when visited.
On an unencrypted public Wi-Fi network, your IP address gives data thieves and hackers a handy way to track you and intercept any data you send or receive. Most websites, meanwhile, track you by uploading cookies onto your device—unique, miniscule pieces of computer code. Each cookie is tied to your individualized IP address. Consequently, your IP address plays an important role in the ability of businesses to serve you customized, sometimes intrusive, online advertising based on your browsing and purchase histories.
How Does a Virtual Private Network Protect You?
A VPN substitutes your device’s native IP address for the IP address of the VPN server. Many VPNs will change that unique, substitute IP address each time you log out and back on by simply switching you between servers. On a public Wi-Fi network, a VPN adds two layers of security. For one, once connected to the VPN, everything sent and received is password protected and encrypted, making it inaccessible to hackers and thieves.
The second layer offered by a VPN on public Wi-Fi also helps protect privacy on home networks: Websites can still upload cookies into your device, but the IP address associated with that cookie will be the VPN’s, not yours. This effectively neutralizes cookies as a tracking method. Similarly, your browser will still record your browsing history, but it will be connected to the VPN’s IP address. The same applies for any queries you enter into search engines.
Do keep in mind, however, that if you choose a VPN with servers located outside the United States, this could cause reduced functionality on certain websites. Video streaming services are a primary example. Most international streaming services offer different titles from one country to another, and if your service thinks you’re located outside the United States, some videos may be unavailable to you. This is a function of the VPN used, though; your chosen ISP has no influence.
Finding a VPN that Fits
There are different kinds of virtual private network, but consumers and remote workers mostly use remote access VPNs. The number of companies offering consumer VPNs is staggering, so finding the best one for your personal needs may require some research. The good news is that there are many affordable options, with some being free. Consider starting your VPN search with a Google query to see what options might fit your privacy and security needs and budget.
Many VPNs, Only One GVEC Fiber
There may be different VPNs out there, but there’s only one local internet provider that can bring the world’s fastest internet technology straight into your home: GVEC. We build GVEC Fiber using 100% pure fiber-optic cable without a millimeter of copper getting between you and the most reliable internet experience this side of your front door.
Find out if Fiber’s available to your home or sign up by calling 800.699.4832. You can also sign up at gvec.net or visit our Internet Availability page to see if Fiber is available in your neighborhood.