As a student, making sure you’re safe offline and online is important. From making sure your valuables are secure and that you don’t get your identity or money stolen, being conscious about your security is something to keep in mind. However, the security of your online information is often overlooked. It is easy for someone to steal your personal data, passwords, banking data and more private information that is transmitted each time you go online.
Everything we do online is recorded in one way or another. From the moment we connect to the internet, everything we do online is tracked and stored by the companies that provide our internet. The fact that this is stored by internet providers is an issue.
However, with Net Neutrality laws removed, this allows those same internet providers to sell your information to companies like Google and Facebook without you having a say in the matter.
With growing concerns of who has access to whose information, a number of organizations have established a way to provide a measure of security online for the average person.
Virtual Private Networks or VPN’s have been on the rise, run by for-profit organizations that believe that people should have a choice about who can see their data. A VPN’s purpose is to encrypt your information.
It creates a tunnel between you and a location where a VPN server stops your information from being seen by others while also making it harder for someone to trace information back to you. This is useful for protecting your information when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network—because unsecured networks are the easiest way for thieves to see, steal and record your information.
Another use of VPN is to gain access to websites that have been blocked by the government. Even though this is not a big issue here in the U.S., it is something that is important for many other countries.
Even though VPN’s do increase your security online, it still has its limitations and downsides. It is important to note that if someone truly wanted to track you and had the technical know-how, they could find ways to get around a VPN.
Even though VPN’s are there to keep your information away from prying eyes, VPN companies still fall under the laws of the country they are based out of, and some will be forced to hand over information in response to warrants from law enforcement.
It is also important to consider that devices like a Chromecast, Roku or smart home devices will not work with a VPN. There are workarounds, but it involves a more complicated process like encrypted routers.
Many streaming services, like Netflix, don’t work well with VPN’s because companies like Netflix don’t want you to get around restrictions they placed that change from country to country. However, some VPN services work to make sure that people can stream with their service.
Finally, many VPN services are businesses, so they will have monthly fees, for the more popular VPN’s like ExpressVPN or NordVPN they will range from $12 to $13 a month, or cheaper if you get a yearly subscription. In a time where the difference between the offline and online world is beginning to blur, the protection of your online data is something everyone should keep in mind even if it costs a little extra.