With the outbreak of the coronavirus, many employees who are accustomed to going to the office every day are working at home for the first time. Larger employers often have the infrastructure in place to support telecommuters and employees who travel. They protect the data that remote workers generate through corporate VPN networks. That’s not always the case with small businesses whose employees normally work onsite. New at-home workers may be using the Wi-Fi networks they subscribe to for personal use to conduct business for the first time. This creates a significant security risk for their employers.
What to Expect in the Age of the Coronavirus
It isn’t difficult the foresee that cybercriminals will see the surge in remote employees as an opportunity to wreak even more havoc in our lives. We’re predicting—and we’re prepared—to support an increase in the number of businesses and employees who will be using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).VPN usage has been increasing for about a decade due primarily to the greater frequency of cybercrime and the attending financial losses businesses have suffered. But we foresee even greater growth in the VPN market than previously predicted as more people’s dining room tables are transformed into home offices.
How do VPNs work?
VPNs perform several basic functions to protect your privacy. They encrypt your data. They reroute your data and transmit it through a secure channel. And they hide your IP address. When you install a VPN, neither your internet service provider nor anyone else using your network can see your data. Should anyone try to access your data, they’ll get a gobbledygook of letters, numbers, and symbols for their trouble. VPNs can also make your computer appear to be in a different state or country. This not only helps you hide your metadata but can also give you access to geographically-restricted websites you otherwise might not be able to view from your actual location.
VPNs Come in Several Flavors
Some VPNs are tailoredfor business or other organizational use while others cater more to consumers.Client-based VPNs allow individual users to connect securely to a remote network. Network-based VPNs create secure connections between multiple networks across otherwise non-secure networks and are more commonly used by large organizations.
Consumers often use VPNs for the purpose of speeding up their connections—a real boon when you’re streaming movies and other entertainment.VPNs can also offer consumers a shopping advantage. By logging in from an international IP address, they can sometimes access lower priceson certain products. For added convenience in a lower-risk home environment, consumer-oriented VPNs can be set up so you don’t have to log-in each time you use them. You set them up once and then forget them.Large businesses, on the other hand, tend to gravitate towards VPNs that simplify set-up for a large number of users, are easily scalable, and require additional layers of security to gain access.
VPNs also differ in the types of software they employ to safeguard your data. Some experts argue that VPNs that useopen-source software to protect your data are the safest choice. Open-source software, because it is free to anyone who agrees to follow the source’s licensing agreement, is constantly subject to testing, tweaking, and improving by an infinitely-curious world of computer programmers. Open-source software is not beholden to any corporation. Nobody is making any money off it, which tends to make it more trustworthy than privately developed alternatives.
VPNs follow certain rules, or protocols, when they connect users and networks. VPN providers that offer multiple-protocol services allow users to switch protocols to suit their browsing needs. VPN beginners don’t necessarily need that complexity in their lives, while IT managers at large organizations rely on that flexibility to optimize security.
VPNs Can Both Increase and Decrease Privacy
The whole reason people install VPNs is to improve data privacy and security. But VPNs also create a privacy risk. Here’s why. Most VPNs create some kind of log.Metadata logs can help VPN service providers optimize performance for their customers by providing bandwidth and time stamp information, for example, and making it easier for providers to troubleshoot their networks. These logs are mostly harmless.
Traffic logs, on the other hand, decrease your privacy. They collect your browsing history, which can be sold to third parties for marketing or other more nefarious purposes. Do not—we repeat, do not—purchase a VPN that collects traffic logs. Carefully read the privacy policies of any VPN service you are considering. Look for a policy that explicitly spells out its log-keeping protocol. The best VPN service providers regularly publish transparency reports. VPN providers that are the most serious about transparency engage third-party auditors to help them identify and close any gaps in their code.
Other Data Security Strategies
While VPNs can improve your data security tremendously, they are not a safety panacea. Witness the number of consumers who have been affected by data breaches that are entirely out of their control.If you carry a credit card, you’re probably one of them.And you may have even been offered a settlement payment resulting from a class action lawsuit brought against your credit card company. The point is, the costs of these breaches can be devastating to businesses. That’s why we hasten to remind you that practicing good internet hygiene is the first line of defense when it comes to data protection. Use the strongest possible passwords for all of your user accounts and change them frequently. If that gets too complicated for you—and we know it can— consider using a password manager to keep track of yours. Delete any accounts you are not using anymore. Every time your personal data is stored by a website, you’re increasing your risk of exposure, particularly if you are in the habit of re-using passwords. Choose fingerprint or other biometric identification whenever you’re offered the option. And be grateful for two-factor authentication wherever you find it. It may take another minute to use but it could save youyears of unraveling the problems you could face should your data or identity be stolen.
Susan Doktor is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. She writes on a wide range of subjects, from finance and technology to food and wine. A design enthusiast, she has been enamored with (though not 100% loyal to) Macs since the time they looked like beige toasters.