Do you need a VPN to protect your internet traffic?

You have to use the hotel's free wi-fi but you think it's pretty shady - is a VPN right for you?

We've all been there - we arrive at a hotel and need to check our work email, we're at Starbucks and want to check our bank account, or we're at the airport and need to view our boarding pass on our phone - we need access to some sensitive data but need to get on the internet quick, no matter the risk. 

And besides, what can you do to protect those risky but necessary internet connections? Plenty, actually. 

You see, the reason public wi-fi that you find in hotels, airports, coffee shops, malls and more is dangerous is because whomever giving it to you is likely giving it to you for free and doesn't want to spend the money to check whether or not each connected device is free of malware or to stop it on their networks. So free wi-fi is basically like the wild wild west - there is no law, enter at your own risk. If you connect to a network that another infected device is on, you could become infected as well. 

Also, in some countries, content can be monitored or restricted by governments or internet service providers.  So if someone saw you trying to access a certain site, you might get blocked, or worse.... VPNs allow you to tunnel out to other locations securely.

So how do you create your own protected tunnel to the Internet to browse and send and receive information (like credit card numbers, passwords, etc.) securely? A VPN! A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. A VPN is a connection between your computer or phone to another trusted router, computer, or server that is encrypted so that if someone is snooping on the Starbucks wi-fi, they can't read the encrypted information you're sending to the internet. 

A VPN is like if you're trying to drive a truck around and avoid being seen by a helicopter, the VPN would be like a sort of camouflage or a canopy of trees that would hide your route. People can look, but they won't be able to see where you're going. 

So, if you:
- use the free wi-fi at Starbucks to check your bank account
- use the free wi-fi at your hotel to check your email
- use the airport wi-fi to send important client information
- use any public wi-fi and have important info on your phone/laptop you don't want to lose

you'll want to consider a VPN.

How does using a VPN work? Usually, it's just creating account, downloading some software, and following some simple instructions to get you up and running. 

Some VPNs are free but limit the amount of data you can protect. 
Paid VPNs - costing between about $50-$80 per year - usually give you unlimited data protection for multiple devices. 

Below are some examples of VPNs:



These VPNs are mostly easy to download and setup. Most also protect multiple devices - so you can connect your phone, tablet, and laptop to sketchy wi-fi for one price usually. 

Some say, "Well what is to prevent the people running the VPN from looking at my data and selling it to governments or advertisers?"  In reality?  Nothing but the trust in humankind, to be honest. 

But really, these VPN companies go out of their way to explain their dedications - some will say that they will give your data to no one, unless law enforcement asks with a warrant - others say that since they are in a foreign country, they will never show anyone, not even law enforcement with warrants, their logs.  You can choose which is right for you, but if your primary concern is avoiding criminals and local hackers, then most any VPN will do. 

And don't think this is super technical. I mean, the underlying tech is - but so is the underlying tech for the hard drive in your phone. These companies have done very good jobs at making VPNs easy to use for non-technical users. They want you to realize security and privacy don't have to be hard.

And really, that's the take away here. Security and privacy don't have to be hard or expensive - you just need to know what you need to protect and how the appropriate tools work to protect what you care about.

By Matt Lembright @mattlembright

PS: WE'RE RECRUITING FOR OUR BETA TEST! You don't have to be technical! In fact, the less technical the better. We're building so that anyone can find the tools they need to stay safe and understand how they work. If you're interested let us know here. There are lots of great tools out there to keep you safe online, and we want you to be the first to find them. 

*We may be compensated if you purchase products we list, but this in no way affects our objectivity of what we list. Our eternal promise to you is that we will always prioritize your protection over our profit.

Thank you to my wife, Lauren, for reading and helping me edit.


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