These days, the Internet is where the action happens. Globally, more than 4 billion people are online, while in Australia alone, more than 21 million people are active Internet users---roughly 88% of the total population. Yes, the Internet is a major influence in our lives, and we spend approximately 5 or more hours of each day using it.

With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that many of us are concerned about security. Alongside the Internet’s many positive developments are, unfortunately, some negative ones. Hackers and other scammers are on the prowl, looking for opportunities to grab your personal information and steal your identity.

One security measure you can take (and that some argue is essential) is to use a VPN.

What is a VPN?

A VPN is a “Virtual Private Network”, a type of secure and encrypted way of moving information via your Internet connection. Normally, when using the web, information is sent out from your device and transmits directly through your RSP, or retail service provider. In this setup, your information could be vulnerable to interception---especially in public Wi-Fi scenarios.

With a VPN, you are avoiding the possibility of interception by utilising a private server operated by a third-party provider. You connect first to this secure, remote server, and from there, send and receive data. In many ways, a VPN is a sort of go-between, a virtual watchdog that gives you an added, important layer of privacy.

Not only does a VPN shield your data, it also masks your location. If someone were to try and “see” what you were doing online, they would only see your VPN server. They would also be unable to detect your physical location. The remote nature of VPN servers makes this possible.

Why Use a VPN?

So, should you use a Virtual Private Network, and if so, why and when?

For the majority of online activities, experts indicate that it’s not necessary to use a VPN. This applies particularly when using a safe and trusted Internet connection, such as your home Wi-Fi.

Public Wi-Fi is a different story. These networks, such as those you might find at a coffee shop or other public place, bring with them more risk. You never know who may be “watching” over a Wi-Fi connection, or you may not be able to tell if a network is even legitimate. While you may not need to activate your VPN while browsing YouTube videos, if you’re doing any type of online banking, bill pay, or otherwise transmitting personal information, turn that VPN on.

An extra security tip is to keep an eye on the sites you’re visiting. A secure site should use https, which you’ll see at the start of the web address. SSL encrypted sites, or those using https will display a padlock in the browser. This denotes a secure connection and signals that all communications between your browser and the website are secure. This can give you peace of mind even if you don’t have a VPN enabled. Keep in mind that this is not a foolproof solution, however, and if sending or receiving personal data, using a VPN offers greater security.

Will a VPN Hurt my Internet Speeds?

Unfortunately, using a VPN may have an impact on your connection speeds. The level of that impact depends on a few factors including the location of the remote server, the VPN quality, and more. In addition, the action involved in encryption takes some time and will slow your online actions somewhat.

However, a slight reduction in Internet speeds is a small price to pay for an extra layer of security.

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