Protecting yourself online: A short beginners guide – Securing your connection to the Internet (2/3)

Securing your connection to the Internet

This part of the guide will teach you how to secure you connection to the Internet. Leaving your connection to the internet unprotected can lead to very severe consequences, lets name a few:

  •  Your private data like emails, conversations and photos getting into the hands of strangers
  • Your financial information being stolen when you pay for something online
  • Files you download being modified to contain malicious program (ie. malware)
  • Basically anything you do on the Internet is open for the whole world to see

In this guide we will be using

  • VPN’s (Virtual Private Network)
  • HTTPS (Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol, don’t worry the finer details are irrelevant to this guide!)

In a effort to reduce the sheer size of this post, I’ve put some sections I feel that are not too essential in collapsible sections, just click them to open.

VPN’s

A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a very effective way of securing yourself when online. Basically it creates a secure tunnel between you whatever you’re accessing on the Internet. This protects your data from snoopers, thieves or hackers, keeping your private information safe.

It works by connecting  securely you to a server which sends and receives data on your behalf.

This means that not only your data has a “secure tunnel” to go through protecting it, the VPN server acts like a “mask”. This hides from any 3rd party who is accessing the website and where from, all they see is the VPN server accessing the website

A VPN not only protects your data while in transit, but also transfers data on your behalf. This masks who is really accessing the website.

A VPN is absolutely essential if you use free WiFi hotspots (like a cafe, the airport or your local Maccas) as they are a prime target for attackers to try steal your data as it leaves your device.

VPN’s are in my opinion, one of the best ways to secure yourself online as it not only protects your data from attackers, but also your privacy from surveillance. if you only use one thing from this part of the guide, make it the humble VPN.

Choosing a VPN

Choosing a VPN

I could go on about using only VPN providers that are not in Five Eyes, use Bitcoin for payment and have warrant canaries, but for a general user this I feel is a bit much.

A golden rule for choosing a VPN is NEVER USE A VPN SERVICE THAT IS FREE, why is that? Well there is no such thing as a free lunch they say and that holds true for VPN providers:

  • If the provider provides good security and speed then there is a tiny data limit (like 1GB a month, which is not a lot) an example is Tunnel Bear’s free tier VPN
  • If there is no data limit then you run the risk of malware as the provider will not invest in good security, ads being injected into your data (like a website page) or even the provider stealing your data!

Running these services cost money and the bills must be paid, so if you want a provider who is committed to keeping your data safe, you will have to cough up some cash. I am not going to list recommendations here as the landscape constantly changes but this website has a good list (I personally use the paid version of ProtonVPN):

https://www.privacytools.io/#vpn

HTTPS

So firstly what in the world is HTTP? All you need to know is that HTTP is a protocol used when you access any website (you’re using it right now to view this guide). Lets say the website you want to look at is a person you want to talk to at a party. If HTTP is used that means that the conversation you have can be heard by everyone if they want to listen.

Now imagine there is a secret language that you both use, other people can hear the conversation but have no idea what it means, this is HTTPS.

HTTPS is essential when online shopping or banking is involved as you don’t want a stranger being able to see your financial details when making a purchase/transfer. The same goes when communicating over the Internet, HTTPS stops strangers being able to see your private conversations when on websites like Facebook.

Thankfully HTTPS is a automatic process, most of the websites you access on a daily basis already use HTTPS. You can check this by looking for a green padlock next to the website URL (This website uses HTTPS, the padlock is at the top left of the browser).

HTTPS vs VPN

HTTPS vs VPN’s

HTTPS seems a lot like a VPN, basically making your data going from your device to a website/service private and safe from malicious attackers. They are in principle very similar (ignoring the technical details of implementing them) there are a few distinct differences:

  1. A VPN creates a secure tunnel for ALL DATA leaving your device to the Internet. This means that any data from your browser, Skype, email and even online multiplayer games will go through this “secure tunnel”.
  2. A VPN hides what website what you are going to, as it is a secure tunnel that your data goes through no one (not even your Internet provider) can see what website you’re accessing.
  3. A VPN can hide your geographical location and what device your accessing a website from, HTTPS does not.

HTTPS only makes the data from your web browser private, it does not protect other data like Skype, Email or multiplayer games. HTTPS  also does not hide what website you’re accessing, only the content being transferred to your browser. Think back to the party analogy, people can see WHO you’re talking to but don’t understand WHAT you’re talking about.

HTTPS or VPN? Why not both?

As mentioned before a VPN is one of the most effective ways to protect your security and privacy online. Using a VPN does not mean you can’t use HTTPS and vice versa. HTTPS is mostly out of your control so using a VPN along with HTTPS also gives you the benefit of:

  • Hiding your geographical location and IP address you’re accessing the website from
  • Hide what website you’re accessing from prying eyes
  • Protect all data going out of your device and not just from your browser
Using a VPN server with HTTPS ensures that your data is encrypted (protected) when travelling the entire path from your device to the website you’re accessing. It also hides who is actually is accessing the website, acting like a mask.

 

 

 

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