The primary benefit of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is that it keeps your information and identity private when using the internet to access sites or servers, download files and more. This is especially important when handling sensitive information on public networks, like checking your bank account at the airport or accessing work files remotely. There are a number of use cases, from personal device security to maintaining safe business networks, which we will cover in this article.
What Is a VPN?
A VPN encrypts your data and hides your IP address while you use the internet. Think of the VPN as an invisibility cloak for traveling online. When you put it on, entities cannot pinpoint you or access the information you carry. It’s an important piece of a complete cybersecurity strategy.
Which VPN someone may use is dependent on how they wish to use it. VPNs can have different protocol types (some more secure than others) and are set up for different use cases. Companies may use VPNs to control different levels of access, securely exchange information on a global intranet and grant secure access to remote workers. Individuals and families may use VPNs to protect themselves when using public WiFi networks, protect their mobile devices, access geo-blocked content and more.
What are the Benefits of a VPN?
There are a number of reasons to use a VPN.
Stay anonymous online
VPNs mask your IP address, meaning your online activity cannot be traced back to your local computer. This keeps you safe online by making it challenging for threat actors to target you. For example, in online gaming, it’s not uncommon for angry gamers to attempt to hack their opponents. If their opponents use a VPN, it will be difficult to pinpoint where they are or access secure information.
Anonymity can also hamper ad trackers, limiting the amount of data companies can collect. Preventing data collection makes you less vulnerable if a company that collected information about you were to experience a data leak.
This privacy can also help prevent phishing attacks. Similar to ad trackers, cybercriminals can collect your data with the intention of using it later to phish. A VPN encrypts your data, making it useful for preventing such cyber attacks.
Safely access files and sensitive data
The encryption of a VPN allows users to transmit files securely. If any cyber threat actors were able to intercept files in transit, they would not be able to decrypt and see the sensitive data. This is one of the most important benefits of a VPN, because it allows users to access information at reduced risk, even when they are away from the office or on a public network.
VPNs have become increasingly popular as more employees work remotely or even become digital nomads. VPNs for mobile devices may also be something to consider. The benefit of using a VPN on your phone is it keeps your information private when conducting business on the go.
Access global content wherever you are
Certain content may be restricted by the country you are in. For example, someone in the United States may want to watch a streaming video only available in Japan. A VPN will mask your location and allow you to access content as though you were in the country where the content is being distributed.
Internet service providers (ISPs) may slow your internet speed depending on how much bandwidth you’re using. This practice is called bandwidth-throttling, and it’s a technique meant to reduce network load. However, if you experience unacceptably slow speeds, a VPN may be able to help.
What are the Downsides of a VPN?
A VPN is sometimes touted as a no-brainer, but it can be more complicated depending on what you are using it for. Some products are safer than others, so if you do choose to use a VPN, ensure that it has the most secure protocols and AES 256-bit encryption.
A VPN is only as good as your password
The moment a threat actor has your VPN login credentials, your data will be completely exposed no matter how often you turn on your VPN. The threat actor can use the credentials to log into your VPN and decrypt your data, rendering the tool useless.
The human element can be an especially vulnerable point for businesses. With thousands of employees, it can be a challenge to control the passwords of everyone’s individual VPN account. You don’t want your entire network exposed due to one weak password. Experts recommend that businesses using VPNs take advantage of a password manager to encourage and enforce password best practices for all their employees.
Many VPNs lack adequate protection
It may seem strange, as the point of a VPN is to encrypt your data, but some lower-quality networks use less secure protocol standards or low-level encryption. Using a VPN with weak standards makes it easier for threat actors to steal information even when the VPN is turned on.
Even the best VPNs regularly discover new vulnerabilities which can be exploited by cybercriminals. These companies issue software updates to fix the vulnerabilities, but it still leaves users open to some risk.
VPNs don’t scale well in a remote-work world
Business networks have only become more complex. Employees are located around the globe, accessing company servers on both private and public WiFi networks. VPNs can be effective for infrequent remote access, limited to certain employees, but they don’t work as well when scaled up. VPNs were not designed to accommodate large numbers of people using them all day long. This excessive load causes poor reliability, which can encourage users to not use the VPN even though they know they’re supposed to.
VPNs can slow connection speed
While a VPN can prevent bandwidth throttling, some VPNs, especially low-quality ones, will slow connection speed while activated. Like the reliability issues discussed above, this makes it less likely users will turn on the VPN even though it would make them more secure. If a company is relying on a VPN for protection, but it’s so slow that users won’t turn it on, your company is left vulnerable.
Dropped connections will expose your network
Again, dropped connections are more likely to occur with low-quality VPNs, but at times, even robust VPN connections can drop in the middle of an important task. This means if you don’t notice, you could be transmitting sensitive information on an exposed network.
VPNs are illegal or restricted in some countries
VPNs are legal in most countries, including the United States. However, some countries have made such technology completely illegal except with government approval. Some countries have also passed laws that make VPNs less useful, such as requiring companies to store user IP addresses. Knowing the laws of the country you are in or traveling to is important to ensure you’re following cybersecurity best practices.
Is a VPN All I Need to Protect Myself Online?
A VPN can only cloak your IP address and data. It won’t prevent your information from getting stolen via other methods. Follow these best practices to improve cybersecurity for both your business and personal digital lives.
Use strong, unique passwords for every account – including your VPN
Weak passwords cause over 80% of data breaches. Use a password manager to ensure you follow password best practices to protect your information. A password manager is a tool for individuals and businesses to securely store, generate and share passwords. The user only has to remember one strong master password. The password manager will automatically fill in passwords, saving time. It makes it easier to use unique, strong passwords for every account.
Update your software regularly
VPNs aren’t the only type of software that requires regular updates to patch vulnerabilities. When a notification for your browser – or any other software you use – pops up asking you to take a moment to download the update, don’t ignore it.
Use multi-factor authentication
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is one of the best ways to protect your accounts. MFA requires at least a secondary method of authentication, usually requested after entering a password. For example, many accounts will send an authentication code via email or text. Some methods are more secure than others, but it’s recommended to use MFA for each account that offers it as an option.
Learn to recognize phishing attempts
Phishing is when cybercriminals pretend to be reputable companies via email or other messages in order to steal Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from individuals. Historically, phishing could be easily identified by poor spelling and clumsy design, but it’s becoming more sophisticated, particularly with the rise in readily-available artificial intelligence tools. Educate yourself on what modern phishing (and smishing) looks like to avoid becoming a victim. Always think before you click.
Use platforms that follow zero-trust security practices
Zero trust is the new gold standard for online security. The three core principles are:
- Assume breach
- Verify explicitly
- Ensure least-privileged access
The zero-trust approach assumes any user could be compromised and requires verification before accessing a network. Once users are granted access, their permissions are limited to only those they need for their job. This approach gives administrators full control over user access and network systems. Zero trust is key to complying with industry standards and preventing cyber attacks.
Online Anonymity is Just One Piece of Cybersecurity
A VPN can be a valuable tool, especially when you’re accessing sensitive information over a network or connecting to public networks. But don’t let the use of a VPN lull you into a false sense of safety. VPNs have plenty of weaknesses, making them an incomplete solution. VPNs can help keep you stay safe online, but only when combined with zero-trust security practices.
VPNs are vulnerable to the complex tactics cybercriminals use to target businesses. Keeper Connection Manager allows users to remotely access desktops and apps, and all they need is a web browser and credentials. Our zero-trust, zero-knowledge solution makes VPNs obsolete for businesses.
Start your 14-day free trial of Keeper Connection Manager today and get powerful, one-click, zero-trust access to your remote infrastructure.