As almost everything we do nowadays involves using some sort of technology, we spend more and more of our lives online – or at least connected to the internet in one way or another.
Think of a typical day for a well-paid white-collar worker. Sandy, our social media expert for a New York marketing firm, wakes up at maybe 08:00 after Amazon’s Alexa has sounded its gradual alarm. The bedroom is a bit chilly, so she picks up her iPhone and asks Siri to turn the thermostat on the apartment’s heating system up to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sandy pulls on a fleecy dressing gown and walks into the kitchen, where she makes a cup of coffee but notices that the box of pods is very nearly empty. “Alexa!” she says – “Please order some Perk 21 coffee pods from my usual supplier…” Sandy knows that her coffee will be delivered within 24 hours. She then takes her cup through to her bedroom desk that doubles as her office when she works from home.
After a couple of hours writing posts on her laptop for several clients on various social media channels, Sandy uploads a bunch of multimedia files to her boss via Dropbox, takes a 15-minute break and asks Alexa to put a YouTube workout video on her smart TV. After 15 minutes of aerobic exercise and a shower, Sandy then heads off to the office to meet with her boss for an afternoon catch up.
A night on the town could cost more than you think.
Tapping a few times on the Uber app books her a taxi, which will collect her from the doorstep and take her into town for her meeting. By around 6pm, Sandy meets up with friends for a few glasses of wine and a pizza. The party venue was arranged by a chat on a WhatsApp group and the restaurant pre-checked on Tripadvisor.
After a late evening staying out in a club, where she uses the insecure free Wi-Fi network, Sandy takes another Uber home to her apartment, where she does have to do something that doesn’t involve technology. She must feed her cat, Felix. He is grumpy at being left alone all day and retires to his basket in disgust!
Some might say that Sandy has an easy life, with all that technology enabling almost everything she does for work and leisure. But what could happen if someone like Sandy, who relies completely on their phone apps and their online accounts, found themselves to be the victim of a hacker via a phantom hotspot in that nightclub?
Her Amazon account could be compromised, as the hacker buys dozens of virtual gift cards on Sandy’s account, but her credit card is denied. The heating fails after the malware on her phone messes with the Hive thermostat. Uber won’t pick her up as her account has already made half a dozen requests for cabs to fictitious addresses. Those hackers have really messed with Sandy’s life, and she is now wishing that she had used a virtual private network – an urban VPN.
Felix, however, remains studiously unconcerned.
Avoid malware & spyware with a VPN.
A VPN installed on a laptop or smartphone can prevent hacking from ransomware and malware. This is achieved by the VPN connecting to the internet via an encrypted ‘tunnel’ – before the user’s internet service provider (ISP) connects to the wider internet. This system of encryption ensures that the user’s connection to any desired website or online service is both anonymized and location independent. In effect, neither the user’s ISP nor the target website knows who is accessing the web, nor where they are located.
Malware protection comes as standard on any reputable VPN provider’s network, and if the VPN server detects any suspicious activity such as a surreptitious download, it will disconnect the user’s device from the internet before any harm can be done.
But added security is only one of the advantages of using a VPN. The anonymity and location spoofing facilities also mean that VPN users can avoid geographic streaming content restrictions, enjoy better download speeds when gaming due to not being throttled, and even save money on hotel rooms and travel tickets by taking advantage of dynamic pricing algorithms. Let’s look at these briefly one at a time.
Avoid geographic content restrictions with a VPN.
Many streaming providers, for example Apple TV, Netflix and, in the UK, the BBC iPlayer, only allow access to content within the same country as programming is intended for. Contractual and copyright obligations won’t allow Netflix in the USA to make their content available to anyone outside the 50 states. So if you’re an American on vacation in Europe, you can’t catch up on your favorite shows or new movies. However, using a VPN, you only have to choose from one of the VPN provider’s servers based in the USA, and you can be sitting watching Netflix in Paris France, when Netflix thinks you’re in Paris, Texas!
Pedal to the metal – don’t get throttled!
Throttling is the term used to describe an ISP’s practice of slowing data transfer down to a crawl when it detects that a user, or group of users, are using too much data and putting an excessive strain on their network. If a household has a gamer, a graphic designer and a videographer all sharing one internet connection, there’s going to be a huge amount of data being transferred over three machines at all times of day and night. The ISP can identify the specific property through an IP address and force the data transfer rate to sow down to an unusable level. But if the users of each device are connected to their ISP through a VPN, the ISP can’t throttle a connection if they can’t identify who is connected nor where they are located.
Save money by keeping your finances to yourself.
Returning to the example of Sandy in her Gramercy loft apartment, if she logs onto a travel portal to book a flight to Denver to go see her Mom for the holidays, that website will immediately use its analytics AI software to identify that Sandy lives in a wealthy area of NYC and that she’s accessing the site from a MacBook Pro. On the basis that she’s likely to be a wealthy ‘yuppie’ – the algorithms on the site offer a higher price than Sandy was expecting.
But since the hacking episode, Sandy now has a VPN installed as a browser extension on her Safari software. She clears her cache, goes into ‘private browsing’ mode, then logs onto the VPN to select a server located in Mexico City. Now the travel website’s AI thinks that someone they can’t identify lives in Mexico – and it can’t detect the device she’s using to access the web. As Mexico is not as wealthy an area as NYC, the price of the flight miraculously becomes much cheaper.
In summary, it really is a no brainer, if you want to stay safe from hackers, keep your connection private, fast and secure, then it makes perfect sense to install a VPN on any and all of your devices before you next connect to the internet. Be like Sandy, don’t take any chances!