A cautionary tale

A young freelancer named Laura quit her job as a copywriter to pursue freelance work for a few clients. Cybersecurity practices such as VPN basics were not on her mind. On her first day of freelancing, Laura woke early and walked the three blocks to her neighborhood coffee shop in Brooklyn. The coffee shop’s Wi-Fi network was public and didn’t require a password. As Laura’s laptop connected to the network, a bored hacker sipping chai at a nearby table intercepted her data, including login information to her bank account and email.

In the depths of Laura’s inbox lived login credentials to access her new clients’ content management system and email platforms since those were her part of her first project. The hacker used these credentials to access the clients’ networks and expose the personal information and credit card data of thousands of customers.

This story hits all too close to home for many freelancers and companies. Target and Home Depot experienced two of the largest and most damaging data breaches in history when hackers entered their networks using stolen third-party credentials.

VPNs can reduce the risk of data being stolen while sent over unsecured networks by encrypting the data that you send. 

Many large corporation require employees who do any work outside the office to use a company issued VPN. VPNs create an encrypted tunnel through which your information passes. Your computer connects to a server in a different location, hiding your IP address and location from prying eyes. Even if a criminal intercepts the traffic between you and the server, the data is jumbled from the encryption and unreadable by a third party.

Benefits of VPNs

For freelancers the main benefit of using a VPN is securing data in transit. That’s a big benefit when freelancers spend so much time working outside their main office. There are other benefits including being able to access banned or other content by using the VPN to make it looks like you are somewhere else (i.e. watching a BBC show in the US by using a VPN server in the UK).

Cautions with VPNs

You have to trust or know the VPN provider is not logging your activity. Privacy is another benefit to a VPN but only if the VPN provider is honoring that privacy. Also, it’s important to activate your VPN immediately upon joining the network because there is gap in coverage between when you log onto an untrusted network and when the VPN starts securing your connection. Look for a VPN solution that has features to only send your data over secure channels (such as HTTPS) before the VPN has established a secure connection on the public or unsecured Wi-Fi.

four questions to ask:

Is it fast?

After purchasing one VPN solution we noticed our internet connection speed was much slower than normal. In tests we’ve found some VPN’s can knock 5 mbps off your download speed. That won’t work. Get a VPN that’s fast.

Is your data private?

By definition a VPN provider runs your data through their servers which means they can log browser sessions and other data if they want. You want a VPN provider that wants no part of your data beyond what is needed to run their business and says so in writing. There are plenty with clear privacy policies that state they don’t capture or catalog your data. Get a VPN that doesn’t store your traffic data.

Is it easy to setup?

When it comes to setting up a VPN, not all are created equal. We’ve tested some that took over 4 hours to setup and configure. And we’ve tested some that take 10 minutes. Your time is valuable and you didn’t become a freelancer to spend your time geeking out over OpenVPN and server lists. Get a VPN that’s simple to set up.

Is it automated?

A VPN is useless if it’s not providing a secure tunnel for your data. Having to manually turn on a VPN when you connect is a non-starter. Find one that turns on automatically if you are using an unknown, untrusted or unsecure network such as in a coffee shop or co-working space. Get a VPN that turns on automatically.