Going Public? Get a VPN!

Next week I’m going to start taking masters classes at our local university. It’s been several years since I finished my first master’s degree, so it’s an interesting transition. A lot has changed since then. For one thing, the last time I was in school, we didn’t have public wifi. If you wanted to access the internet on campus, you had to bring your own Ethernet cable. Of course, that still came with quite a few security risks, but back then a good virus program was all you really need to stay safe.

This time around, I’m not taking any chances. Part of my back to school prep includes setting up my own VPN.

What’s a VPN?

If you have to ask, you need to read on!

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is one of the handiest tools you can have in your fight against identity theft, especially if you travel often or spend time online in public locations.

VPNs are most often used by businesses to allow their employees to securely access their private network from outside the office. But VPNs are also a great way to set up your own secure internet access from anywhere.

Why do you need your own secure internet access?

Because public internet is scary! No matter how much you trust the business that provides it, using public wifi makes you vulnerable to hacking, viruses, spyware, and identity theft. You don’t know who else is using the public wifi or what types of programs their running. So don’t trust it.

With VPN you can create your own secure network from anywhere, even over public wifi. This way, any sites you visit or passwords you enter are hidden from peering fraudsters.

What is public internet?

Public internet may be anything from the free wifi at your favorite coffee shop to the network connection in your hotel room. Anytime you are connected to the Internet through a network that is shared with people you don’t know, that’s public internet. Even if the hotel you’re staying out gives you a special password to access their wifi, it’s still public, because everyone else staying in your hotel is getting the same password to access the same network. This also include school networks, like the one I’ll be using soon.

How can I get my own private network?

There are a number of companies that can provide you with a secure VPN connection, typically for a monthly fee, such as IPVanish and PureVPN. Many VPN providers offer a number of features, including IP masking and the ability to access websites that are inaccessible from your location. That’s really just fluff, and stuff you’ll probably never use – the important thing is they all provide secure, encrypted connections to the internet.

If you have wireless internet set up at home, check your router. Many modern routers allow you to create your own Virtual Private Network. If yours does, forget any of those other programs, and use your router. It’s free, so why pay for something you already have. And it allows you to enjoy the same level of security you have at home anywhere you travel. Just make sure your home network is secure. If it’s not password protected, go set a password right now!

What should you do if you don’t have a VPN?

Use public internet or wifi sparingly. If you’re just checking your email, use your cellular data. If you do need to public wifi, don’t ever use it to access private or financial accounts. That includes your bank accounts, email, and even your Facebook page. Assume that any information you enter on a public internet connection may be monitored, including any passwords you enter (or your browser automatically enters for you).

If you don’t have enough data left on your cell plan or your laptop isn’t connected to your data plan, wait until you get home to access those sites.

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