If you think the buzz around using a VPN service these days is exaggerated hype and paranoia, think again. Never before have so many day-to-day human interactions and transactions occurred online.
Whether we’re emailing our bosses, checking in with our kids, chatting with our friends or using a plethora of apps to schedule and manage our lives, it all takes place online.
How much of your everyday activity takes place on a phone screen, browser window or app? We spend as much as five hours a day on our devices. For some of us, that can be more time than we spend sleeping. And in the United States, people spend more than half that time perusing social media. So what does that mean?
That surfing the web is firmly ingrained in our lives. It’s how we socialize and interact with others. It’s even how we choose to spend our alone time (you know, like when you stay up late reading articles or checking out your friends’ posts).
And that’s not changing, not anytime soon at least.
So, why do you need a virtual private network?
What is a VPN?
It helps to first clarify a VPN’s functionality. A VPN works by extending a private network over a public connection — think of the Wi-Fi connection you use when working at your favorite cafe. Users log in to a VPN service through a browser window, similarly to how you would log in to an email account. Then, through a series of pings back and forth between discrete networks to secure the connection, their internet experience becomes secure and encrypted — meaning free from spying or hacking and otherwise malicious activity.
Think of it like this: Even when you’re using what you believe is a secure network, the internet is a public space. The data you exchange is essentially part of a free market (granted, some markets are more secure than others). Spies can leech a little (or a lot) of that data along its way to wherever you’re sending it.
Remember the incredible amount of time you’re spending these days on the internet, whether it’s for work or for fun. Now think of the incredible amount of data you’re sending out into the world: credit card numbers, the location of your home or spaces you often frequent, sensitive work information, details about your kids.
Ransomware and malvertising
And if you think you’re not prime for attack, look at how common cybercrime is these days. It’s not just huge corporations that are being targeted (as with the infamous Sony hack). Any number of users of a particular software or service — meaning businesses large and small, and even individuals — can be targeted.
For example, consider the latest string of ransomware attacks. Ransomware, simply put, is malware that corrupts your computer system and makes it impossible to access critical files until you pay a certain amount of money to the attackers. And while the effect for companies can be devastating (customer information corrupted, operations grinding to a halt), it’s just as bad for a family or individual. Global ransomware damage costs are predicted to exceed $5 billion this year, up from $325 million in 2015.
There’s also the relatively new threat of malvertising, which takes advantage of the digital advertising free market to spread malware into legitimate online advertising networks and webpages. It’s considered the contemporary cybercriminal’s latest “sweet spot.” They rely on your trust in your favorite websites, and use that to get the jump on you and your personal information.
And don’t think that just because you use a Mac, you’re less vulnerable to attack. Just because Apple products have the added benefit of robust security built-in, they’re still some of the most popular machines around, running on one of the most dominant operating systems in the world. For cybercriminals, that’s like being able to hack into the biggest bank in the world — sure, it’s hard work on their end, but it results in big profits.
3 benefits to using a VPN
Taking just these threats into consideration, it’s unbelievable users aren’t more diligent about protecting themselves. And if you’re not convinced yet that a VPN can be of use to you, here are three more pragmatic ways a VPN can make your everyday internet experience better:
1. Surf the web safely while connected to public Wi-Fi.
When you use a VPN, you can use public Wi-Fi without worrying that your data will be harvested. That means you can safely browse in your favorite spaces, and even use city-wide Wi-Fi connections while you’re traveling.
2. Circumvent location-based streaming rules.
One of the biggest annoyances about streaming content when traveling is that different locations have different rules about what can be available to stream. With a VPN, you can choose the location you want to appear as though you’re streaming from, helping you bypass location-based content restrictions.
3. Add an always-on layer of protection with automatic encryption.
With a VPN, your data is always encrypted — meaning it’s safe from malware, hackers and even the government (wait, what?).
Why does it especially matter I use a VPN now?
These days, even governing bodies are behaving in pretty suspect ways: This year, Congress passed legislation allowing your internet service provider to sell your browsing data and app history usage to third parties. What does that mean? That really and truly, everyone’s incredibly personal data can be compiled into a dossier and sold to the highest bidder for extremely aggressive and highly personalized advertising.
And if that’s not enough to convince you to use a VPN, we don’t know what will.
Your options: Save on best VPNs
For a limited time only, Cult of Mac readers can get an additional 15 percent off all VPNs below with coupon code “VPN15.”
Private Internet Access VPN ($59.95 for a two-year subscription)
This VPN uses high-level encryption to protect your identity and block annoying ads. Meanwhile, IP cloaking hides your location and bypasses location restrictions. It also blocks trackers and other malware via a new MACE feature. Also, an automatic kill switch disconnects as soon as it detects a gap in the secure connection.
VPN Unlimited ($49.99 for a lifetime subscription)
VPN Unlimited works over Wi-Fi or cell connections. Winner of PCMag’s Top VPN for 2016, among other accolades, it can secure even public network connections. Unlimited bandwidth means there’s no need to worry about data usage. Plus, a new DNS firewall means reliable ad, malware and tracker blocking.
VPNSecure ($39.99 for a lifetime subscription)
This VPN features a Smart DNS component, bypassing annoying geographical restrictions when you travel while it encrypts your traffic. VPNSecure also make a point of keeping zero activity logs, meaning your online activity won’t linger. There’s also the option to use a Data Cipher. So all activity remains anonymous, making this ideal for torrents. Additionally, it connects up to five devices at once, with unlimited bandwidth.