This year, threat actors will steal over 33 billion files from unsuspecting users. Identity theft alone impacts over 60 million Americans — and these numbers don’t include the millions more that are affected by phishing emails and cyber-blackmail attempts.
It’s safe to say that cybersecurity is one of the most critical areas of interest in the 21st century. And statistics echo that. Over 80% of Americans are concerned about their digital safety and security. To help curb the threats, millions of people are turning to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to help them access the internet more safely. In fact, over 25% of all internet connections now come through VPNs.
But do they work? Are VPNs really enough security to prevent cyberattacks?
What Are VPNs?
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) help people access the internet anonymously by routing and encrypting their traffic through servers outside of their local network. VPN technology can get hyper-complex. But, if for a simple breakdown, you can learn more here.
So, what can VPNs do?
- VPNs can help bypass region-locked content
- VPNs can encrypt your data
- VPNs can help bypass firewalls
- VPNs can secure browser histories
- VPNs can speed up internet connections
- VPNs can anonymize digital sharing
- and VPNs can help protect against cybersecurity attacks
It’s the latter that this post is going to focus on. But it’s important to remember that VPNs are not created for the sole purpose of security. They have hundreds of functions and are an important part of the global privacy and security debate — and millions of people’s daily lives.
Do VPNs Help Prevent Cybersecurity Attacks?
The answer to this question is nuanced, and it really depends on the type of cybersecurity attack being performed. Broadly, VPNs address many weak points that threat actors utilize to breach networks. But granularly, certain attack vectors can easily bypass a VPN — especially if they originate internally.
To better address this question, this post will be broken down by the type of cybersecurity attack.
Do VPNs Help Prevent Malware and Viruses?
No! While popular VPN services like Surfshark, NordVPN, and Express VPN all have encryption protocols and baked-in security features, they cannot protect against physical viruses. Instead, users should rely on anti-virus programs that are regularly updated, well respected, and reputable.
It’s important to note that VPNs can also be subject to malware and viruses themselves. For those people using free VPNs on a crowded server, VPNs may actually create additional security issues — not help prevent them. Since these large servers are a big target for hackers, it’s important to only use reputable VPNs that offer plenty of support and server space (note: these are almost always a pay-to-play service).
Do VPNs Help Prevent External Hacking Threats?
Yes! Threat actors attempting to steal information during transfer (i.e., over your connection) are going to have an incredibly difficult time doing so with a VPN in place. Some VPNs — such as those that encrypt data using military-grade encryption tech — can act as a significant barrier for hackers attempting to steal information in motion.
So, when a person with a VPN is connecting to a local wifi hotspot, they don’t have to worry about malicious individuals stealing their credit card information, passwords, files, or anything else. Their traffic is being routed through a secured, encrypted connection to an external server.
This also makes VPNs incredibly valuable for those looking to remain private online. Threat actors, ISPs, and website owners will be oblivious to the location, identity, or be able to trace any information coming from a computer with a VPN.
Do VPNs Help Prevent Internal Hacking Threats?
No! VPNs cannot prevent someone from hacking a computer physically. VPNs are only for connections, not physical security. Passwords, 2 Factor Authentication protocols, and robust identity controls are the primary methods that are used to safeguard physical servers, computers, and mobile phones.
For businesses looking to deepen their security posture, investing in solutions like identity controls and least-privileged access methodologies in addition to VPNs is a smart move. For individuals, simply password locking the device and activating 2 Factor Authentication should prevent physical hacks.
How Do VPNs Protect You?
Every 39 seconds, a hacker attacks someone and attempts to steal their valuable information. These attacks can cause significant stress and financial loss for those affected. 77.3% of identity theft victims report emotional stress, and there is a new victim of identity theft every 2 seconds — impacting 33% of US adults.
Those are some massive numbers! Proper usage of VPNs could help curb that number significantly. While VPNs cannot prevent viruses or malware from attacking systems, they can protect users from hackers attempting to steal their records during transit. This accounts for a significant portion of the overall threat attacks carried out in the United States and abroad.
But, cybersecurity is only one of many reasons to leverage a VPN. They help safeguard against nosey governments and private entities, they protect information from prying eyes, they can help bypass firewalls and other restrictive elements, and, to top it all off, they can improve speed, reduce privacy frictions, and help people access region-locked content from across the globe.
In other words, VPNs can do much more than keep computers secure.
There is often confusion around what VPNs can and cannot do. Many people believe that simply connecting to a VPN will prevent them from being able to be attacked online. Other people believe that VPNs offer no security benefits. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Yes! VPNs can help protect against malicious threat actors. No! They are not a catch-all to cybersecurity attacks. The easiest way to explain it is this — VPNs can help protect data from prying eyes and hackers using encryption technology, but they cannot prevent viruses, malware, or physical threats from stealing information. This makes VPNs an incredibly valuable cybersecurity tool, but not one that offers broad coverage. Invest in VPN technology, AND an anti-virus and identity control to cover all of your cybersecurity bases.