This is why you need a VPN
Here’s why we think VPN(Virtual Private Network) is an “essential service”
Even as Singapore progressively reopens its economy, many of us continue to work from home today. Such arrangements are essential to cut down unnecessary travel and interaction to keep Covid-19 at bay.
A VPN brings about several benefits, read on to find out more! PHOTO: UNSPLASH.com*
But even as you stay physically safe in your home office, you may be unwittingly exposing yourself and your organisational network to viruses and contamination of a digital nature instead.
While working from home has compelled businesses to accelerate their digital transformations, bad actors have also seen this as a “great opportunity” to target home networks that typically aren’t as secure as corporate ones.
According to this commentary by a cyber security specialist, more than 2,000 malicious domain names containing pandemic-related words like “Covid” were registered in the first three months of 2020. In March, a phishing scam sent emails purportedly from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to lure unsuspecting individuals to respond.
And while accessing company information through the internet, your communication – which travels to and from your computer – could be intercepted somewhere along the round trip by hackers who want to see what you’re up to.
To protect against such attacks, you can use a Virtual Private Network, better known as VPN.
What is a VPN and how does it work?
Now, disregard your stereotypes about what people use VPNs for. There are totally legit reasons for using a VPN, and working from home securely is one of them!
When you connect to the internet through a VPN, all the traffic from your computer is first encrypted and routed to a VPN server, protecting it from prying eyes. Both incoming and outgoing information flows through the VPN server first – completely hidden from your internet service provider, or your network administrator!
For that reason, many organisations, especially those dealing with sensitive information, have long made VPN mandatory for remote access.
Spend 10 seconds on this diagram and you will know how a VPN works! PHOTO: UNSPLASH.com
Wait, so the VPN knows what I’m up to?
In a word, yes. This is why it’s imperative that you use a trustworthy one and not sign up for some fly-by-night service just because it’s free.
OK, so what should I look out for?
Just like almost any product, online reviews for “the best VPN service” are readily available. When it comes to “which VPN?” there are several factors to consider:
Data privacy This is a big one because there’s no point trying to be safe and secure if the gatekeeper is hawking your activity log to the highest bidder. This is not to say that all free VPN services are dodgy, but it’s a good idea to understand how the provider is keeping the lights on.
Security Many VPNs tout their excellent security measures, but reputable providers publish security reports conducted by independent auditors. This is an added layer of checks to ensure the metaphorical vault is sealed tight.
Speed The extra steps taken in filtering traffic through the VPN server will slow down your internet connection, so make sure to choose a service that can still deliver a speedy online experience. Security doesn’t have to come at the expense of productivity.
Another VPN use: securing public wifi
VPN also comes in handy when you are connecting to a public wifi network. Few of us can resist connecting to free public wifi – say while hanging out at a cafe – especially when overseas (unimaginable now, but the day will eventually come). Unfortunately, your internet traffic – along with your passwords, account numbers, and other private information – are particularly vulnerable on public wifi as hackers can casually connect to these networks, steal your data and use them for a wide range of cybercrimes – including phishing, malware attacks, and yes, the classic ‘withdraw large amounts of money from your bank accounts’.
In such a scenario, a VPN protects you by providing an encrypted pipeline starting from your device and running through the public wifi network all the way to the VPN server. Yes, VPN can be used for mobile devices as well through the app of a VPN provider.
Just one aspect among many
At the end of the day, VPN is just one of a few steps you can take to secure your online life. For example, it’s more important to enable two-factor authentication and use a password manager to store all your strong, unique passwords for different services (no, adding a different number behind the same password doesn’t count).
Analogy time! If you want to be healthy, it’s silly to slog for hours at the gym yet chain smoke and eat char kway teow every day.
So yes, let’s continue to stay safe by working from home, but also ensure that we’re working safely while at home.
PS: If you’re hungry for more tips on enhancing your digital security, check out our article on seven ways to protect your smartphone from hackers.
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