Technology has helped to make our lives easier since the creation of the internet to find out anything, mobile telephones to communicate from anywhere and global positioning satellites (GPS) to help us find our way around.
Some might argue that although the practical things that we do are now easier as a result of all this tech, that our general mental health has suffered. There’s an expectation now that everyone should reply within minutes to an email or text message – but years ago, you might leave a message on someone’s answerphone or even write and post a letter – you wouldn’t expect a response for a number of days at the earliest.
We have become a ‘want it now’ society, and like it or not, we’re stuck with it. As a result of all this automation, the online activity we carry out to supposedly make our lives easier unfortunately attracts a criminal element. Wherever there are people buying and selling things online, and payment methods are governed by banking apps, there will always be dishonest people trying to somehow hijack these processes. Bad guys now steal goods or money using the very technology which is intended to facilitate our use of the internet.
In order to prevent this, we only need to ensure that our devices don’t get infected with spyware and malware, which can allow criminals to learn our passwords and credit card details. Or there is ransomware, a particularly scary form of virus, which can effectively delete entire hard-drives until the user pays the hacker to provide a key to retrieve the disappeared files.
In order to stop any of these things from happening, one of the simplest and most effective strategies is to install a free VPN onto any devices you have which connect to the internet. A VPN or ‘Virtual Private Network’ places a ‘middleman’ or third party encrypted server between your device and your regular internet service provider (ISP).
This effectively provides an encrypted tunnel so that any data transferred goes through the middleman VPN, which ensures that both the user’s identity and location are hidden. This anonymity and location cloaking offers several advantages, above and beyond the extra security facilities. Let’s take a look at just a couple of the main benefits:
Security via anonymity.
There are two ways which a VPN can assist with security. Firstly, sophisticated hackers tend to target ‘known quantities’ – for example social media influencers, who have a constant visible online presence, and often reveal the approximate location of where they live, the younger ones even taking their phones into school and broadcasting from there!
As a result, a hacker could trawl through internet protocol (IP) addresses and find the influencer, phishing a malware attempt via email. But if the influencer is using a VPN, the hacker can’t have any idea where the actual connecting server is located, as the connection is encrypted. On the same basis that a shiny new car makes an obvious target for robbers, an anonymous old scrapper wouldn’t get a second look from a car thief.
Also, VPN servers from reputable providers always carry malware and phishing detection inherent in their technology. Unlike a virus protection software package, the moment a device connected via a VPN server becomes subject to any malicious download activity, the server automatically disconnects the device instantly, before any harm can be done. It’s still a good idea to keep virus protection software and operating systems up to date, but VPN can prevent any virus from getting near a device in the first place.
Avoiding the dreaded data throttle.
Some ISPs have crafty ways of ensuring that their networks don’t get overburdened by their customers downloading too much data. Often, if a major new series starts on a popular streaming platform like Netflix or Apple TV+, an ISP might place a speed restriction to a certain geographical area to discourage all their customers from streaming the same content at once.
ISPs can also be very sneaky – sometimes they throttle down a region’s connection to, say, Apple TV, but leave all the ‘speed test’ sites unrestricted. In this example, an Apple TV viewer finds that their connection has gone to a crawl, so heads over to a speed test site and finds that their download speed is at its normal expected rate. Naturally, the user then blames Apple rather than their ISP.
But if the customer connects to their ISP via a VPN, the ISP doesn’t know who the customer is, nor where they are located, so they can’t throttle the user’s connection.
Save money on travel and accommodation.
Another advantage to using a VPN is location cloaking, which renders the ‘dynamic pricing’ algorithms of many travel and hotel reseller sites as redundant. Despite the protests of travel websites’ owners, who deny this practice, there’s a belief that AI tracks a potential customer’s IP address against a database, and if the customer is located in a wealthy area, the price displayed for a hotel or flight ticket increases.
However, if the IP address indicated that the customer was in a non-wealthy location, the price displayed can be considerably cheaper. In short, if they think you can afford it, they put the price up.
Morally this is questionable. It would be like running a restaurant where two white-collar suited-up business customers were charged more for their lunch than blue-collar workers dressed in overalls eating the same food.
Fortunately, by using a VPN, you can choose to access the reseller website from a server in a region or country which is not affluent. Many people claim to have saved significant sums by doing this, and also by changing the website’s payment currency to the same currency as where the hotel or airport is located. Reseller websites make a fast buck on offering poor exchange rates, so if you’re paying in the same currency as the service provider normally accepts, that’s a win / win.
Streaming geo-restricted content
Many streaming platforms restrict their content to certain countries. For example, Netflix only allow US residents to access Netflix’ US-based content. So if you’re a Texan on vacation in Germany, you can’t catch up on your favorite shows. But you only need to use a VPN to access the internet via a server located in the USA, and your problem is solved.
In summary, technology can make your life easier at work or in leisure hours, but it’s even easier still if you use a free VPN from a reputable provider to take all the hurdles out of the way ahead.