It’s 2018. The internet isn’t exactly new, but in many ways, it’s still a wide open frontier. (Ha! Get it? “Frontier”? … Never mind.)
Think of the internet like the Wild West. If you’re a small-to-medium business owner, the World Wide Web offers lots of exciting new opportunities for exploration and the prospect of carving out your niche in the online marketplace. But if you’re not careful, it also presents lots of chances for unscrupulous cyber-bandits to access your business’s—and your customers’—most sensitive data.
That’s where a reliable VPN service comes in handy. Read on to learn more about this cost-effective, potentially business-saving technology and find out if it’s right for you.
What exactly is a VPN, anyway?
You may or may not already be aware, but your business’s “secured,” private WI-FI network might not be as secure—or as private—as you think.
Every time you, one of your employees, or one of your customers goes online using your company’s connection, your internet service provider (or “ISP”) collects 100 percent of your browsing data. This, coincidentally, is how ISPs are able to learn so much about you, your browsing habits, and even your personal preferences. Your business’s ISP can take all this info that they gather and sell it to third parties. Or they can use it to influence your online experience (or that of your employees and customers).
Here are a few examples of small-business scenarios where your data might not be safe:
- You set up shop in an ad-hoc office, like a coffee shop, an airport, or a library, where you must rely on a free WI-FI network to do business
- You hire remote workers, freelancers, or independent contractors who work in different locations around the country or the world and who transmit sensitive business info online
- Your business provides a WI-FI hotspot for customers or clients to use
What a virtual private network (or “VPN”) service does is provide you with a private, encrypted connection that allows you and your organization to surf the web in secrecy. It does this by routing all the browsing data sent to or from your business’s internet-connected devices through a remote server in a location of your choosing.
That all said, let’s take a look at the top seven ways a VPN can help keep your information safe and your business running smoothly.
1. VPNs hide your business’s digital fingerprint
Ever see one of those spy movies where an agent finds some foreign diplomat’s fingerprint on a wineglass and then uses it to trick a fingerprint scanner? Well, every time you or someone in your organization visits a website, you leave a similar fingerprint—a digital fingerprint that an ISP, a government entity, or even a hacker, can lift and use for their own purposes.
A business VPN service helps prevent this sort of intrusion into your business’s privacy by replacing your IP address with its own. It anonymizes your web traffic and browsing history, masking your device’s identity and tricking would-be cyber-spies into thinking you’re someone else.
2. VPNs protect you (and your employees) away from the office
Imagine conducting a sensitive business meeting right in the middle of the food court at the mall. Sounds like a bad idea, right?
Well, in the wild frontier of ecommerce, mobility has become much more mainstream. Meaning, if they aren’t already, there’s a good chance your employees may be logging on to public WI-FI hotspots to get work done remotely. While this may be a very convenient solution for your business, it’s also a double-edged sword.
Consider the amount of sensitive data, passwords, and proprietary information that moves back and forth on your private network connection during a typical business day. Now, think about all that content potentially open for all the world to see …
You probably get the picture.
Suffice to say, a VPN service solves this problem, making all your business dealings private and inaccessible by outside users, no matter where you or your employees conduct business.
3. VPNs safeguard your reputation
What would happen if a hacker got a hold of your clients’ information and posted it online for the whole world to see? What kind of effect would that have on your business?
Probably not a positive one.
Having a reliable VPN service can help protect any customer data you may have on file or even protect your customers while using your services online. After all, a cyber-bandit can’t very well steal your customers’ identity if they don’t even know who your customers are in the first place.
4. VPNs help you avoid “evil twins”
You might think it safe to assume that “AIRPORT_FREE_WiFi” connection is safe.
But you’d be wrong.
That free network could be what we like to call an “evil twin.” We’re not talking the cheesy soap opera kind of evil twin, either. We mean a fraudulent WI-FI hotspot that appears to be legitimate but was set up by an internet highwayman to intercept the passwords of unsecured users.
Cyber-crooks know that most people tend to use the same password for pretty much everything. And if you’re like most people, that means every time you check your email or Facebook on an open connection, you could lose, say, your banking login to a thief. Having a VPN service will help keep not only your passwords safe, but your business’s, too.
5. VPNs mitigate the effects of throttling
If you or someone at your business is downloading and transferring large files regularly, you may have noticed those downloads seem to take longer at the end of the month.
Occasionally, some ISPs and government agencies slow down bandwidth from websites or apps they consider inappropriate or illegal, or to preemptively enforce bandwidth caps—even those with “unlimited” plans. A 2015 study found that five of the largest internet service providers, representing 75 percent of all households in the US, routinely throttled their users’ data.
Now, it’s important to note that data caps and speed throttling are not the same things. A VPN cannot get around caps. However, many VPN providers compress data before sending it, saving bandwidth. Some can even block ads or other unwanted traffic, further saving your business’s precious data.
6. VPNs are remarkably cost-effective
The FBI’s 2016 Internet Crime Report showed 298,728 complaints with losses over $1.3 billion. VPN services are among the easiest, most cost-effective way to increase your Wi-Fi security level and protect your business.
Virtual private networks not only lock down your data and deliver peace of mind, but they also may protect your business’s financial future.
Bottom line …
Whether you’re a brand-new online startup or an established brick-and-mortar business looking to expand into the virtual marketplace, do yourself and your company a favor and invest in a VPN service as soon as possible. You (and your clients) will be glad you did.