Data security and privacy are real concerns for business professionals, and with an increase in people working from home, those concerns are even greater than before. One of the easiest ways for professionals to protect their internet traffic is by using a virtual private network, or VPN.
VPNs are used to create secure, remote connections to other networks or geographic locations; a computer connected to a VPN can appear to be inside of a business network or in a different part of the world. In essence, think of a VPN as a private tunnel from a computer to a network: It’s secure, encrypted, and can do everything a computer located in a work network or another country can.
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a good VPN service, and you can read up on choices and VPN policy at TechRepublic and our sister site ZDNet. Aside from choosing the right service, you also need to be sure a VPN is right for you, as in the case of these five VPN uses for professionals.
SEE: Why your company needs a VPN usage policy to keep remote workers secure (TechRepublic Premium)
1. VPNs can anonymize your internet traffic
There’s a bit of confusion around whether or not VPNs make you truly anonymous: They don’t. VPN provider NordVPN even said so in a blog post on its site. “If you only need a VPN to protect you from snoopers who are trying to find out what you are doing online, then–yes. But if you want to be completely invisible online, you need more than just a VPN,” NordVPN said.
If your reason for using a VPN for work is to protect the traffic you’re transmitting, a VPN will work great. Connecting to the internet will always leave a trail that could be tied back to you, even when using a VPN.
2. VPNs can tunnel you into your work network
If you’ve ever worked in an office with a secured network and needed to do after-hours business, you’ve probably experienced some hurdles due to being outside of your work network: Email may not connect, licensed apps may not be able to pull a license, and other issues can arise when you can’t get to internal servers.
As mentioned above, a VPN connection is a lot like a private tunnel through the internet between a computer and a private network that, in essence, extends that network to a single machine in the outside world. All of the features of being at the office are made available, at least the ones IT has made available via VPN, allowing professionals to get work done no matter where they’re located.
3. VPNs protect traffic on public Wi-Fi networks
As ZDNet’s David Gewirtz said, “If you’re away from the office or home, and you’re using someone else’s Wi-Fi (even that of a family member or a friend, because you never know if they’ve been compromised), use a VPN.”
Traffic on Wi-Fi networks, password protected or not, can be sniffed and used to steal identities, commit fraud, and do other malicious acts. When connected to a VPN, your traffic is encrypted and, while an attacker may know a device is connected to the Wi-Fi, they’ll have no idea where your traffic is going or what you’re doing.
4. VPNs can save money on business purchases
Typical internet traffic generates a lot of data: The location of a computer, its history browsing a website, other places the computer has surfed to online–all of that data and more is available to websites you visit.
CBS News reported on a study that found pricing differences based on the type of device being used to browse online stores, and the same goes for things like airline tickets and hotel bookings, VPN provider SurfShark said.
“Some of the online retailers base their prices on your browsing history and location. They craft deals especially for your needs and give you an extra kick to buy by artificially raising the rates if they know you’ve searched the same item several times,” a SurfShark blog post said.
If your business is located in a high-income country and you need to travel, you may be paying a premium that your business can’t afford, and using a VPN to change your geographic location can save you quite a bit of money.
5. VPNs let you test online content from other countries
Developers know the importance of good testing, and for web apps and other online content, that means testing it with the highest degree of anonymity possible. If you built the app, test it from your computer, and don’t try to mask your traffic. You may see very different results from someone living in another country.
Using a VPN to change your location will let you take a look at how someone on the other side of the world sees your web app or website, and that means releasing a better product that works for a wider range of users than you could get by simply opening a browser window in incognito mode.