Everyone should be using a VPN. Not just travellers. Your data can be just as easily stolen while you’re at home. You’re not only at risk of data theft while travelling.
In this article we take a look at what a VPN is and what it does. We’ll also discuss mandatory data retention and how your ISP spies on you and snitches your personal information to the government and to marketers. We’ll show you how to keep your private information, private!
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. With an emphasis on the private. It’s an app you put on your devices that creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the big wide world of the Internet.
The purpose of using a VPN is to stop marketers, government, internet companies, cyber criminals or anyone else from seeing and accessing your personal information. And your personal information that everybody is trying to collect is not just your passwords.
It’s the search terms you type into Google search. It’s the websites you read and the shops you buy things from. Or the particular content you choose to consume while online (movies, articles, social media posts). A VPN is used to make these things private. It stops other people from snooping on you.
Without a VPN a whole host of actors can access, harvest and aggregate your data to create a scarily accurate profile of who you are and what you like and dislike.
Information collected about you from your online activities can be used to sell you things or it can be used to steal from you. Potentially, information taken from your online activities can even be used to harm you and your family.
The primary purpose of a VPN is to ensure that nobody can access your private online data and build a profile of you from the sites you visit and the things you do online. The primary purpose of a VPN is to make your private online activity, private.
What does a VPN do?
A VPN sets up an encrypted tunnel between you and the internet site you’re using. It encrypts your data and puts it into kind of digital capsule (packet). Before sending that encrypted capsule down the encrypted tunnel to the VPN’s own servers located throughout the world.
Once the capsule reaches the VPN’s own servers located throughout the world, the first of two keys is used to unlock the outer layer. The VPN company then knows where to send the rest of the encrypted information.
The VPN can’t see what you’re doing online. And a VPN with a ‘no logs policy’ doesn’t retain any information about your internet usage. They only see information about where the encrypted data came from and where it’s to be sent. Not what it is or who either parties are.
If the VPN company has an independently verified ‘no logs’ policy you can be guaranteed they don’t record what they see. So they can’t give information about you to anyone. Without a VPN all your information and online activity can be accessed, harvested and aggregated into a unique profile of you.
Why do I need a VPN?
You need a VPN to ensure that nobody has access to your private information. When you use a VPN your activity online just looks like encrypted jumbled garbage. People snooping on your activity just see a jumbled string of letters, numbers and symbols that cannot be read.
Normally, sitting between your device and the internet there are two things. The local network (wifi) and the ISP (Internet Service Provider).
When you use a wifi network anyone who has access to that network and possess basic-moderate computer skills can see what you’re doing and what you’re searching for online. They can look over your digital shoulder and watch everything you do online.
And in particular, public and unsecured wifi networks are a magnet for bad actors looking to steal information. You might as well be handing your passwords to a thief when you use unsecured wifi without a VPN.
Your Internet Service Provider and Data Retention
The second thing sitting between you and the internet is your ISP or Internet Service Provider. It’s your internet company. You connect to wifi and it’s connected to the ISP.
The ISP acts like a little snitch. It see’s everything you do on the net. Every website you visit, every word you type, all your emails, messages and socials. It watches and records everything. Everything you do on the net.
Your ISP is watching you now as you read this. And its recording your visit to this site.
In some countries the ISP is required by law to store the information it collects on you and to keep it for a set period. Usually a few years. But in almost all countries the ISP will voluntarily keep your information and hand it over to the government (and anybody else) when asked.
Depending on the country you’re in the ISP may even choose to sell your information. It knows what apps you use, your favourite foods, movies, social media sites, clothing styles, who you are, who your family members are and who you communicate with most often.
If you’ve ever bought underwear online without a VPN, your ISP knows the size and style of underwear you bought and wear. It knows everything you do online. And this information is a valuable resource they can harvest and sell.
VPN Case Study – Airbnb Rental
You should think about cyber security when staying in an Airbnb. There’s not just a risk of nosy hosts or creepy former guests leaving hidden cameras in the rental. There’s also a risk from the wifi itself.
Nosy hosts and creepy former guests could track your online activities through an Airbnb’s wifi connection. You have no way of knowing if the last guest was a cyber criminal who put harmful malware or viruses on the wifi network.
You don’t know who has previously had access to that Airbnb’s wifi network and who still does have access. And you certainly have no way of knowing if the host is spying on you through the wifi. That is, unless you use a VPN.
Use a VPN on all unknown or unsecured wifi networks to stop others from watching you online.
Should I use a VPN in an Airbnb?
You should never access an unknown wifi connection without taking precautions. This also applies to wifi setups in Airbnb accommodation and in hotels. You put your valuable personal information at risk if you do not use a VPN while accessing unknown wifi networks.
Think of it this way, if you access the wifi in an Airbnb and your online banking credentials and information is stolen, could you prove conclusively who stole that information? Or could you prove that the theft was linked to the Airbnb’s wifi network? The answer will be a resounding no.
Unless your device never leaves the Airbnb you will not be able to prove that it was the Airbnb wifi. And even if it did never leave the Airbnb accommodation you will still, in all probability, not be able to prove which wifi network or individual was responsible for the theft of your data.
Can an Airbnb host see what I search online?
With basic to moderate computer skills an Airbnb host can see what you’ve searched online and the websites you’ve visited from their wifi network. An Airbnb host can snoop on your online activities if you use the Airbnb’s wifi network without a VPN.
Think of all the ‘Karens’ that run Airbnb’s. Most hosts are fantastic. But you will nevertheless encounter a ‘Karen’ or two. Just look at the Airbnb forums or Google a question related to Airbnb rules and you’ll see the ‘Karens’ openly stating they snoop on their guests.
So what makes you sure they limit their snooping to physical spying? As opposed to also monitoring your online activities and watching what websites you visit? And yet it’s not just the hosts you need to worry about on an Airbnb’s wifi.
An Airbnb’s wifi is like any other public wifi. A whole bunch of strangers, people you don’t know, have used that wifi before you. How can you be sure they haven’t done something nefarious with it to steal data from future guests? Spoiler alert, you can’t know for sure what’s been done to an Airbnb’s wifi.
And so you should treat an Airbnb’s wifi like a Trojan horse. Treat it like it’s a gift that may do you harm. Treat that wifi like it’s been put there to steal your information. And use a VPN to encrypt all data you send through it.
Can an Airbnb host see my internet usage?
Your Airbnb host can see your internet usage. What’s more they may be able to see the exact content you are browsing. If you’re using an Airbnb wifi without a VPN your data is at risk of theft.
Use NordVPN. Have it set to ‘always on’ and you’ll be protected. It will encrypt and scramble your data while obscuring your identity and physical location. It will stop nefarious actors from spying on you or stealing your data.
Without a VPN you’re at risk on holidays and at home.
Do I really need a VPN?
The short answer is yes. But NordVPN is so much more than just a VPN. With its inbuilt feature called ‘Threat Protection’ it also changes your locations, obscures your identity online and blocks spam display and popup advertisements.
Every device connected to the internet has an IP address (Internet Protocol Address). It’s a string of numbers that says who you are and where you are in the world. Think of it like a regular postal address. It’s used for sending and receiving data.
NordVPN gives you a whole new address. And it obscures your identity online. Its kind of like creating a digital safe-house online and using a new identity. So those pesky advertisers don’t know who you are or where you are. But the ‘Threat Protection’ feature on the app goes a step further.
It stops you from going to websites that host malicious content. Websites that would give you viruses and malware. And it blocks trackers used by advertisers. So they can’t put trackers on your device and follow you all over the internet with their advertising.
Using NordVPN is like having an online safe-house, a new identity and big ol’ pitbull in the front yard chasing off the door to door salesmen.
It’s not just blocking cyber criminals, your ISP and the Government from tracking you and spying on your online activity. NordVPN hides you from anyone and anything that tries to collect your data.
I’ve now used NordVPN in Iran, Cuba, all over South America (Argentina, Uruguay etc.) and parts of Central and Eastern Europe over the last 7 years. And it’s never failed me. It’s so easy to use I’ve got my father using it back in Australia and he’s 81!
If you want to see just how unsecured your internet connection really is you should go to www.nordvpn.com. Look at the bar on top of the screen on the Nord website. If you aren’t using a VPN the Nord website will be able to tell you your IP address and physical location.
Get NordVPN to keep the snoopers out. And for those of you in countries where the Apple App Store and Google Play store is blocked, see our article on downloading a VPN in blocked countries.