5 On Your Side

Extra step of VPN protects when surfing the internet

Posted June 4, 2018 5:58 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2018 6:47 p.m. EDT

An easy way to keep data secure while browsing, shopping, banking and sharing online is to use VPN, or a virtual private network. VPN is private Wi-Fi designed to encrypt internet traffic.

Entrepreneurs, like Sara and Corey Meyer of Little Bird Kitchen chocolatiers, use VPN as they travel the country to grow their business.

"In order to stay connected to our inventory, we needed a way to do it securely, and we needed a VPN," said Sara Meyer.

Picture VPN as a server in the middle. In order for data to travel between your computer and another server, like a website, app or the cloud, it has to pass through the VPN first. That makes your digital footprint harder to follow.

"Most good VPNs also will have encryption. That will secure your data going back and forth," said Bree Fowler, tech editor for Consumer Reports.

VPN is not just for business use.

"Everybody should have a VPN," Fowler said. "Everybody is going to need it at some point."

Consumer Reports said it's smart for anyone who uses public Wi-Fi – like at a coffee shop or airport – to connect using VPN.

Choosing the right service can be complicated.

"We had to keep logging in, and it was so frustrating being in Ohio in a hotel room and trying to get into our inventory system and we couldn't," Sara Meyer recalled.

Her current VPN allows her to log in with one click.

Fowler said simplicity means efficiency. "If you have to add in codes or put in a password, it may not get used, and a VPN that isn't used is not going to protect you," she said.

Another thing to look for is whether the company keeps a log of your activity.

"Some VPNs make no bones about the fact that they are collecting and selling your data, which is kind of antithetical to the idea of a VPN in the first place," Fowler said.

Data collection is more common among free VPN services, but if you're willing to pay for privacy, a typical service for consumers will run you about $5 to $10 per month. Businesses will likely pay more.

You can even use VPN while on your home network to hide your internet usage habits from your service provider. If you don't, they, too, might be collecting your data.

Sara Meyer said the peace of mind sweetens the deal.

"I can be sitting anywhere where there is Wi-Fi and know that we are protected," she said.