How not to get hacked – Pack your VPN this holiday season

As we draw closer to the end of the year, holidays are on the cards for a lot of us, and that means airports, hotels and free Wi-Fi. One thing you should definitely pack in your suitcase is a Virtual Private Network (or VPN for those in the know).

You may be somewhat familiar with VPNs and even use one for work, but for the less techy amongst us, why do you need one for personal use, how do you set it up and what does it even do (other than connect you to the office if you’re working from home)?

We speak to Kiandra’s Head of Security, Dan Weis to break down all things VPN.

Ok, so we hear a lot about using VPNs to help protect our online security but what is a VPN?

In layman’s terms, a VPN is software you install that protects your data when accessing sites. It basically establishes a tunnel between two points (your computer and an end-point) and pipes the traffic through that tunnel, which prevents anyone from being able to eavesdrop on the data you’re sending.
In what circumstances do you use a VPN?

Anytime you’re on unsecured networks where you want to access sensitive information, like an open Wi-Fi network at the airport or a hotel.

Don’t worry about connecting to a VPN if you’re just looking up an address for a restaurant or checking movie sessions – but if you’re inputting credentials, for example accessing internet banking and transferring money, you should be using a VPN.

Why do you recommend people use VPNs?

To stop malicious people intercepting your information. We want to protect sensitive information and mitigate against unsavory people eavesdropping on your online activity.

Often cyber-crims are just after easy targets, if you can make it hard for hackers to access your “stuff”, they’ll move on to other low hanging fruit.

Should you use VPNs on your phone?

Yes, absolutely. All the VPN clients that you get these days are universal. You should use a VPN on any device where you’re accessing sensitive information and inputting credentials.

I’ve seen you speak at hundreds of security events, and you always recommend that people avoid free Wi-Fi networks at places like the airport. Are you saying that we can safely use these if we’re on a VPN?

If a network looks dodgy and is called “FREE AIRPORT WIFI” I’d still avoid it. But, if you’re on holidays and your hotel has free guest Wi-Fi, that should be ok – provided you’re using a VPN. When in doubt, use a VPN.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen that could have been avoided by using a VPN?

Most of the stories that I come across stem from dodgy, open Wi-Fi hot spots – where cyber-crims have pooled days worth of usernames and passwords off wireless access points that people have connected to. We know that hacked passwords cause 81% of data breaches (2017 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report) so don’t go making it easy for them!

A lot of people use VPNs at work, but is it difficult to set up one for personal use?

It’s easy, it’s a matter of downloading and installing the software and away you go. Most of them are pretty user friendly these days, one button to connect, one button to disconnect.

Do you have providers you can recommend?

Proton VPN
A lot of the end-point protection products now include a VPN for free – like your anti-virus – so check yours as you might already have one! Bitdefender is one such example.

Are you completely anonymous on a VPN? Can you buy dodgy stuff online using a VPN?

You are anonymous to a degree but we certainly don’t recommend anyone buy dodgy stuff! Using a VPN really makes no difference if you’re trying to obtain illegal materials, you’re still putting in the same mailing details, so expect to see the police on your doorstep when that package rocks up!

In recent times, we’ve seen police intercept data through secure connections to bust criminal activity, so no, you can never be completely anonymous.

In what situation wouldn’t you use a VPN?

You don’t really need to use your VPN for run-of-the-mill web browsing, you only need to use it when you’re accessing sensitive information. It can also slow down your connection substantially – so if you feel like binging The Sinner 2 over the holiday break, don’t do it through your VPN – the lag will drive you crazy!

VPNs are a great way to improve your security stance, but they need to form part of a multi-layered approach to security to ensure you stay as secure as possible. If you’d like to speak to one of our experts about the security landscape, get in touch today.

Be sure to check out our other blog post in the 'How not to get hacked' series - Password managers and why you need one.