Virtual private networks (VPNs) are great for securing your connection when you’re using public Wi-Fi. However, they can also be put to work in your home. You might use a VPN at work, however do you need a VPN at home?
When you use a VPN, you’re adding a layer of protection to your online activities by building an encrypted tunnel between your traffic and anyone who tries to spy on you. VPNs are great for when you’re out and about, using Wi-Fi networks that aren’t your own. But at home, a VPN can help protect you from other threats and may let you access streaming content that would be otherwise unavailable.
In a recent article aksing written by Darren Allan for msn.com he explores the benefits of having a VPN at home.
What is a VPN?
A VPN gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.
The Threats Abroad
Outside your home, it’s hard to tell which networks you encounter are safe. If you’re at a coffee shop, for example, how can you tell which Wi-Fi network is legitimate? Unless the SSID is posted somewhere, you’re just going to have to guess. Clever bad guys will set up access points with familiar names, hoping to trick people into connecting. Once victims are online, the bad guy does a man-in-the-middle attack, intercepting all the information victims send and receive. This includes a lot of mundane stuff, to be sure, but it can also include bank accounts, login information, and worse.
An attacker doesn’t even need to trick you, they just need to trick your phone or computer. Most devices are configured to reconnect to familiar networks by default. But if an attacker uses the same name of a popular Wi-Fi network, your devices may automatically connect, even without your knowledge.
Both of those attacks require a lot of guesswork, but a good attacker won’t bother with that. Instead, they’ll configure their evil access point to switch SSIDs to match the ones devices are asking for. For example, at the Black Hat conference a few years ago, a security vendor detected an evil access point that had changed its SSID 1,047 times, tricking 35,000 devices into connecting.
These are situation in which you definitely need a VPN. The encrypted tunnel it creates blocks anyone on the same network as you—even the person managing the network—from seeing what you’re up to.
The Threats at Home
It’s very unlikely that a bad guy broke in to your home, replaced your router, and then waited for the good stuff to roll in. For one thing, that’s just too much work. But for another, attackers need more than one successful hit to make an attack worthwhile. They’ll want to rack up as much information from as many victims as possible. Unless you live above an airport, it’s unlikely that there’s enough foot traffic in your home to justify an attack.
VPNs can be fun
At least half of all VPN use isn’t for personal protection. It’s for streaming video. That might seem odd considering the negative effect that VPNs have on your upload and download speeds, but it makes sense.
That’s where VPNs come in. You can use your VPN to tunnel to a distant server and access content that is restricted in your home country. While Netflix is very good at blocking VPNs, this trick is also useful for sports fans.
Trouble at Home
VPNs are all about securing your traffic from prying eyes, and that’s sometimes a problem when you want your traffic to be seen. If you live in an especially smart home, you’re likely to encounter some problems with using a VPN.
A great example is Chromecast, Google’s dead-simple method for getting content from your phone or computer on to your TV. When you try to use Chromecast with a VPN, all your data is shuffled off your devices through an encrypted tunnel and can’t reach other devices on your local network. You’ll have to switch off your VPN if you want to use this feature, or others like it.
One solution to this problem is to simply raise the level of your VPN and install it on your router. That way, all the data on your local network is funnelled through the VPN, giving you all the protection without causing any of the fuss on the local level. Configuring your router to use a VPN can sound daunting, but some VPN companies will sell you a pre-configured router if you want to give it a try. Still, I think this solution is not for everyone and perhaps best left to people with a determined DIY sensibility.
While many people are using VPNs to stream online content, many (if not most) streaming services are very good at blocking VPN usage. One possible solution is purchasing a static IP address from your VPN provider. These “clean” addresses aren’t associated with VPNs, giving you a better chance of slipping past attempts to block your access.
Speed will always be an issue with VPNs. When a VPN connection is active, your web traffic is going through more machines and more fibre. As a result, this increases latency and slower transfer speeds. Not all VPNs are the same in how much they affect your connection, but you will see some impact.
Do you need a VPN at home?
In truth, the answer to the question of whether you “need” a VPN in your house is going to come down to your own preferences. There are lots of good reasons why a home VPN might be a valuable addition to your security arsenal, but what’s most important is whether you will use it. If you find yourself too frustrated with reduced internet speeds, or juggling streaming devices, don’t use a VPN at home. An unused security feature isn’t useful to anyone.
As more of us are working from home, it may be a good idea to explore your options. Contact the LIS Help Desk and talk to one of our friendly team to see how we can help you.
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