When the pandemic hit, remote working stopped being a mere option for most businesses and became their set up of choice. A good number of office employees suddenly found themselves setting up makeshift home offices almost overnight; some staff even had to use their personal devices to get work done. Needless to say, the transition to remote working hasn’t been easy — nor has it been secure.
Home networks usually don’t have the same cybersecurity safeguards as office networks, making it a piece of cake for online criminals to infiltrate these systems. In the era of telecommuting — where your data is more vulnerable than ever to prying eyes and determined hackers’ hands — a virtual private network (VPN) can help ensure your online privacy.
What is a VPN?
A VPN establishes a secure and encrypted internet connection that gives you greater privacy on the web. The VPN turns all your data into gibberish so that third parties cannot make sense of what data you send and receive online, such as what websites you visit. Even if a cybercriminal gets a hold of your data, they will not be able to use it because all the information will be indecipherable.
In addition, a VPN is similar to a proxy server in that it can also disguise your whereabouts. It masks your internet protocol (IP) address by redirecting your connection through a specially configured remote server run by a VPN provider. If you connect to a VPN server in Canada, for example, it would appear as if you are accessing the internet from that country, and your actual location will be hidden.
What are the dangers of a free VPN service?
There are many VPN choices on the market, but not all of them provide the same level of security. Free VPNs could be enticing, as they promise online protection without hefty fees. But always be wary if something sounds too good to be true. When a service doesn’t ask you for money, you may be paying for it in some other ways.
Beware of the following dangers of free VPNs:
Free VPNs don’t ask users for payments, so they rely purely on advertising for revenue. But because they don’t really filter what kind of advertisement deals they get, it’s all too common to find a free VPN app full of malware-ridden ads. This is a practice more popularly known as malvertising, a portmanteau of “malware” and “advertising.” Malvertising is dangerous to your business, as clicking on an infected ad can download and install malicious software that will compromise your data and/or your device.
2. Activity tracking
No free VPN provider will be upfront about tracking its users’ online activity and selling their data. Instead, these providers typically use ambiguous phrasing that can trick users into thinking that their data is secure. VPN providers may say that they’ll install browser cookies to improve user experience or that they may share anonymously aggregated sets of data to their partners to provide better-suited ads.
At the end of the day, no matter how free VPN providers phrase their terms and conditions, they do keep a log of their users’ online history and make these available to third parties for a price. Should you choose to use free VPN services for your business, you stand being susceptible to phishing, hacking, and other targeted cyberattacks.
3. Slow internet speeds
A crawling internet connection is the last thing your organization needs, especially if you have distributed teams that rely on the internet to access company data and communicate with each other. Unfortunately, free VPNs often limit the total amount of data you can download or upload within a certain time frame to keep usage fair. Their servers are also often overloaded with users, further hampering the service.
4. Subpar security
Free VPNs have a long history of suffering massive data breaches that exposed the data of millions of users. Even if these providers swear that they will protect your information, the truth is that their systems are not secure enough to keep the ill-intentioned at bay. Instead of keeping your data safe — which reliable VPNs do — free VPNs may actually invite cybercriminals in with their weak cybersecurity posture. The bottom line: stay clear of free VPNs to minimize threats to your data.
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