A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is software that allows a user to create a more secure connection to the internet. It forwards all of your online traffic to another computer (a server) and allows you to browse the internet using that computer’s internet connection.
Many people today use VPNs because they enable users to work around geographic restrictions. For example, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, makes some websites inaccessible by people in Europe, but a VPN permits European users to access those sites. This works because the VPN masks the user’s IP address. When using a VPN, a user can live in Germany, but look like they are browsing the internet from the U.S. or Japan, where they are not subject to the GDPR’s restrictions. Similarly, some people use a VPN when traveling so they can enjoy the same movies and shows they watch at home. Companies like Netflix and Hulu make certain media available in some countries but not in others, but by using a VPN, users can access movies or shows that aren’t available in the country they are visiting.
But VPNs have more serious and practical applications, especially for businesses that offer remote access to private data through systems like intranets. Read on to learn what a VPN is, the benefits of using one, and reviews of some of the top VPNs currently on the market.
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What Is A VPN And How Does It Protect Me?
Originally, VPNs were developed to help businesses transfer data safely over the internet. Because a VPN encrypts the data you exchange, it adds a layer of security to your communication. This means if you’re working from your favorite coffee shop and accessing sensitive data on your employer’s server, the people on public wifi with you will not be able to electronically spy on your activity.
A VPN also helps protect your privacy. Many websites today track visitors’ activity using cookies to measure how long visitors spend on the site, what they do on the site, and even what sites they visited before. This data can be used to market products and services more efficiently. However, some users worry about this data collection, and this is where a VPN comes in. A VPN sends your data through a secure server before accessing the website you want. Since this process hides your IP address and location (sharing the server’s information instead of yours), websites have a difficult time gathering enough information about you to create a profile.
Many people also use a VPN to preserve their privacy from their ISP (Internet Service Provider). As we’ve explained before, in 2017, Congress repealed privacy rules that prevented ISPs from selling data about their users. As a result, your online behavior is not only sold to many industries, but it is specifically linked to your identity, including your full name and address. Users who feel this is a violation of their privacy can use a VPN to severely limit the data their ISP can collect about their online habits.
Does A VPN Hide Everything I Do Online?
No. As Michael Grothaus of Forbes explains, VPNs do have limits. Any website that requires you to log in can still track your activity on their site, including social media sites, shopping sites, and financial sites. And if you’re logged into your Google account, it can track your online activity as well. For many reasons, it’s very difficult to ever fully mask all of your online activity.
Grothaus also reminds readers that your VPN provider does know your real IP address, name, location, and payment information. Theoretically, a VPN provider could be hacked or forced to turn over that information, exposing all of your private data. This is why some VPN providers have a “no logs” policy, meaning they will not keep records of their users’ web activity. If you decide to use a VPN, this is an important detail to consider before committing to a provider.
Do I Need A VPN For My Business?
No cybersecurity tool is perfect. Firewalls and antivirus protection only work against known attacks, and that’s only if they’re updated regularly. And since new threats are developed daily, firewalls and antivirus software are estimated to only protect against about 75% of attacks, meaning we are still vulnerable to a quarter of the threats that are out there.
The best cybersecurity plan is one that creates layers of security. This means using a firewall and antivirus program, but also incorporating elements like two-factor authentication, endpoint security, and a VPN. With layered security, if one form of security fails, the other forms of security are still in place and likely to stop (or severely slow) the threat. In this way, even if you can’t completely prevent a data breach, you can limit the amount of data loss.
What Features Should I Look For In A Business VPN?
Be careful and do you research before choosing a VPN provider. Not all providers offer the same level of encryption or privacy. As mentioned before, some providers keep logs of user activity that are tied to your identity. These are all important considerations not just so you get your money’s worth, but so that you actually get the privacy and protection your business deserves.
An important tip for choosing a good VPN provider is to pay for the service. Many free providers are actually mining and selling their users’ private browsing history even as they claim to protect it. For this reason, tech experts strongly encourage users to avoid installing any free VPNs. Companies that offer free products still need to make money to operate. Besides selling their users’ data, these companies sell users’ bandwidth and often provide third-party access to your data. Finally, they cannot afford (and are not interested) in offering you the most secure encryption options and security protocols.
Michael Gargiulo, founder of VPN.com, explains that the best VPNs will encrypt your entire internet connection, not just the connection to your company network. This means that when you share files, the files themselves will be encrypted and only users with the right encryption key will be able to view and manipulate those files.
Another consideration Gargiulo says is important is VPN protection for cloud storage. Many businesses are turning to cloud storage because it makes sharing data with employees so much easier. It also saves information automatically, makes backing up data easier, and is often cheaper than traditional storage methods. However, cloud storage also leaves data vulnerable. This is why having a VPN that allows you to connect to a secure server is important.
What Is The Best VPN For Small Business?
There are a number of excellent VPNs on the market today, with new VPN providers springing up as more people become concerned with their online privacy. Cnet offers an excellent overview of some of the newest and best-reviewed VPN services for 2020, as do Tom’s Guide and PC Magazine. But throughout our research, three VPN providers consistently rank in the top spots.
- Private Internet Access VPN: A longtime favorite of security geeks, PIA has been around since 2010, establishing a long record of excellence. It offers one of the highest levels of encryptions available and doesn’t log any user activity. It’s a first choice for many users who want reliable privacy simply and affordably.
- CyberGhost: If you’re really looking to disappear, CyberGhost makes that about as possible as it can be in 2020. Signup requires a working email and you can pay using bitcoin, meaning you never reveal your name, address, or payment information. The software is packed with features, even allowing you to set up your Wi-Fi router to automatically connect using CyberGhost instead of connecting from your PC.
- ExpressVPN: Because a VPN encrypts data and routes it through an extra server, it can slow down your data exchange. If speed is an issue for you, ExpressVPN has you covered as the fastest VPN on the market. It’s user reviews are excellent and it provides outstanding customer support. While it offers some of the strongest protection available, it’s simple to use and very affordable.
These options all offer solid protection that is easy to use and affordable. Once you have used a VPN for a while and are more familiar with different features that are available, you might want to review your company’s security needs and explore some of the more detailed features these providers offer. Either way, you’ll sleep a little more soundly knowing this extra layer of protection is increasing your employees’ access to your data while making that data more secure.
If you found this information useful, check out our post What Is Endpoint Security And Is It Important? to learn more about how you can protect your business from data breaches and hacking.
At TracSoft, we take cybersecurity seriously. That’s why we provide 24/7 security monitoring using industry-leading software. If you’re concerned about your company’s security, contact TracSoft to discuss a customized security plan that’s right for your business’ unique security needs.