A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is, essentially, a server or group of servers in a remote location that you’ll connect to through a client. The VPN servers will then hide your internet-bound IP address with their own, so if you connected to a VPN that’s located in Australia then your IP address would be as if you were actually sat at a desktop Down Under.
The benefits of this are many, but mainly a VPN will allow you to access region restricted websites, protect you from tracking, and shield your browsing activities from those who want to find out where you are personally based.
Obviously there comes a negative side, in the form of being able to access content that your country has deemed illegal for some reason. But on the positive, VPNs have allowed people in countries with extraordinarily tight restrictions to get access to the outside world; often enabling them to report on what’s going on in their own country to the world.
But there’s more to a VPN than simply gaining access to another country’s IP-specific services. The connection from your computer to the VPN server, via the client, is usually secure to the tune of 256-bit encryption levels, depending on the VPN company who is hosting the service.
All your internet traffic will filter through the VPN server’s systems, offering multiple layers of protection from viruses, malware, and naturally privacy. Beyond the other possible scenarios, using a VPN while you’re abroad, or working in a hotel for example, will enable you to access your home country’s services and work resources. And the important element in this case is: using a VPN can effectively improve your security while using public, free WiFi.
Why is public WiFi so insecure?
Public WiFi is a noble idea, and generally works perfectly. However, by opening it up to the public it also becomes a security nightmare. Where public WiFi is used, it’s remarkably easy for someone to setup a fake entry point to the network.
Essentially a hacker can sit at the same café as you and everyone else, accessing its public WiFi, and use a set of tools that can pretend to be the actual WiFi router belonging to the café. This enables them to do several things:
First, they’re able to beam out the fake WiFi signal to every device within range, which in turn (if the users have their devices set to attach to any freely available WiFi) will instantly connect to the fake signal.
Secondly, once they have a device connected, they’re able to use their laptop and the tools therein to intercept all the traffic that’s being sent to their fake WiFi signal.
And thirdly, the attacker can connect themselves to the actual café WiFi, and act as a filter to the real connection to the internet. The victim isn’t even aware that their connection is compromised.
Naturally, this means that every single scrap of data is being filtered through the hacker’s system. It’s just up to them to collect it all, decode it and use the information within to their own gains.
Encryption is key
All data that passes to and from your computer or device to the internet is, mostly, unencrypted. This makes it very easy for a hacker to be able to read the information that’s transmitted. That being the case, we need to ensure that all our data leaving our devices is encrypted.
Today we’re regularly seeing and using devices that boast ‘military grade 256-bit AES’ forms of encryption, a standard that is regarded as near-impossible to break without spending billions on specialist hardware and software.
In plain English, the modern form of encryption takes data and passes it through an algorithm together with a key. This creates a garbled file of characters that can only be clearly read if the correct key is applied, to decrypt the data. Algorithms today are divided into two categories: symmetric and asymmetric.
Symmetric key ciphers use the same key to both encrypt and decrypt data. The most popular symmetric cipher is AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), developed by the military and government to protect communications and data. This is a fast form of decryption that requires the sender to exchange the key used to encrypt the data with the recipient before they’re able to read it.
Asymmetric key ciphers are also known as public-key cryptography and utilise two mathematically linked keys: public and private. The public key can be shared with everyone and is usually generated by software or provided by a designated authority. The private key is something that’s usually only known by the individual user. Interestingly both types of keys can be applied, where one user has a public key and another a private key, which can be combined to form a shared encryption level.
These keys are many characters in length, proving it nigh impossible for someone to Brute Force hack them. The Brute Force method involves using a program on a computer to try every possible combination of a key until the correct one is found. In the case of the 256-bit encryption, it would take 2256 different combinations to break the key. If you were able to force one trillion keys per second, it would still take you somewhere in the region of 1057 years in order to crack 256-bit encryption. However, a powerful computer can probably manage around two billion calculations per second, so in theory it would take 9.250 years for your standard desktop to crack it. Take in mind that the universe has theoretically only been in existence for 1.410 years.
Numbers as big as that are generally far too mind-boggling to comprehend, suffice to say that if you’re able to use 256-bit encryption for your communications or to protect your data, then you’re going to be protected for at least seven times the current age of the universe.
Using A VPN
This is where a VPN comes in. Using a VPN will encrypt all your data to and from your device to the highest levels of modern encryption standards.
CyberGhost is considered as one of the best VPNs in the privacy and anonymity market today. The client is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS and even an Amazon Fire Stick. There’s 256-bit encryption, no logging, and a 24/7 live support. You can connect to over 3,000 fast global servers, there’s unlimited bandwidth, a 45-day money back guarantee, and you can connect up to seven devices under the same login.
CyberGhost costs from £3.10 per month for 18-months, £4.65 per month for a year’s subscription, and £11.99 per month for a single month by month plan. Although not the cheapest solution available, it by far, one of the fastest and most secure methods of ensuring you have total anonymity and encrypted security for your device and computer.
You can find more information from the CyberGhost page at: https://www.cyberghostvpn.com/en_GB/