When it comes to our online privacy, we are increasingly living in a world where communications we previously thought were privacy did not remain so.


Even when security breaches occur which do not seem to have leaked any private customer information (see Evernote's recent forced password reset for all its customers), it is becoming increasingly clear that any information placed on the internet, whether secure or not, may not always remain private forever. Online users should drop the idea of privacy as an expectation.


With virtual private networks (VPNs), while they do not prevent someone mistakenly posting a questionable picture to their Facebook photo collection after getting home from a boozy night out, they do help to reduce your online vulnerability.


What is a Virtual Private Network?


A Virtual Private Network is a batch of computers or a network that is accessible over the internet. A VPN is often used by businesses to connection one network in their system to another securely. Employees are sometimes provided VPN login access for their company's local area network (LAN), so they can access it from anywhere in the world as if they are sitting in their office logging in from the work computer.


More recently, VPNs are being used by individuals who wish to secure their online activities behind an encryption protocol to protect them from prying eyes.


Hackers uses packet sniffing software to snoop on the online activities of others, hoping to collect logins, passwords, credit card information and private communications that is flying across the internet. Using the internet though a VPN service (there are private and public ones available) encrypts all access, making it extremely difficult for a hacker to get through such security.


Trusted Keys For VPN Logins


When a user accesses their computer, they can login to their VPN service using connection software. Once the bona fides have been entered, encryption keys are exchanged on each end to confirm identities. The system uses cryptology to protect data and communications.


Once logged in, all data is sent through a tunnelling protocol, which essentially burrows through the internet with its encrypted transmissions. This keeps many internet activities away from the eyes of digital eavesdroppers who want to snatch data and use it for illicit profit.


Uses For VPNs in The Private World


A VPN can provide an additional layer of security. But do bear in mind, no security is perfect and cyber-thieves are constantly looking for ways to get around the best digital security.


VPNs can help encrypt data as it is being sent across the net. The level of encryption can often exceed that provided by other protocols used for website logins. When dealing with infiltrations in the middle of the sending process – like a man in the middle attack – full encryption of all data prior to sending through a web browser can add additional layers of protection.


For people who travel on business or for pleasure, experienced travellers will be aware that communication networks in hotels, guesthouses and cafes are not the most secure. In Asia, for instance, some Internet cafes are known to harvest user/password combinations on their computers using keystroke logging software, and then sell the data on. Using your own more secure laptop, with a VPN service, can protect from such intentional snooping.


Outside of travel, VPNs are also useful for connecting to websites that restrict access only to visitors from certain countries. Several major US cable brands, like Showtime, and the BBC iPlayer media player, are two such examples that VPN systems can get around.