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Relevant for: Science & Technology | Topic: IT, Internet and Communications

Be vigilant Do note, that a VPN is not an alternative to an overall security system  

Streaming marathons, gaming sessions, hours of work-from-home and study-from-home routines, and umpteen video-calls — the goal is to stay connected with the outside world. As usage skyrockets, however, we grow more conscious of the networks upon which we rely — not just whether or not the bandwidth is able to handle the increased traffic in our households, but more so the security.

It is a legitimate worry, after all, given the increased traffic has been easy bait for hackers to plant malware, launch phishing attacks and engage in other nefarious activities.

One of the simplest solutions to abate these worries is to use a trustworthy VPN or virtual private network. VPNs create a safe and encrypted connection over a less secure network, ie the Internet.

In fact, since the lockdowns kicked in across the country, bandwidth throttling has been on the rise; some Internet Service Providers slow down users’ traffic when they do not have adequate resources to meet the spike in demand. We also often do not notice when website URLs lack an https extension which uses Transport Layer Security protocol to encrypt data travelling between users and a website.

A simple Google search reveals some of the most reliable and popular VPNs have been NordVPN, ExpressVPN and SurfShark — but buying a VPN is not as simple as popping into the hardware for an accessory; the process requires a little more technical surety.

First, different VPNs have various functions often prioritising one need over others, so take a stock of what you mostly do online: what takes up the most bandwidth in your home? For example, if you are doing a lot of transaction-based work with a lot of sensitive data (such as banking details or stock trading), your priority will be a VPN with a tough-to-crack security framework; if you are streaming and gaming a lot, you will lean towards a high-speed VPN.

When you find matches of VPNs to your primary needs, it helps to gauge the respective traits. If you like streaming outside your geographical location, some sites have VPN blocks, so be mindful of the fine print for the service that catches your eye.

Ideally, a VPN should be compatible with your devices, be it your laptop, tablet, smartphone, streaming sticks, or router. Also check the maximum device compatibility for your chosen VPN, given WFH environments entail multiple simultaneous connections. For those who are not-so technologically savvy but want the power of a VPN, pick one with a simple UX. Most VPNs are created to be as easy-to-use so as to appeal to as many users as possible. Also check out customer service reviews for your favoured VPNs; if something glitches, they would be your point-of-contact rather than your Internet Service Provider.

One would think payment plans would be at the top of this guide, but now with the increased demands for VPNs, providers have opened up payment plans for those who are on a tight budget during the pandemic. Plus, a money-back guarantee does not hurt either.

However, do not think that a VPN replaces a security system. You will still need a reliable anti-virus network that works well alongside the VPN, and regular vigilant behaviours of the user are still a priority. Happy browsing, everyone!

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