Should you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect your privacy?
September 25, 2018
You may have heard the tech acronym VPN or Virtual Private Network. But do you know what a VPN is, how it works, the benefits it offers, where to obtain one and how to set it up?
Let’s take a closer look at a Virtual Private Network and the number one benefit it offers as evidenced by its name: privacy protection.
Why was VPN invented?
As the internet started to proliferate in the late 1990s, there was a growing need for greater security and protection. While anti-virus programs emerged to protect computers at the end of the connection, security to protect the connection itself also was needed. That gave birth to the idea of an “internet within an internet,” or today’s VPN.
The purpose of a VPN is to enable multiple people and devices to connect across the Internet in a secure and encrypted environment. In effect, it keeps people using the network away from the bad stuff on the internet: avoiding malware, hackers and any firm that wants to track where you are or where you have been on the internet. A VPN is like a private channel to surf the web anonymously and more safely.
How does a VPN work?
A VPN uses software that is installed locally on your computer. The software is used to encrypt your data and send it to a VPN provider’s securely over a regular internet connection. The VPN server decodes the encrypted data transmitted by your computer, then goes out with the decoded data on the internet to obtain the information you requested. Once it receives the data from the site, the VPN server encrypts it and sends you the information.
In the end, you see the data the same as if you were surfing on the web. The only real difference is that it does take a little longer, as you are running a network within a network. Also, if the server is very busy with too many users, the experience can be much slower. Many VPN providers will show you in advance how active a particular IP address connection is before you connect to help alleviate slower connections.
Why use a VPN?
For real estate agents, privacy and security would be the greatest benefit to using a VPN. Agents often handle some of the most sensitive personal, including financial, information in a client’s life. Identity thieves are getting more sophisticated at hacking and collecting this information. A VPN connection helps keep this data away from prying eyes and nefarious internet interlopers.
For example, security experts recommend never connecting to a public Wi-Fi while conducting any sensitive business. Agents in the field will tell you sometimes that seems impossible to do. You can eliminate concerns about connecting to a public Wi-Fi with a VPN. A VPN can help secure an open connection, making it encrypted and out of bounds for hackers.
Using a VPN also provides anonymity when surfing the web. If you are tracking your competition and watching what they are doing on their website, today, they may be watching you do that as they can capture your IP address. With a VPN, you are a ghost, as your IP address stays hidden. None of your actions are traceable to you, as you are browsing the web anonymously with a VPN. You are leaving no online browsing footprint. What a VPN can offer an agent concerning security protection is greater peace of mind.
Finally, many large brokerages, like all mortgage companies, use a VPN to allow their employees to connect back to their office network. This is far more secure than through a hackable internet network.
VPN on mobile devices
Most current smartphones and tablets have the capability to use a VPN, as these devices have gotten, and continue to get, more powerful. For real estate professionals who run their business on the go, and given the dangers of using public Wi-Fi, VPNs offer their mobile devices an added layer of security.
And as the Operating Systems continue to include more features, we have already seen a large portion of conventional computers and laptops being replaced by tablets, and even phablets (larger phones). You can look for services that are cross-platform: they cover laptops, computers, or mobile devices, or look for VPNs for a specific device.
Why most people use a VPN
Ironically, privacy protection is no longer why most people use a VPN today. Most people purchase a VPN service today to use a video streaming service like Netflix or to access a restricted broadcast, such as a sporting event streamed live, when traveling abroad.
The majority of this content is geographically restricted, so you can only view it the country you live in. But a Virtual Private Network provider offers connections through different IP, or Internet Protocol, addresses in countries around the world, that you can connect to.
Where to get a VPN
If you Google or Bing “Virtual Private Network Provider Reviews,” you’ll find dozens of reviews and a wide range of options of VPN choices. The best news is that VPNs have never been easier to install and use. The software sets up automatically on a PC or Mac and resides in the background when it operates. Turning it on and off is easy. It’s more affordable than ever: VPNs used to cost $1,000 a year or more. Today, you can get a world-class VPN service for under $100 for two years!
For example, NordVPN is one of the highest rated VPNs by computer industry news leader CNET. A two-year contract is under $96, and NordVPN has hundreds of IP addresses around the world. To connect, you click on a small icon that remains on your computer screen’s menu bar, and a world map comes up. Then click on the country to connect to the IP address of your choice. NordVPN even provides a real-time update on how busy each IP address is by the percentage of the server currently being used.
The downsides of VPN
If you are new to VPN, there are some things you need to be aware of that can negatively impact your experience. Some of the downsides of VPN:
A slower surfing experience: Again, because you are running a network (your VPN connection) inside another network (the Internet), your speed can be diminished.
Some websites try to block VPNs: Video streaming sites can’t tell you are surfing from a VPN, but they are getting more sophisticated in trying to block IP addresses that are known to be used by VPNs. That’s one of the major downsides of a free VPN option. Trying to connect to a service like Netflix with a free VPN service is often futile, as the IP addresses most frequently used are already blocked. Other websites don’t like anonymous browsing because they want to track you and serve you ads. They require you to accept their “cookies” (used to monitor you) as a quid pro quo for providing you access to their content. As a result, there are some websites you cannot access with a VPN.
Your VPN connection could drop: VPN connections, like anything else, are not flawless, and you could lose your connection. The problem is that without a kill switch, your real IP address could expose you. Fortunately, the large VPN providers, like NordVPN, have a kill switch feature. The free ones typically do not, making these far riskier to use.
Your browser default settings could change: Sometimes, VPN software can automatically adjust your browser settings to make sure these settings don’t conflict with the information you need from the sites you are trying to access. Occasionally, those settings won’t return to their prior state. That could mean your Google search page thinks you are in Canada or France instead of the U.S. You can always call Tech Helpline for support, but the safest approach: use a separate browser like Firefox for all your VPN connections.
In some countries, using a VPN is illegal: Don’t use one in Iraq or North Korea because they are banned, so you could go to jail. And they are government controlled in China, Russia, and several other countries. A list of countries that have restrictions is here.
To VPN or Not to VPN?
The key to the decision for an agent to choose to use a VPN is a personal one. It comes down to a risk assessment. If you travel or are always on the go and want to protect your client’s data better, a paid VPN service is indeed a worthy option for increased security. With today’s easiness of VPN software installation and use and low-cost, it is more accessible for the average user than ever before. VPN is now a mainstream option for better connection security and at the very least, worth consideration.
Contact us if you have any questions about VPNs. We can provide the names of the larger, well-know and reputable VPN providers to give you a starting point as you consider your options, and so that you don’t end up inadvertently purchasing a Russian bot VPN and get cleaned out. We can also help you set up your VPN once you’ve made your purchase.
Want to know more about security and privacy? Check out these other articles: