Ever got hacked? I have, and it’s a nasty feeling. Even though I didn’t lose much apart from an old Runescape account, I was a kid and it meant a lot to me.
Now, instead of a game account, imagine losing banking credentials to hackers. A nightmare? Indeed. But one you can often avoid with privacy tools like a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
Keeping you protected from hackers and other bad actors is a big part of what a VPN does. By encrypting all your internet traffic and hiding your IP address, a VPN makes it nearly impossible for anyone to track or get ahold of your sensitive data.
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Does a VPN protect me from hackers on public Wi-Fi?
In certain cases – yes. But let’s go back to that Runescape account for a bit. I have to admit that a VPN would not have helped in that case. Why? Because I gave my password away for a false promise of in-game currency. If you do that, nothing can protect your account.
However, a VPN would have helped if someone was fishing for my credentials on public Wi-Fi.
Yes, a VPN protects you on Wi-Fi networks. Free Wi-Fi may feel like a blessing but its threats are real.
Wi-Fi is inherently less secure than a cable connection. It works on radio waves, and just like with regular radio, anyone with the know-how can tune in and catch the signal.
In fact, hackers can capture the signals as they fly from your device to the router if they’re unprotected. They’re also able to set up false routers to steal your data, which is called a fake WAP (Wireless Access Point) attack, and use public Wi-Fi to inject malware on your device.
A VPN defeats all this with simple encryption. Using algorithms, a VPN scrambles your information so it becomes unreadable to anyone who might want to listen in on your connection.
Does a VPN protect me from hackers at home?
Yes, and protecting your home from hackers is something that becomes more and more necessary every day.
As you know, the days when the personal computer was the only internet-connected device at home are long gone. We now have smartphones (that get hacked quite often), home assistants like Alexa, smart fridges, Roombas, and more. Sadly, every open internet connection is an extra chance for hackers to access your home.
Smart baby cameras, radios, and even picture frames have vulnerabilities. Hackers can exploit them if they know your IP address. They can use it to launch attacks and hack into your devices that guard your personal data – or to pinpoint your location in the world.
But what if you could hide your IP? That’s what a VPN does as part of its normal operations. With a VPN on, you won’t be transmitting your IP – your digital equivalent to a home address – anymore.
Most common hacks a VPN can protect you against
Wondering about what specific hacker attacks a VPN might protect you from? Luckily, we have an article about that: The 8 most common types of hacks.
But if all you want is a quick summary, then these are the hacks that VPNs can prevent:
Malware. VPNs can’t remove malware or viruses. But features like Cleanweb allow VPNs to protect you from malicious ads and phishing websites that hackers use to exploit people.
Cookie theft, or session hijacking, can give hackers an open view of whatever you’re currently browsing (banking, social media, etc.). Most cookie theft cases happen on unsecured public Wi-Fi, so make sure you always use a VPN when connecting to random hotspots.
Fake WAP. Hackers often set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots without passwords (like “Free Starbucks Wi-Fi”) to lure people into their network. Such hotspots put your data at risk because your data is routed through the hackers’ hardware, and they see everything you do — unless you’re using a VPN!
The attacks are dangerous even to the “impenetrable” Apple. For example, there’s a Wi-Fi bug that spreads through fake hotspots and breaks your iPhone’s wireless functionality. This threat alone should demonstrate why you should use VPN on an iPhone.
Man-in-the-Middle attacks. A hacker can sometimes maneuver and place themselves between you and a website you want to browse (hence man-in-the-middle). This way, they see all the data you’re sending or receiving. A VPN can help prevent such attacks because it secures your connection. However, if your connection is already compromised, a VPN won’t help.
DoS/DDoS attacks, or denial-of-service attacks, happen when someone sends a lot of empty data to a service in order to overload and crash it. Someone might do this to you and make your internet unusable. The only thing they need is your IP address, so make sure to hide it with a VPN!
How does a VPN protect me from hackers?
There are two things a VPN does to protect you from hackers:
- Encryption: a VPN sets up a secure tunnel between two devices over the internet and encrypts your information. Encryption happens on your device before this data is forwarded to the VPN server. There, it’s decrypted again and sent to its online destination.
Leading VPNs like Surfshark use AES 256-bit encryption. The details of this are a bit complicated, but in short, it makes your data impractical to crack.
Though technically possible it would take hackers a few decades to decrypt that data. Not only that, but they would only decrypt about five minutes worth of your online data. So, why bother?
- IP masking: Your IP address is like your zip code, but online. Sometimes, it can even point to your real-life address for the people who want to track you down.
However, when you use a VPN, you connect to a VPN server before going online. This means that all of your online activities are then marked by the server’s IP address, not yours. Your real IP stays hidden.
Thus, the hackers can’t identify your location, can’t track down your network, and can’t crack it to access your data or mess with your IoT gadgets.
So, as you see, a VPN is a great way to secure your devices and make them much harder to crack for hackers. But we also have some other tips on increasing your online security even further.
What else can I do to protect myself against hackers?
A VPN provides a strong layer of defense. Can you improve your security even more? Yes. Here are some tips that will help you raise your defenses:
- Keep your software updated: software developers usually try to patch any security issues. That’s why you should regularly check if your software (a device’s operating system) has pending updates.
- Enable firewalls: firewalls may not stop every hacker, but it makes their work a lot harder. Enable those firewalls, even if they’re the default system ones.
- Use antivirus software: hackers may inject malware (viruses and such). Use an antivirus (like Surfshark) to sniff them out.
- Secure your router: change your router’s password and constantly update the firmware. Disable features like UPnP, Remote Access, and WPS to make it more secure.
- Be careful on public Wi-Fi: don’t access any sensitive services like banks while using public Wi-Fi – hackers may be looking to steal your data.
These are the basics that should keep you going while searching for a good VPN.
Does private browsing protect you from hackers?
The answer is a resounding no. Private browsing does nothing to protect you from hackers. In fact, it will not protect you from anything but possible embarrassment about your online habits.
The only thing private browsing does is clear your browsing history and cookies after you close the window. Unlike VPNs, it doesn’t hide your traffic from ISPs, change your IP, encrypt your connection, or possibly help you avoid malware.
How to find a secure VPN
When you’re looking for the best VPN to protect you from hackers, there are several things to look for:
Kill Switch: This feature disconnects you from the internet if the VPN protection drops. That way, you will not accidentally leak your data online if you suffer an unexpected bump in your VPN connection.
Secure protocols: VPN protocols (the approaches to setting up a VPN connection) evolve over time. OpenVPN and IKEv2 are the current industry leaders in security and are used by all good VPNs. Avoid those that still use L2TP, IPsec, and PPTP.
Supported platforms: If you want to be safe from hackers, then you want a VPN on all your devices. Get one that supports most platforms (e.g., Surfshark works on most platforms and offers unlimited installs).
History: Considering a specific VPN? Research its history! Look up “[your VPN name] breached” on Google to see if it experienced data breaches. Also, have a look at who owns the thing. You’d be surprised how many data brokers and shady companies run a VPN service these days.
Price: the best VPNs are all paid. This is not an opinion, it’s a rule. Revenue gives VPNs the funds to fix, develop, and hone the product, as well as keep its servers and security measures up-to-date.
Get tools to protect yourself from hackers
The internet has, sadly, become a dangerous place. If you’re worried about hackers stealing your money or data, get tools like a VPN! Encryption and hiding your IP will cover many of your vulnerabilities without you even noticing it. So why not invest in a VPN that will protect you from hackers?