A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to connect to a private network (like a local area network (LAN)) through a public network (like the Internet). This way you can use the resources of that private network without being affected by the restrictions of the public network. Most people use VPNs to gain more independence by accessing resources that are not available to them locally, such as corporate VPNs that allow employees to connect to resources while working from home, or hotspots that provide VPNs to users.
The purpose of this guide is to explain what a VPN does and doesn’t do – and how it can be used – so you can understand the technology better and make the right decision for your needs.
What Does a VPN Do?
A VPN lets you create a private network across a publicly-available network, by encrypting your data and controlling how it is routed. When you connect to a VPN, you are connecting to the private network – which can be a local area network (LAN) – through a public network – like the Internet – which can be used by any device.
This means that your connection is encrypted, which stops hackers from eavesdropping on your data while it travels to its destination. Your traffic is also secured against traffic eavesdropping – which is a common problem on public networks due to poor security offered by most providers – and traffic modification – which is when a third party intentionally alters your traffic to make it look like something it was not (usually for financial gain).
Your VPN also provides you with a secure connection to your resources, which lets you access files and share devices with other people while maintaining security.
Does a VPN Protect Against Data Leaks And Breaches?
A VPN can protect against data leaks and intrusions when used properly, however – and this is a very important point – the technology is extremely easy to misuse. When a VPN is not used correctly, all the safeguards built into the technology become virtually useless.
This is because VPNs are designed first and foremost to allow an individual to gain more independence by accessing resources and services that are not available to them locally. For instance, if you want to access a corporate VPN while working from home, you have to agree to the terms and conditions of that particular service – which typically require you to provide all your personal information, install malware, and abide by unacceptable usage policies. Once you comply with the requirements, you can use the service as intended.
It is also a major security risk to install software that is not verified to be safe and secure. This is why most VPNs require you to download and install their app or browser extension before you can use the service. Even then, you have to accept terms and conditions which require you to install various software provided by the provider, keep backups of your data, and regularly update your software to stay secure.
How Can a VPN Be Misused?
While there are many positive things that can be said about VPNs, they can also be misused in ways that are dangerous to your personal information and security. Some of the most common ways that VPNs are hacked and misused include:
- Malware installation – In order to access a corporate VPN or other private network while working from home, you have to agree to the terms and conditions of that particular service. Those terms typically require you to install various malware such as Keystroke Logging Malware (KSLM) – which allows the person controlling the malware to track your every keystroke and install other software on your computer or phone that is not verified to be safe and secure. If you don’t want to install malware and you want to keep your personal information secure, then you have to look for a VPN that does not require you to install any software.
- Logging – When you are connected to a VPN, all your internet traffic is logged by the company in question, often with no reasonable expectation of privacy. This is a major security risk and a breach of privacy since your internet traffic is essentially mapped and stored in full.
- Man In The Middle Attack – A Man In The Middle Attack happens when a third party tricks you into believing that they are the true owner of an IP address, thus allowing them to inspect your traffic and steal your data. This is one of the most common ways that hackers breach security since it is incredibly easy to perform, and it allows them to bypass all the security measures put in place by VPNs, Data Leaks, and Breaches.
- DNS Leaks – When you are connected to the Internet through a VPN, the DNS servers that are used to resolve domain names into IP addresses can be used to learn your IP address, the specific services that you use, and other potentially personal information that you have provided. This is a problem since your DNS servers can be looked up by anyone on the Internet and the information that is learned can be used to harm you or your family.
- Phishing And Social Engineering – In many cases, users are tricked into providing personal or financial information, or both, through online scams and phishing scams. Sometimes this information is then used by hackers to access users’ accounts on social media platforms.
- Brute Force Attacks – When hackers attempt to log in to a website with the same password over and over again, they are performing a Brute Force Attack. This is when they attempt to guess your password using computers or other devices such as Ncrack.
- Password Cracking – When users try to remember codes or passwords, they end up using easier to crack password variants instead. As a result, their accounts are more easily accessed by hackers, who can then steal their personal data and use it for their own purposes.
- Denial Of Service Attacks – When hackers knock offline certain websites or servers, they are performing a Denial Of Service Attack. This attack creates a huge amount of load for the targeted server or website, which makes it difficult for legitimate users to access that resource. When a DNS Service is knocked offline, it can cause major headaches for users since they may not be able to access certain websites or resources, including online shops and social media sites.
It is also a major security risk to give out your personal information, such as your credit card details or login credentials, over the phone or Internet. This is why, when you connect to a VPN, you have to verify your identity by providing a username and a password. Some VPNs will even send you a text message or email to confirm that you are who you claim to be before you can access the service.
Why Should You Avoid Free VPNs?
Although there are many free VPNs out there, those services exist solely to create as much web traffic as possible. Since your traffic is what pays their bills, they have no reason to keep your data secure or private. Remember, nothing in life is free, and you always have to pay for something in one way or the other. In order to protect your personal information, you have to use a VPN that is – at the very least – paid for and does not display any signs of being sponsored or backed by government entities or large companies. Remember, trust is a major issue in IT security, and legitimate companies do not encourage users to trust them implicitly. When you use a free VPN, you are encouraging the company to behave in a manner that is not beneficial to your personal information or security.
Use A VPN With Caution
As we mentioned above, VPNs can be extremely useful and essential in helping users gain independence and security when connected to the Internet. However, like all technology, VPNs can also be misused – and since you are creating a private network that can be used by anyone, it is highly likely that someone will try to misuse it at some point. When this happens, all the safeguards built into the technology are rendered useless.
This is why you should always use a VPN with caution and only when necessary. If you have a VPN but you do not need it, then you should not use it simply because you cannot find a use for it locally. If you are unsure of what kind of VPN to use, then it is usually best to err on the side of caution and avoid using one altogether.
What Does A VPN Not Do?
A VPN does not provide any greater security to your data than any other network connection. As we mentioned above, when a VPN is used correctly, all the safeguards built into the technology become virtually useless since every piece of data and every transaction is encrypted end-to-end. This means that your traffic cannot be inspected or modified by parties along the route – which drastically reduces the chances of a Man In The Middle Attack and many other potential breaches of security and privacy. This is why most people use VPNs to gain more independence by accessing resources that are not available to them locally.