Since Friday, public interest in ransomware and other types of malware has been escalating like crazy. The world is still reeling from what is now possibly the most widespread ransomware attack we’ve seen in recent times. And it’s not over yet. In fact, there’s every chance that we could see a new wave of attacks as the world goes back to work more security-conscious than ever before.
At this conjuncture, it is appropriate to explain what a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is, how it could help protect you from various types of malware attacks including ransomware, and how it differs from anti-virus software.
First of all, you need to understand that no security system, no matter how robust or advanced, is foolproof, because the weakest link in any security chain is usually the user – that’s you and I.
No anti-virus software or VPN service can protect you from malware if you, as a system administrator or computer owner, download malicious files from the Internet and allow it to run on your machine or infiltrate your network.
That said, a good VPN service can provide a great measure of security for a very little amount of money every month – usually less than ten bucks a month for a really good service.
And it’s even cheaper if you take a long-term contract or pay upfront for a year.
How Does a VPN Protect You?
Essentially, a VPN service provides a secure connection between the user and the site or data that user is connecting with over the Internet. The data is encrypted while in transit, but the user must connect to the VPN service provider’s servers. Once connected to their servers, your IP is anonymized and your data is encrypted to maintain a high level of security and privacy.
Now, how does this feature of VPN services help against malware attacks?
A lot of the time, attackers tend to target users that are on un-secured connections, such as public WiFi. When using a VPN service, any traffic to and from your device is routed through the VPN service provider’s servers, thereby giving you enhanced protection against your data being hacked en route to its destination or when data is being sent to your device.
Therefore, if an attacker has to find a weak spot in your incoming or outgoing data traffic to mount the attack, a VPN service makes it that much harder. Not impossible but, often, it’s not worth the attacker’s effort, unless your data is that valuable.
On the other hand, some types of attack methods, such as phishing, rely on the carelessness of the user to click on a baited link, or the user unknowingly downloading malicious content. In those instances, only anti-virus software can identify it and alert you, and then isolate and remove the malware from your machine if it does get through. But even then, it has to be a strain of malware that the protective software is able to identify and defend against, which it typically references either from a locally stored or live online database.
And that’s why it is critical that you always keep your anti-malware software up to date.
There’s a big difference between anti-virus software and a VPN service, and it’s important that you understand what each is meant to do. But both are essential if you want total security. In addition, a VPN service can give you privacy on the web by hiding your IP address so even your Internet Service Provider (ISP) won’t be able to track your web activity.
In short, a VPN offers anonymity and security over the web, while anti-virus software protects your system in the event of an attack. Both are essential, but neither is infallible, just so you know.