You may have heard the term VPN tossed around when having a conversation with your IT department. When asked what it does, you were most likely hit with a technical explanation that made your head spin and leaving you to not think about it any further; IT folks like to do that.
So allow me to explain what a Virtual Private Network is and why you should now use it at home. Yes, VPN is not just a business thing anymore and it's more important than ever.
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure and encrypted connection from a client (You) to a VPN Provider. Also called a "tunnel", all data passed over this connection is encrypted and is hidden from everyone, including your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The only party that can see websites you are visiting is the VPN Provider.
How it Works
Let's use a hypothetical example involving a fictional VPN provider called AllSafe and Tom. AllSafe is an internet security company that provides among other things, a VPN service that encrypts data using military specifications.
Tom signs up for AllSafe's monthly subscription service and downloads the Client Software which he installs on his computer.
Before Tom starts browsing the internet or checks his emails, he activates the AllSafe client. This activation connects to AllSafe's server through his ISP. Once the connection has been activated, Tom now has a tunneled connection that goes around the ISP's server.
The ISP is blind to which websites Tom visits and even what applications he is connecting with because all of that traffic is encrypted and passed through the tunnel. The only information the ISP has is that Tom is connected to AllSafe and the total amount of sent and received traffic.
Why it's Important
Without an encrypted and private connection, ISPs can monitor which websites you visit and the data that is passed to and from those websites. This also includes your emails and any application that requires the internet to function.
Many of you are saying to yourself, "big deal. Social media giants like Facebook are doing that already." All true; but the difference is that the data shared is by your choice. ISPs are now permitted to share your information without your consent thanks to H.R. 230.
House Resolution 230
Congress passed H. Resolution 230 which was signed by President Trump. This bill gives ISPs the authority to sell your internet data. Let me repeat that - the president approved a bill that allows a for-profit enterprise to sell American citizen's personal and private information to advertisers. Which, I might add, contradicts HIPAA which is designed to keep our medical information safe.
Data Thieves and Snoops
VPNs are not just used for concealing online activities. The encryption also keeps all data safe, even if it's not a credit card. Many websites you visit operating in a non-encrypted state called HTTP. It is only switches to HTTPS, data encryption, typically when you go to a page that asks for sensitive information, such as a credit card.
Many websites do this because pages are delivered faster in non-encrypted HTTP mode. When using a VPN, your data is encrypted even if the website is using HTTP.
Data Thieves, especially those that target identity theft, will take anything they can get. When you are filling out that online adoption form for Scraps the dog, you are providing a wealth of information even if you think it's worthless.
I am hopeful that future legislation will reverse HR 230, which reeks of a sellout. For now, we are on our own when it comes to protecting our digital data and rights to privacy.