Make no mistake, if you do not utilize a VPN when using public internet or a foreign Wi-Fi connection, while you might not be hacked every time, you are certainly rolling the dice with your personal security. This is because once you are on a shared network your computer becomes visible to anyone else using that network. Shared network connections also make it exponentially easier for hackers to find, hack and even remotely access any devices shared by that network. The more open the network, the more people that use it and the more public the place, the greater your risks are.
Regardless if you are using your own internet connection or you’re in a foreign country, a good anti-virus software and strong firewall rules should detect and/or block any file changes to your systems, preventing an attack from infecting and spreading on your device. Therefore, purchasing good anti-virus software is the simplest thing you can do to protect your computer, especially when traveling abroad or foreign/un-trusted connections. A good anti-virus should only cost you around $40 a year, well worth the price for the protection it provides. As for your computer’s firewalls, you can freely adjust these settings by simply typing “firewall” into your computers search menu – more on that later on.
It is important to note that an anti-virus program will only prevent an attack from spreading on your device. When it comes to preventing an attack from finding your device in the first place, this is where a “Virtual Private Network,” commonly referred to as a “VPN,” comes into play. For those of you whom might be unfamiliar, VPN’s work by redirecting all of your “internet traffic” through a “proxy server” – allowing you to access the internet from an end-point you desire/trust.
While this might sound like incredibly complicated “computer lingo,” it is actually quite simple to understand. Say you make your home in New Hampshire, but you are traveling to Egypt. A VPN will allow you to connect to the internet in Egypt, then use that connection to find and connect to your home’s Wi-Fi router – transferring everything you do online through it, rather than through some random router in the middle of Egypt. Once connected, the location of your computers “IP Address” and your internet activity will remain hidden/encrypted behind your home router; aka your VPN.
To put it another way, even when you use a Wi-Fi connection in Egypt, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, your computer will only be physically accessing “the Internet” from New Hampshire. So, even when you are using the internet on the ground in Egypt, it will be as if you were on your computer back at home – because you will literally be using the same network connection in either instance.
There are two different ways you can go about setting up a safe and secure VPN or Proxy Server for your computer. The first will cost you money, but is far simpler. The second is completely free, but it is rather “involved” and you will have to put in a lot of time and effort to do the research for yourself.
Before I go any further, I could not advise strongly enough against free VPN services; you should NEVER install a free VPN program or App on your devices. With that said, there are a number of established and trusted VPN Service Providers out there. A good service will cost you anywhere from $40 – $120 a year to use and a simple Google search return will direct you to some of the industry’s biggest names. While researching paid VPN providers, you should always look for companies that either do not record or regularly delete user logs. Country of origin is another critical factor when selecting a service. VPN service providers operating out of countries like the United States, Russia, Egypt – et cetera – are not to be trusted because the laws in these countries allow for their governments to compromise VPN servers fairly easily. On the other hand, VPN’s operating out of countries like Switzerland and Belgium tend to be trusted because laws in these European countries protect customer privacy and business confidentiality, and require their Governments to go in front of courts and present valid legal arguments for companies to hand over their data – if any such data is ever recorder or logged in the first place.
The second option, learning how to build and install a VPN on your own device, gets a bit “technical” at times, but setting up your own VPN connection does make your computer far more secure than any service you could possibly purchase – no exaggeration. For the purposes of this article I will not explain how to install a VPN or use your home’s Wi-Fi router as a proxy server, instead I would direct you to YouTube or Google, where you can find a number of good tutorials on these subjects.
Getting ‘Into The Weeds’ A Bit Now…
The existence and use of VPN’s has become somewhat controversial over recent years. For example, countries like the United Arab Emirates, China and Russia have made VPN ownership illegal. Other countries including Saudi Arabia and the United States have even made VPN ownership alone grounds for criminal investigation in certain cases. Meaning that you wont necessarily be arrested just for buying or using a VPN service, but you may be investigated over what you were using it for. Once again, the old “Federal Saying” on these matters hold true – “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.”
However, there is a simple way to avoid all of this. Learning how to build you own VPN connection is 100% legal and considering that you would be doing everything for yourself, on a computer and router you already own, no one would ever know or need to know that you are using a VPN in the first place.
There is also a slight difference in the fact that purchasing a VPN will hide all of your internet activity from your internet service provider, whereas if you create your own VPN connection and use your home router all of your online activity remains visible. The only drawback to creating your own connection is that your personal IP Address will remain visible and out in front of all your network activity, whereas a purchased VPN will use the companies private servers, thus concealing your IP Address behind theirs – acting as an extra layer of security.
With that said, earlier I stated that building your own VPN is far more secure than anything you can purchase. This is because a VPN you build will simultaneously protect all of the files on your computer, something a purchased one does not. A purchased VPN will only conceal the location of your computer, it literally does nothing to prevent, stop or fix a cyber-attack against it.
It is also important to understand that VPN’s are not just for computers; they are available on all devices – even phones. Put another way, VPN’s are available on any device you can use to access the internet.