To Serve and Protect

In an ideal world you would connect to the Internet, access the site for the info you need, and call it a day. The reality is, your searches and your data are an open book. The irony is, most users have a false sense of security because they believe they’ve done enough to defend their online life:

  • Establish Firewalls – We make sure we protect the files and photos on our devices. Firewalls are effective against hackers and worms as they serve to block the outside work from trespassing. Sort of like an alarm system for your home – warding off intruders.

  • Install Anti-Virus Software – Again, a local protection that keeps the multitude of viruses unleashed on the world away from your expensive hardware.

  • Password Protection – Keeps your wireless network from being accessed by anyone within range so the guy in the car outside of your office building is not “tapping” into your service for free WIFI. Your unique code needs to be entered to provide access to your service.

So these deterrents are all necessary evils, but their inclusion still leaves apparent the largest gap of all. While you can secure and protect with any or all of these methods, the Achilles Heel of security is your online identity and the data that transmits from your device to the web itself.

Most are familiar with the meaning of an IP (Internet Protocol) address. A unique identifier, it is a numerical label that allows your communication across a network. One is assigned to every device from servers to computers to peripherals like printers.

Like a street address, it is the actual identifier from which your messages are routed across networks. Inquiries like your Google search of “cheap hotels in Florida” leave your device like a phone call, carrying with it your identification until it is “answered” wherever the detail you require exists in the universal web space.

That Point A to Point B is the piece where we are all most vulnerable. In other words, your IP address is not a physical description or a geographic approximation of where you are, it is more like a genetic code – it travels with you and your device. It is you. And the searches you do from it and the business you conduct across it are recorded by every website and your ISP (Internet Service Provider). You may as well chisel a message in marble as erase any evidence of your inquiries and activity.

What is a VPN and How Does it Offer Protection?

You can call it your own personal Clocking Device a la Star Trek, but a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is what will protect the source (you) and the transmission (the information you seek).

There’s no need to get super-technical here when the keyword is vulnerability. The average user can easily visit ten websites/day; probably a conservative estimate, but those very acts perpetuate susceptibility.

Every time you visit a site, you are not only receiving information, you are transmitting it. You (your IP address) is sending packets of information to the hosting server of every site. It sounds innocent enough, but insert the criminal element into the most fundamental transmit-receive equation. In rural communities, people get up in the morning, put their mail in the mailbox at their curb and raise the little red flag. Several hours later, in between the time those envelopes are placed and before they are picked up by the mail carrier, thieves hit those very same mailboxes (that are on “their route”) to steal those credit card payments, gift cards, etc.

It is the same on the Internet. You put something out there requesting a desired response, but unbeknownst to you, “you” are actually intercepted; sabotaged is more like it. Like a sophisticated pyramid scheme, your data is mined, decoded and sold to the highest bidder. The keys to all the money you have in the world, your credit rating, your sensitive and private information is virtually stolen and literally sold.

This is not just a Big Brother thing where you are being watched by the government, it is a crime ring that innocent Googlers actually perpetuate on a daily basis. Our need for the Internet has surpassed our comprehension of the risks associated with its use.

Enter a VPN. Its sole purpose is to protect you from Point A to Point B. Leave the virus protection to MacAfee; consider your VPN your travel insurance.

Long and Short Term Losses

So there’s the short term hassle of being hacked:

  • Having to contact your bank or file paperwork to be compensated for fraudulent charges on your credit card account
  • Contending with the hi-jack of your company’s website as it routes visitors to a completely different site that sells pornographic materials
  • Being drained of your bank account’s funds and robbed of sensitive information like social security numbers.

So you have to get a new account/credit card number and update all the sites that automatically debit your recurring payments for your utility, etc. bills.

The long term problems? Impact on your credit profile and your FICO score. The absolute nightmare of having to endlessly explain how it wasn’t you who made the purchases, maxed out your credit line, and/or never submitted any payments.

The Only Thing to Fear is the Internet Itself

Daily Finance is a team dedicated to helping people "make smarter decisions about your money”. Here are some staggering statistics revealed in an article last year by Christine DiGangi:

  • Identity theft victims suffered more than $24.7 billion in direct and indirect losses in 2012 -- that's more than the combined $14 billion in losses consumers experienced from other types of theft (burglary, motor vehicle theft and other property theft) in the same period.

  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics highlighted these and other staggering statistics in its 2012 Victims of Identity Theft report, which was released this month. About 16.6 million U.S. residents ages 16 and older were victims of at least one incident of identity theft last year. That's about 7 percent of the population in that age group, and they most often experienced misuse of existing bank and credit card accounts."

  • While flying under the radar, the thieves defrauded Americans of billions of dollars. Last year, 66% of identity theft victims reported a direct financial loss from their most recent incident. On average, victims whose personal information was misused suffered direct losses of $9,650 (the median was $1,900). New account fraud victims experienced an average of $7,135 in direct losses ($600 median), and credit card fraud victims averaged direct losses of $1,003 ($200 median).

  • The victim doesn't usually bear the brunt of those losses. Fourteen percent of identity theft victims reported out-of-pocket financial losses of at least $1, and nearly half of those costs amounted to less than $100. Of that 14 percent who lost money, 18 percent reported expenses of between $100 and $249, and for 16 percent of victims, identity theft cost $1,000 or more.

Common Sense and a VPN

There are several things the average user should do anyway as an Internet user. Call it Best Practices for being a Googler.

  • Check your credit reports consistently
  • Take advantage of the two-step verification available on most accounts
  • Use strong passwords
  • Do not use the same password for everything
  • Change your passwords frequently

Who Can You Trust?

We are a world completely reliant on something over which it would appear we have little control. You can go off the grid and live a life-less-digital, but that existence will likely agree with a small minority.

When you unwrap something like your coveted new iPhone or need to load a software upgrade, you are met with an impossibly long list of Terms and Conditions. You must select “Agree” or else you’re out. But who knows what lurks in that verbiage and what obligations that company is exempting themselves from? You saying “works for me!” with just a click pretty much authorizes the potential for utter surrender of your personal information.

The onus is on the individual to secure your own data and protect your own privacy. Passwords get hacked, laptops get stolen, financial lives get destroyed.

Living Under the Radar

What’s most compelling about a VPN is that you are issued what is considered a “stealth” IP address. You are completely “under the radar” as neither person nor entity (ISP, sites you visit, or even search engines) will know your IP address. You’ll travel in another dimension to get where you need to go. Your online privacy will be protected.

Identity theft prevention is the main motivation for a VPN. We like to think of it as a secure tunnel through which you can conduct your personal and professional business. VPNs offer you the most targeted course of action to protect your hard-earned money and reputation. They circumvent any kinds of blocks and monitoring by leveraging encryption so no theft or revision of any data can be perpetrated.

A VPN literally directs you to the VIP lane for living your technological life. A stretch limo with tinted windows and a personal chauffeur as it were. A confident means to a secured end.