The coronavirus pandemic has inadvertently brought with it a major new threat to the millions of people now forced to work from home as part of measures to contain the outbreak.
This sudden influx of remote workers has presented an opportunity for cyber criminals to exploit the relatively lax security of home networks and devices, with Google registering a 350 per cent increase in phishing sites – websites designed to steal people’s private data.
Various security firms have also reported an uptick in coronavirus-themed malware since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
Government guidelines to “stay home and stay safe” during the coronavirus pandemic should just as well apply to online safety, and one of the best ways to protect yourself is by using a virtual private network (VPN).
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Why you should use a VPN
Logging on to work remotely bypasses the IT security infrastructure that most companies and organisations have in place, allowing hackers to more effectively carry out cyber attacks.
VPNs essentially mask your IP address and encrypt your data, so any potential hackers are unable to see your location or monitor online communications.
Cyber security specialist Rick McElroy describes using a VPN as the digital equivalent to washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds.
Along with regular software updates and tools like multi-factor authentication, VPNs allow individuals and organisations to protect private data from hackers.
“With so many employees working remotely now, using a virtual private network can help better secure internet connection and keep private information private via encryption,” McElroy says.
VPNs can also provide a way to access content that has been geo-restricted to certain territories, as they are able to pass your web traffic through a server in another country in order to spoof your location. That means you can watch BBC or ITV shows online when you're not in the UK, or access Netflix content from other countries.
Which is the best VPN to use?
While there are free versions of most major VPN services, their functionality tends to be limited and internet speeds are throttled as traffic is not prioritised.
Free VPNs can also seek to profit from users in other ways by serving ads or collecting data, meaning paid services are always the best way to go. Fortunately, monthly subscriptions are generally not much more expensive than a cup of coffee.
One of the most dependable and versatile options is ExpressVPN, which offers users strong privacy alongside the ability to access international streaming from a wide range of countries thanks to its vast array of servers.
With 3,000 servers and 160 server locations, Express VPN offers great speeds and business-level encryption. It can also run on five separate devices.
Arguably the most famous VPNs is NordVPN, which primarily focuses on security through its ultra strong encryption measures.
CyberGhost is another solid option, offering the ability to set it up directly on a wifi router, which devices can then connect to. The Romanian service comes with a lengthy free trial and works well for unblocking geo-restricted content.
Once you have decided which VPN you want to use, it is a simple process to install and run it. After following the instructions to download it, VPNs run much like other apps on your smartphone or computer and can easily be switched on and off.