I hope you’ve been having a good day, because I’m about to make you very uncomfortable and nervous about accessing the internet in public ever again.
I want to use this post to quickly explain to you how to avoid being hacked by someone in a public setting, and how to avoid losing your personal data over public wifi connections. I’m going to be explaining this topic as simply as I can without too much technical jargon.
That being said, this is still going to be a fairly detailed post just because I want to make sure that everything important related to VPNs and internet safety is covered sufficiently. Feel free to skip around using the table of contents if you’d like.
If any of this sounds scary, don’t worry, there’s an easy solution I’m going to talk about at the end of this post.
Or you can click here if you’re feeling impatient.
Table of Contents
- What’s the difference between a secure and an unsecured connection?
- How can I be sure my password is secure?
- So, does that mean if I know who’s on my secured wireless connection, I’m safe?
- What kind of information can someone steal over an unsecured connection?
- I don’t want my information stolen! How can I prevent this from happening?
- What does a VPN do?
- Does NordVPN log my data?
- Are VPNs good for more than just staying anonymous and keeping my data safe?
- Will using a VPN slow down my internet?
- Can I use my VPN with Netflix?
- Can I use NordVPN to download torrents?
- I have restricted internet access in my country, will a VPN work for me?
- Alright, you’ve convinced me, I want to get a VPN! What are my options?
Let’s say you’re at a local coffee shop checking your emails, watching videos, sharing pictures with people, whatever. There’s only one problem: you aren’t connected on a router with a WPA2 security protocol. In layman’s terms, that means that when there’s no “lock” symbol next to the name of the connection, anyone can use that connection to access the internet AND view the activity of everyone connected to that router. Phones and laptops made within the last several years make it pretty obvious when you’re on an unsecured connection.
According to a study from Wandera, just about 70% of all wifi sessions take place on unsecured connections. So while many public connections in modern cities and towns ARE secured with passwords, there may be times where you really need to get onto the internet, and the only choice you have is an unsecured connection.
Connecting to an unsecured wireless connection without a VPN (short for Virtual Private Network, we’ll get more into what those are in a bit) is a really bad idea because the connection is just that; it’s unsecured. There’s no real security protocol on it, which means that anyone within range of the wifi signal can spy on whatever it is that you’re doing without your knowledge or consent.
What’s the difference between a secure and an unsecured connection?
Let’s say you go to a friend’s house, they give you the password to their wifi and you log into it. In that scenario, there are only two people who have access to that connection: you and your friend. That’s a secure connection. Unless someone manages to crack that password, you’re safe. But when you’re using the internet in public, that’s a whole different story. If you aren’t careful or if you don’t have any other options, you could sign into an unsafe wifi connection and have all of your information leaked in an instant.
Even if you are on a secure connection, you still aren’t completely safe. Let’s say you work in an office, and you know the password used to access the internet there. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re secure. All that means is that everyone else at your office has the ability to spy on what you’re doing. Or, maybe the office wifi password got leaked to somebody outside the building and nobody’s changed it. Unless you are in charge of your own internet connection, things can start to get messy.
If you’re on a secure connection in your own home, and you have a solid password that’s difficult to guess, you’re generally going to be safe and you shouldn’t be too worried, especially if you’re on a wired connection. But just in case, you should always make sure to use a difficult password to guess in case somebody wants to try and brute-force their way into your internet.
How can I be sure my password is secure?
As a general rule of thumb, try to keep your passwords around 8-16 characters long, and include at least one upper case letter, one symbol, and one number, and also try and use different passwords for different accounts and/or services.
And for the love of god, please don’t make your password something like “Password123”, it’s just not safe at all with the modern tools people have to crack passwords these days.
I know it’s annoying to keep track of a bunch of passwords, but it’s important because if somebody manages to hack into your wifi, you wouldn’t want them to also have a free pass to, say, your email using the same password.
If you want to get serious about maintaining your different passwords, I’d recommend checking out LastPass, it’s a great password management tool if you want to avoid the hassle of writing down your passwords and attempting to keep track of your own account information by hand. I am an affiliate with LastPass, so I get a small commission from people who sign up through that link, however they also offer a free version of LastPass if you are interested in checking it out in a more risk-free way.
LastPass also offers a free tool to quickly see if you are using a good, safe password or not. Or, if you prefer, there’s also a good free secure password checker at howsecureismypassword.net. Pictured below is the result of me testing my own password (the one I use to run this site).
All that’s not to say that secured connections like the one you may have at home are unhackable, but there is far less risk of having your passwords and your personal information exposed when the connection is protected behind that little lock next to the name of the wifi connection.
So, does that mean if I know who’s on my secured wireless connection, I’m safe?
Not exactly. There’s a number of nasty ways people can try to get at your data besides just sniffing data packets that get transferred over wireless connections. There are Malware attacks, fake networks with misleading names, and a particularly bad one called a “Man-in-the-Middle” attack.
These kinds of attacks are complex and can be difficult to explain, but I’ve got a fun, informative video from one of my favorite youtube channels, The Modern Rogue, to help explain what exactly a Man-in-the-Middle attack is all about, and why you should be concerned about the fact that anyone can initiate these attacks, using a device known as a “Pineapple”, in a public setting.
What kind of information can someone steal over an unsecured connection?
Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a quick list of everything a potential stranger who’s snooping on your unsecure connection would be able to see regarding you and everyone else using the connection. This goes for EVERYBODY on their phones and laptops in the coffee house, not just you.
- Your location
- Websites you visit
- The contents of incoming or outgoing messages like chat, emails, etc,
- The names and information of any people you are communicating with
- Any files, videos, or photos you send or receive
- Sensitive information including any usernames or passwords you use
- Login credentials for various websites such as online banks
As new technology develops, such as facial recognition technology, I think it’s reasonable to assume that newer forms of data like that could be stolen as well. Hackers are always moving and changing their strategies, which is why it’s important to always stay a step ahead of them.
I don’t want my information stolen! How can I prevent this from happening?
Thankfully, there are great ways you can prevent unwanted people from taking data from you today.
Currently, the best way to avoid having your information leaked from you while you’re in public is to use a VPN service. It’s important that you protect your data while you’re in public the same way you would protect your computer with some sort of virus-scanning software. It’s just basic hygiene at this point.
For how inexpensive having a VPN service is, I can’t recommend having a VPN enough, it practically pays for itself when you consider how financially damaging it can be to lose control of your personal data.
If you’d like to know more about what NordVPN does and why you should be using it, feel free to keep reading.
What does a VPN do?
As I mentioned earlier, VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. They’ve existed for a while, although it’s only recently we’ve started to see companies like NordVPN step up to bat and offer them to the public at consumer-friendly prices.
The way a VPN protects you is actually pretty simple. What a VPN does is it creates a secure connection over public networks as well as home networks, for both for wired and wireless connections. It basically does this by rerouting your internet activity through their own private, military grade servers.
In NordVPN’s case, they’ve currently got over 5000 servers located in 62 countries. Since they have such a large amount of servers located around the world, there’s almost certainly a server near your location, which means that you likely won’t even notice that you have a VPN activated while you’re browsing the internet.
My explanation of how all this works here is a little oversimplified for the sake of this article’s length, but if you’d like a more in-depth view of how VPNs work, I’ve included a good video here from VPN Mentor which you can take a look at.
Does NordVPN log my data?
No, NordVPN does not log your data. NordVPN operates out of Panama, located in Central America, which has zero data retention laws. NordVPN also operates with a strict “no logs” policy, meaning user activities are effectively never logged, meaning your user log data can never be sold to someone else.
This is part of why I value NordVPN over others so much. Not all, but many other VPN companies will just take your data and sell it to other companies on a whim.
Just to be clear, NordVPN does still know where you operate out of, generally speaking, since if you sign up with them you’ll be providing personal payment information anyways, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Without a VPN, your internet service provider can see what your activity like is at any given moment, and unless you get a VPN there’s nothing you can really do about it. Using a VPN effectively moves that information to another location, one that won’t be recording your online activities or information.
Personally, I don’t like the idea of my local internet provider being able to monitor everything I’m doing at any given moment. I’d consider using a VPN just for this feature alone, honestly.
Are VPNs good for more than just staying anonymous and keeping my data safe?
Protecting your online privacy isn’t the only good practical use of a VPN. Here’s a quick list of how you can use a VPN to your advantage:
- Protect your personal data against hackers and bad actors
(we’ve mostly talked about this one so far)
- Potentially speed up your internet if your ISP is throttling your connection speed
- Unblock video streaming sites where content is region-locked
- Safely download torrents without fear of being spied on or throttled
- Keep your internet activity hidden from the government
(especially useful if you live in China, Dubai, Russia, or any country that tries to enforce what content you’re allowed to consume over the internet)
- Bypass government censorship and browse the internet the way it was meant to be seen
(Again, very useful in countries that attempt to enforce online content laws)
Will using a VPN slow down my internet?
If you connect to a faraway server, for example, one in a country across the world, then yes, you might notice a bit of slowdown since the data has to travel a very far distance, but until we find a way to go faster than the speed of light, this is always going to be a problem. However, If you choose a nearby server, it’s almost impossible to notice a real difference in speed.
I’ve gone days at a time with my computer’s VPN enabled or disabled without noticing about it. My internet speed is just as fast with NordVPN activated as it is without.
In fact, your internet speed could actually benefit from using a VPN! It sounds strange, but It’s not uncommon for ISPs (Internet service providers) to throttle your internet speed when they see that you’re downloading or uploading more data than they want you to. Basically, the reason they do this is to try and take pressure off of their servers, which cost them money to maintain.
Nearly every US internet provider is throttling data to some extent, and you might not even be able to tell it’s slower, due to advanced technology that can artificially speed up your internet when you run speed tests. If you run a VPN, it becomes much harder for your ISP to pinpoint which connection they should be throttling down.
Can I use my VPN with Netflix?
Yes, you can use NordVPN with Netflix! Not just Netflix; NordVPN works with Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, Pandora, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Disney Plus, and Youtube among others. Lots of people don’t know this, but Netflix actually region-blocks lots of their content due to licensing costs.
The reason you’d want to use a VPN with Netflix is that when you use a VPN you can choose the location of your data server. That means, you can basically trick Netflix into thinking you live in, say, Japan, when you actually live in America, like I do. Since Japanese animation is far more popular in Japan then it is in America, I can–and have–gone to Netflix to watch a much wider variety of Anime then I would otherwise get with Netflix’s meager North American offering.
One detail I should mention here is that just because you can watch a specific show or movie on Netflix in a non-native language online with a VPN, that doesn’t always mean Netflix will provide subtitles that you can read. In many cases they do, but if you’re wanting to watch something specific you should do some research first to see if subtitles are supported in other languages. If they aren’t, oftentimes you can find groups besides Netflix will create custom subtitles that you can add into your movies or shows.
Can I use NordVPN to download torrents?
Contrary to popular belief, using a torrent client to download files is not illegal. However, downloading copyrighted content you don’t own IS illegal. So the answer is yes, you can use a VPN to download torrents.
Just to be absolutely clear, we here at Sunspot Media do not endorse piracy, and NordVPN should not be used to illegally download copyrighted content.
There are two big benefits to torrenting with a VPN. The first benefit is that many countries block access to popular torrenting websites, but with a VPN you can get access to them by spoofing your location.
The second benefit is that when you torrent using a VPN, your ISP can’t spy on what you’re doing, so not only will they not know what you’re downloading, they won’t know how much you are downloading. This means privacy from the ISP’s prying eyes, as well as being less likely to have your connection throttled since they can’t see your downloads so easily.
I have restricted internet access in my country, will a VPN work for me?
The short answer is yes, regardless of where you live, NordVPN will work for you.
The longer answer is that some countries (specifically, China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates) actively try to monitor VPNs and restrict them because it goes against their agenda of having you, the citizen, only be able to see and access what they want you to see and access.
VPNs will work in these places, even if there are temporary shortages due to infrastructure changes, but you may have to review how your local laws will affect you if you happen to live in any of these places, or if you happen to be passing through.
To use China as an example, 31% of Chinese citizens regularly use a VPN to access the internet, even though their government expressly forbids it. As of writing this, that means about 430 million Chinese citizens are using VPNs to access the internet.
For some of these people free access to the open internet is basically a necessity, their livelihoods depend on it. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I live in China, so I can’t personally vouch for what the conditions are like there currently, but I can tell you that as long as laws like these are in place, VPNs will continue to exist in places like China to some extent.
Bottom line, I’m not a lawyer. Will a VPN work for you in an internet-restricted country? Yes. Is it legal or not? That depends on lots of factors I can’t account for in this blog post. I’d recommend for you to do some research if this is the case for you.
Alright, you’ve convinced me, I want to get a VPN! What are my options?
You can take a look at the competition if you’d like, but I’d like to save you some time and strongly recommend NordVPN. I mean, are you surprised? I’ve been talking about them for this entire blog post.
They are without a doubt the best choice on the market currently. I’ve used them for over a year now and I’m extremely happy with the results I’ve seen with them.
That’s like, the same price as one cup of coffee per month.
In the interest of transparency, I want to let you know that if you click that link and sign up with them, I will be making a small amount money through their affiliate program, so I DO benefit from people clicking on the link I’ve provided. But promotions aside, I honestly think NordVPN is a great company with a great service, and I 100% stand by what they do.
I want to make it very clear right now that I will never promote products I don’t believe in, and NordVPN certainly qualifies as a great, almost required service for people who are concerned about their privacy and personal data, and at a great price, no less.
This offer also comes with a free 30-day trial if you just want test things out for yourself. Maybe you want to see if it works for your country, the 30-day free trial has you covered for that.
NordVPN offers live customer support 24/7 via live chat, email, or through tickets. In addition, they also offer a CyberSec feature that blocks dangerous websites and lets users avoid annoying ads, as well as offering up to six simultaneous VPN connections per account at once.
Thank you for reading my post. If you got something useful out of this, or If you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to respond to me below, I’d love to answer any question you might have, I’ll see you all next time.